Newspaper copyright creep is a threat to us all

Posted on 28/07/2011


Imagine a Merseyside derby game where the Everton goalkeeper blames the sun getting in his eyes for conceding a 89th minute goal. AnfiedRed publishes a blog claiming it is:

The Sun Wot Won It

Everyone has a chuckle, people tweet about it and in the spirit of fairplay the blog links the headline back to the Sun Newspaper. Is this fair play? Or can a headline be copyright protected? The Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) would like to see the latter.

Take last week’s post here on sports journalism, which relied heavily on links to news content. Is this fair enough? Not for the NLA.

In fact, without a licence, these articles could be in breach of copyright law if the NLA win their current court battle against PR industry body, the PRCA, and Meltwater.

The first example – that headlines are copyright protected has been dismissed by the Court of Appeal, with Francis Ingham of the PRCA claiming that the recent judgement ruled that it will be very rare that headlines are copyrightable.

But the second example – of linking to other content for the purposes of promotion or profit – is still up for debate in appeal to the Supreme Court. Although, in their statement, the NLA suggest that this will only affect PR companies, the wider world should be alarmed at the implications of reading between the lines:

Creating news content for the web is a substantial investment for publishers – it is therefore only right that they take a share when others are profiting from it.

So said David Pugh of the NLA. But determine ‘profit’.

Most blogs and much social media content relies heavily on links and is distributed for a purpose of promoting an agenda / company / person / service, or will carry advertising to make a profit. So, is this the thin end of the wedge? Without individuals gaining licenses, will social media activity in the future fall under NLA rules?

In short, yes. Because the NLA would actually like to go further. As Jorn Lyseggen from Meltwater explained to eConsultancy, another part of the ruling:

…effectively states that millions of internet users are breaking copyright law when they click on news articles. The fact the you are creating a temporary cache on your browser when reading articles makes you a copyright offender [unless you have an NLA licence].

Now, if copyright law isn’t normally your thing (admittedly it isn’t mine, so would welcome any more learned comments on this piece), Jorn’s comments on the latest ruling in this case should be enough to send shivers down the spine of every internet user. It implies that every web page viewed is no longer ‘temporary copy’ and therefore not exempt from copyright – and not exempt from NLA licensing charges.

An NLA web licence costs from £58 to £22,000 a year.