An open letter to the Newspaper Licensing Agency (by Kevin Taylor / CIPR)
Kevin Taylor is President, Chartered Institute of Public Relations. [Twitter]
I seem to have stumbled into a parallel universe… not only do I find myself writing for a
PRWeek blog; I’m also in a world
where reading my morning newspaper on the internet incurs a daily charge. In fact, if you are reading this in my
parallel world you’ll soon receive my invoice for £1.50.
Or at least, that seems to be the world that the Newspaper
Licensing Agency (NLA) wants us all to embrace.
Some background – the NLA is not some government-backed
Quango operating with all the force of Parliamentary law. It is purely a commercial body, owned
by some of the newspaper publishers, which uses copyright law as the
opportunity to levy fees on commercial and public organisations, suppliers and
the PR industry in general for reproducing news content.
Originally the justification for NLA fees was that potential
sales of physical newspapers were lost when one person or organisation bought
the paper, cut out all the relevant articles, photocopied them and sent them to
a whole bunch of potential customers of the original product.
The notion that actual paper sales are important to a
newspaper’s business has long since disappeared with the rise of free
newspapers – it’s readers that matter because that’s what attracts advertisers.
Of course, cut-out pieces of a newspaper without their
adjacent adverts doesn’t really help the newspaper business model and therefore
some compensation for the loss of a potential reader of the advertising is an
argument that might have some merit.
Hold that thought for just a moment.
Up until the recent announcements by the NLA (well covered
in PRWeek) one way for an
organisation to avoid NLA charges was for it to forward links to coverage
rather than actual cuttings.
Providing a link sent potential readers to the original
source of the story and its adjacent advertising, added to the web hits of the
site itself, which pleases advertisers, and of course the material is provided
on the site free of charge.
Seems like a perfect solution. Imagine a local authority press officer who receives an
article from his cuttings agency on transport policy in a national newspaper
and forwards this as a link to 20 people in the transport planning team, to all
60 councillors and 20 of the council’s most senior managers.
The web site in question receives maybe 100 extra visitors
from that authority alone – and that situation gets repeated in the press
offices of just about every local authority in the country. Wonderful,
thousands more readers, lots of web hits to drive those traffic numbers up and
And then along come our friends at the NLA from their
parallel universe who say: “No, that’s covered by copyright law and we need to
charge you for providing that link.”
“But the content on the site is free to read,” you foolishly
Apparently that’s not the point. It’s their site, not yours.
If you think it is good for your business to send people to their site, then
you must pay.
“But your site depends on readers for its revenue. I’m effectively sending you customers,”
But, according to the NLA, you are doing it for your benefit
not theirs, therefore you must pay.
It is an absolute
nonsense. If I call someone and tell them a web address – no charge (at
least not one proposed yet). But if I send them the web address by email
– that requires an NLA licence and, depending on how I acquired the link in the
first place, it could well incur a per-event charge as well.
If instead of sending the link, I send a link to the Google
news search that includes the link – no charge.
You see Google news has been exempted from NLA charges. If the NLA attempted to charge Google
one of two things would happen: with
deep pockets for litigation Google could mount a legal challenge to the
ridiculous charges; or it could simply drop the newspaper titles concerned from
its search engine – causing a massive drop in web visitors to those sites and
subsequently a loss of advertising revenue. Because you see, in the real world, forwarding links to the
sites is good for their business.
I want newspapers to be successful and profitable. I want
good standards of journalism and I’m prepared to do my bit: buy a quality daily
newspaper and not rely on the free sheets. I hope advertising and online revenues pick up and our best
newspapers survive and thrive.
But these latest proposed NLA charges are not the way to
fund the newspaper industry. They are nonsensical. The Government needs to be strong enough to stand up to the
newspaper owners and impose some regulation on the NLA.
They are simply a commercial organisation trying to make a
living – but they can’t invent a parallel universe in order to justify their
Kevin Taylor, CIPR
Still perplexed by the
NLA’s proposed new web licence? The CIPR has updated its guidance on the NLA to
explain the changes and how these will affect its members. If you have any
queries, please contact CIPR Public Affairs Officer Emma Hamilton at email@example.com because, well, that’s the way they want it!