High Court rules newspapers can charge for web links - Press Gazette

High Court rules newspapers can charge for web links

The Newspaper Licensing Agency won a significant victory this morning as the High Court ruled that aggregated web links taken from newspaper websites are protected by copyright law.

In a judgment issued this morning Mrs Justice Proudman ruled that end-users who paid aggregator Meltwater News to distribute online newspaper content in the form of a news monitoring service infringed publisher’s copyright if they acted without an NLA licence.

The ruling suggests that copyright can be applied to aggregated online news headlines and that any business using a monitoring service needed to reach a commercial agreement with the NLA – through a licence. However, Justice Proudman granted permission to appeal her decision.

Meltwarter said it believed today’s judgment undermined the basic principles of the operation and use of the internet and ‘reaches a wrong interpretation of the law”.

The High Court ruling is the latest twist in the ongoing battle between the NLA, which is owned by eight of the UK’s largest newspaper publishers, and Meltwater over the use of aggregated headlines.

In May, the NLA named Meltwater and the Public Relations Consultants Association, a PR trade body, as counterparties as it sought a High Court ruling to resolve ongoing uncertainty over its controversial web licensing scheme which put limits on whether aggregators could copy and distribute online newspaper content.

Press cuttings agencies and the PR industry currently pay the NLA a fee for reproducing articles in full.

At the start of the year, the NLA issued over 400 licences covering the use of online headlines from newspaper publishers. All client aggregation services, bar Meltwater, signed up to these new licences.

Meltwater objected to charges of up to £10,000 a year to allow it to use headlines, links, and short text extracts from online stories.

Together with the PRCA, Meltwater initiated separate Copyright Tribunal proceedings to rule on the commercial aspects of the new licences.

The Copyright Tribunal is expected to meet and review the commercial terms for both end end-user and aggregator licences in February 2011.

David Pugh, managing director of the NLA, welcomed today’s ruling.

‘We hope this ruling will help ensure a fair share of web monitoring revenue for publishers and a fair media monitoring market,’he said.

‘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.

‘We estimate the total UK market for online news monitoring to be worth around £10 million.

‘As newspapers’ content is central to that market, we believe publishers should earn a fair share of revenues from paid-for monitoring…

‘Now we have legal clarity, we look forward to the Copyright Tribunal decisions on the commercial aspects of web licensing.

‘The NLA would like to see as swift and complete a resolution as possible for all parties – publishers, media monitoring companies and their clients.”

A statement issued by Meltwater said the High Court ruling was “only an interlude towards the Copyright Tribunal decision” which is expected to rule on the reasonableness of the NLA’s licensing terms.

“Meltwater has challenged the NLA licensing scheme on two main accounts. Firstly we do not agree that our clients are required to sign a licensing agreement to receive email reports containing links to the online news article,” the statement said.

“Secondly, Meltwater has challenged the aggressive fee structure and the terms demanded from our clients. Meltwater and its legal team stand firmly behind these objections.

“The first instance High Court ruling undermines the basic principles of the operation and use of the Internet.

“First, it means that simply the browsing of copyright protected content made freely available on the Internet will infringe copyright if it is read without a rightholder licence. We believe that browsing content made available on the Internet should not infringe copyright.

“Secondly, simply using headlines of an article for bibliographic reference could infringe copyright.

“These are general principles that need to be addressed by the courts. In any event, Meltwater still looks forward to the Copyright Tribunal’s ruling on Meltwater’s case against the reasonableness of the NLA’s licensing scheme.”


17 thoughts on “High Court rules newspapers can charge for web links”

  1. As Lem stated the internet is built on hyperlinks and it’s the way users navigate the internet. There have been cases where people have been held liable (under copyright, defamation, trademark, unfair competition) for using hyperlinks. In Australia we had a copyright case but it was fairly clear from the context that his whole business model was directing users to another web property via a hyperlink to infringe copyright and make a substantial amount of money through advertising.Even these kinds of rulings worry me, because where do you draw the line???Australia and English law have never recognised a misappropriation doctrine for headlines (as pointed out by paulwiggins).@Rafa, I agree the old newspaper model is dying and some newspapers are adapting better than others, although it makes me wonder to what lengths they will go to extract what they can at the risk of alienating end users and others.You can be found liable for framing and I just hope it doesn’t bring back all of those eg Washington Post v Total News et al. There have been a few European cases. I suppose it depends on the way the news aggregation service is structured.Otherwise copyrighting headlines and even snippets is out. We just had a High Court Case in Australia where Fairfax tried to claim copyright over various aspects of it’s publications from headlines as discrete copyright works, articles and by-lines with headlines and compilations. The High Court rejected their claims this year.Fairfax Media Publications Pty Ltd (Fairfax) v Reed International Books Australia Pty Ltd

  2. Our readership grows naturally online and in print. But we’re not about my paper is bigger than yours. We are about revenue and aggregators don’t really assist here.

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