EDITORIAL: The higher cost of going digital

As this week’s angry letter from the British Tourist Authority (BTA) shows, the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) is once again in danger of coming to blows with the PR industry over charges for copying newspaper cuttings.

As this week’s angry letter from the British Tourist Authority

(BTA) shows, the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) is once again in

danger of coming to blows with the PR industry over charges for copying

newspaper cuttings.



In September 1997 the PRCA and IPR threatened to take the NLA to

copyright tribunal because the organisation refused to negotiate its

tariff and would not give the industry any safeguards over future price

increases.



Negotiations rattled on for almost a year and it was not until June 1998

that the NLA came to an agreement with the PR associations, and the

tribunal case was dropped. The issue this time is how much businesses

should pay for electronic copies.



When the BTA began distributing cuttings to its staff through its

intranet, rather than on paper, it hoped to make time and cost savings.

So it was a little surprised when it saw its annual bill from the NLA

quadruple to pounds 8,000. Among other changes in calculating the BTA’s

bill, the NLA has doubled its charges for electronic copies, which cost

4p as opposed to 2p for paper ones.



The NLA argues that businesses using electronic copying systems can

afford the increase because they are saving on labour, paper and

photocopying machine costs. But surely the savings should be passed on

to those who invest in the technology, not the NLA.



The Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA), which represents the interests of

authors and magazine publishers and has a historically less

confrontational relationship with the PR industry than the NLA, has

already negotiated electronic copying charges with the higher education

sector. The CLA, which calculates its tariffs differently from the NLA,

has not asked universities to pay any extra for making electronic

copies, which, like paper ones, are charged at 5p.



The CLA is about to start negotiations with businesses, including the PR

and advertising industries, on what their electronic tariff should be.

Companies, including one PR agency, have been asked to join a

consultation group which will meet on 14 December to discuss the issue.

And the IPR is meeting the CLA later this month to begin discussions on

the matter.



Neither the IPR nor the CLA are entering the discussion with any

publicly stated position on whether electronic copies should be more

expensive.



They are both prepared to have a genuine debate.



The electronic copying issue is an important one. Digitisation means

that cuttings are increasingly going to be distributed via

intranets.



The NLA needs to settle the current argument over charges through

constructive discussion, rather than a repeat of the 1997 stand off.



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