The European Court is expected, within the next 18 months, to look at whether temporary copies of copyrighted material made in the process of browsing and viewing articles online require authorisation from rights holders.
In the ruling it issued this morning, the Supreme Court gave some backing to the case made by the PRCA, which has been supporting media monitoring agency Meltwater in its battle against the agency that grants licences to organisations making copies of newspaper content.
Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption stated on behalf of the five-strong panel of judges that he ‘was not persuaded’ by the argument that 'if the viewing of copyright material on a web-page did not require a licence from the copyright owner, he would be exposed to large-scale piracy of a kind which would be difficult to detect or prevent'.
However, Sumption said he had decided to refer the case to the European Court of Justice because the application of copyright law to internet use has important implications for many millions of people across the European Union.
The decision prolongs the three-year battle between the NLA, Meltwater and the PRCA on the issue of media monitoring, licensing and online copyright.
Francis Ingham, director-general of the PRCA, hailed the decision and said he expected the NLA to ‘absolutely, completely lose'.
‘This was passed with clear recommendations backing our cause. Our advice to members is to continue to pay the NLA the bills they send you. However, though we’ve lost a few battles a long the way I fully expect we will win the war, and the final result will mean that providers like Meltwater will be able to provide a service to end users that won’t require a licence. This could open up a new route so NLA users don’t require a licence at all.’
David Pugh, managing director of the NLA, contended that the case was looking at a ‘hypothetical’ scenario.
‘It makes no difference to [Meltwater's] present email-based service. It would only change if Meltwater re-engineered a lower grade service where clients had to go to a portal and find the data.
‘We will now await the ECJ’s judgement on this matter – which may take some time regardless of the final outcome. We welcome the fact that core NLA principles have been upheld by the Supreme Court – paid-for web monitoring services using publishers’ content require copyright licences and therefore remuneration for publishers.’
The battle began when Meltwater, backed by the PRCA, took the NLA to the Copyright Tribunal over its licensing scheme for online articles.
After the tribunal backed Meltwater and the PRCA, the NLA won a High Court challenge in November 2010, leading to the PRCA taking the case to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal ruled in 2011 that the technological process of displaying a web page on a computer is not exempt from copyright because it is a temporary copy, which the PRCA later decided to take up with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court heard the case this February.
The NLA was forced by the Copyright Tribunal to reduce its fees for web licensing in 2012.