Ingham: The NLA's new copyright licence is a recipe for disaster for PR industry

We need a new model for copyright and licensing issues, and the NLA cannot provide it, writes PRCA chief Francis Ingham.

So. Copyright is back in the news. And not in the positive way it was when we defeated the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) at the European Court last summer.

After a private collaboration, the CIPR and NLA sprung yet another new copying licence on an unsuspecting PR world. They described it as "a step forward". We described it as a massive error of judgement.

Why? What can be wrong with another licence? Especially one that might save small agencies a hundred quid or so?

Well... It further complicates an already complicated market. Far from making agencies’ lives simpler, it will make them more confused. They won’t know which licence will be the least expensive option. So they’ll have to ask the NLA for advice.

And then BAM! You’re in its sights. And it will never let you go. You’ll be paying it for years. We know from experience that the NLA’s model is to lure you in with a small bill, and then increase the bill considerably. It’ll be exactly the same here.

Second, there are more fundamental issues at stake. How on earth was this deal reached? I can identify two CIPR members who were consulted. They certainly didn’t pick up the phone to me. If they had done so, I would have said this to them: over the past eight years, we’ve fought the NLA in five ­separate courts. It will squeeze every last penny out of your members.

You simply can’t negotiate with it in good faith. Walk away now. If the CIPR had rung up its former ­president Lionel Zetter, he would have said the same. He and I tried to ­arrange an agreement with the NLA in 2007. We soon realised the fundamental truth of negotiating with the NLA is that you will never win.

Over the past eight years, we’ve made significant progress challenging the NLA. We cut back its bill  pretensions in the Copyright Tribunal.

We changed the law in 29 countries at the European Court. We were getting somewhere. And now the NLA has been thrown a legitimacy lifeline.

Where do we go from here? I believe it simply is not possible to cut deals with the NLA. The only things it respects are money and strength. So when we talk about issues that affect its bottom line, we need to show strength as an industry. 

Fundamentally, the NLA, the ­Copyright Licensing Agency and other collecting societies are wrestling with a business model that isn’t relevant for modern life. Social media are destroying the foundations on which the NLA et al are based. We need to hasten the crumbling of those foundations.

So here’s what the PRCA will do. We are going to construct a coalition of all the membership bodies in our ­industry. We are going to build a ­common front in defending PR’s ­interests. And we are going to talk, not with the NLA, but with law-makers. And every person who cares as we do about our industry and its ­future is welcome to join us. United, we can achieve a great deal.

Francis Ingham is PRCA director-general and ICCO executive director

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