Should the NLA pay us instead?

Like a growing number of PR teams, my company increasingly works with the excellent syndication service provided by the Press Association. The PA is able to disseminate words and pictures across the entire spectrum of UK media. The agency feeds news with clarity and authority to all target media, thus saving time-consuming multiple sell-ins to individual titles.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

It also respects embargoes and treats accurate facts as sacrosanct. Its value was proved recently when our decision to deal exclusively with PA on a client's story was rewarded with more than 90 pieces of national and regional coverage. It was entirely on message with the press release and even used our photos.

I was reflecting on this when I subsequently began my dealings with the Newspaper Licensing Authority. This body has become well known through its heightened diligence in recent years in levying a licence fee on PR agencies, in-house teams and clients for their use of newspaper cuttings. Basically, the NLA is a collecting agency owned by national newspapers. Its remit is to levy an annual licence fee based on how many newspaper cuttings agencies distribute and to how many clients.

The NLA view is that every circulated cutting potentially stops a sale of a newspaper and therefore newspapers require another charging mechanism. It is collecting hundreds of thousands of pounds annually from those involved in our industry.

But is it justified in doing so? There is an argument that copyright - as in the case of our PA example - often belongs to the client who created the concept and the PRO who crafted the words and images. Is it not the case that under the NLA system PROs and their clients are on occasions being charged for our own work - which newspapers took as ready-made content?

Of course every good PR practitioner should applaud proper market funding of the media that present so many opportunities for our clients. But should we really be paying it for the privilege of using a cutting of what is effectively our and our clients' work?

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