Two years in jail or an unlimited fine. That’s the maximum penalty
facing you if you are convicted of copying and distributing a copyright
item without permission. The copyright owner could also sue you for
damages in a civil action.
Now, do you still feel like arguing with the terms imposed on you by the
Newspaper Licensing Agency?
The NLA is the body responsible, since January 1996, for licensing
everyone who makes copies of press articles from its members’
newspapers. That includes all the nationals newspapers, with the
exception of News International-owned titles. It also includes 20 other
titles, mostly evening and regional papers, as well as the European,
International Herald Tribune and the Scotsman.
But in asserting the newspapers’ right to charge royalties the NLA has
drawn a storm of protest. The areas of business most affected - after
cuttings agencies - are PR agencies and internal PR departments.
Both the Institute of Public Relations and the Public Relations
Consultants Association have issued advice to their members to negotiate
their own terms, or at least reserve their positions until a national
agreement has been reached with the NLA through a joint IPR/PRCA Task
The Task Force, chaired by Quentin Rappoport, a former senior public
affairs adviser with BT, represents a wide body of interests who object
to the NLA terms and rates, claiming they are inappropriate and
’We’re not against the principle of licensing,’ says Rappoport. ’But
this unfair, excessive way of imposing a system, without discussion, has
provoked many complaints.’
The rules drawn up by the NLA are spelt out in detail in the booklet
Photocopying from newspapers - your guide to the rules. In a nutshell,
if you photocopy, fax or scan articles from the main national
newspapers, you need a licence. Unless you are entitled to a
concessionary licence, you pay 2p per photocopy.
The major targets for the NLA were the early morning press cuttings
services, which extensively fax and photocopy the national newspapers.
Other cuttings services which use actual clippings from the papers are
The major impetus behind the formation of the NLA was rumoured to be the
Financial Times’ purchase of Lincoln Hannah, an early morning service
which is now part of the Broadcast Monitoring Company. Through its
purchase, the extent of copying became known to the newspaper group. The
annual number of copies is believed to have been between 30 and 40
million, of which almost 90 per cent were taken from the national
Clearly, copying on such a scale could not pass unnoticed, and the NLA
has wasted no time in persuading all the other early morning cuttings
agencies to obtain licences, including CXT and Precise, but not Romeike
and Curtice, whose Press Express early morning service is small,
relative to its national cuttings service.
The NLA has also had some success in persuading PR agencies and internal
PR departments to toe the line, and last month announced an ’amnesty’
allowing those who signed up by 27 March to begin their royalty payments
from January 1997 rather than 1996.
But not all PR firms have been willing to accept the terms decided
unilaterally by the NLA. Dewe Rogerson, for example, succeeded in
negotiating its own terms over the NLA’s ad hoc charge.
Rappoport’s Task Force had its first face-to-face meeting with Anthony
Rentoul, chief executive of the NLA, in March. However, this only served
to emphasise the difficulty of negotiating with a body which sees no
need to negotiate. In the wake of the first meeting a legal challenge
has not been ruled out.
In reality, there is scope for independent adjudication of fair
One option for the Task Force is to refer the case to the Copyright
Tribunal, a statutory body set up following the Copyright Act. The
Tribunal would be able to use its own judgement regarding the level of
If the NLA took a firm to court, then the court would decide whether it
was covered by one of the exemptions.
Rentoul explained his position to PR Week before attending the Task
Force meeting. ’They (PR people) are not regarded as a special group
that deserves a special arrangement. The NLA board was not prepared to
make any exceptions, bar two.’ Those exceptions are schools and
But Rappoport is determined to make headway on the key issues. First and
foremost is the issue of the unit charge which he claims is arbitrary
and too high.
’Two pence represents a level that the publishers felt was appropriate,’
answers Rentoul.’ It’s a bargain compared with the cost of buying 40
copies of a newspaper and having an army of people cutting them up.’
But Rentoul gives no assurance that licence charges will remain at their
’bargain’ level. ’Licensees should expect that charges will increase to
reflect what we think the market will bear,’ he says.
Such comments raise the worst fears of the Task Force. Some Task Force
members disagree with the basic principle of charging royalties,
particularly in the case of public authorities which provide much of the
source material for the papers in the first place.
’I have six PR staff spending 50 per cent of their time dealing with
requests from the press,’ says Hackney’s assistant chief executive
Lorraine Langham. ’We argue that it is in the public interest to give
the newspapers the information they need, but when we want to read the
stories that we helped to inform, then we have to pay.’
In answer to Langham’s charge that the NLA is siphoning money from
public services, he replies that six PROs must be a significant
financial burden, compared with its licence fee of a little over pounds
2,000. Some 52 English local authorities have agreed licences so far
(out of a total of 361), at an average cost of pounds 1,205.
Part of what needles Langham is being caught between the NLA’s two
licensing alternatives. The one, heavily bureaucratic, involves counting
every single copy. The other, which uses a sample period of a month to
estimate the number of copies, includes a charge for ad hoc copying
which eludes the sample.
While the NLA has yet to propose a formula that covers copying on
electronic media, one source suggests that this could prove to be the
solution to the disagreement over rates, rather than the source of added
According to Richard Woods, corporate communications consultant at UUNet
Pipex, ’Web sites offer an ideal opportunity to sell newspapers.’ He
suggests that Internet commerce will allow newspapers to sell individual
articles to users, in the format in which they are published. The
convenience of this method, he says, would significantly reduce copying,
and provide direct revenue to newspapers.
’Every time someone pinches something - in any form - they go through a
resource-intensive process to copy, package and send it out. A cuttings
service based on electronic processes could offer them a tremendous
EXCALIBUR: TRACING OLD WORDS WRITTEN ON THE STONE
Being accountable for everything you’ve said or written could be a tough
problem, especially when your adversaries have on record your views for
the past decade.
That’s the position that Labour and the Conservatives have created for
each other, as they have both bought into the Excalibur Rapid Rebuttal
Unit. This is a comprehensive database containing Hansard, newspaper
cuttings, papers, broadcasts, speeches, campaign leaflets and so on,
which can be attributed to the main three political parties, dating back
at least ten years.
Politicians are not the only ones who will feel the cutting edge of this
sword. If you believe everything you read in Private Eye (21/3/97, p6)
then fashionable novelist Will Self has been brought to book by Tony
Blair’s press secretary Alastair Campbell.
Self’s plans for a face-to-face interview with Blair apparently went
awry when Campbell used the reference database to expose a
three-year-old article by Self which was critical of Blair.
The database, which was chosen first by the Labour Party and more
recently by the Tories, has proven popular not just because of the depth
of its information, but because of the scope and flexibility of its
indexing and search tools. This simply translates into speed of
response. Each party can pick at the other’s claims and accusations
within minutes, throwing each other’s words back at them whenever they
The technology has gone down well with journalists. ’We have got to be
on our guard, but nonetheless it is handy. You might call it
spoonfeeding if you wanted to be censorious. Tories do it too, but not
as well as Labour these days,’ says Michael White, political editor of
the Guardian, in an interview on Radio 5’s The Big Byte in January.
The importance of rapid rebuttal has to be viewed in the light of the
way election campaigns tend to cover an issue in a single day. Most
people are familiar with the scene where journalists armed with mobile
phones pass information between each other.
But the electronic reporting phenomenon has gone beyond that with the
launch of Decision ’97, the Microsoft network’s real-time on-line
coverage of the election. Its main source is Nick Assinder, the UK’s
first lobby correspondent, who can publish copy directly on to the
network within minutes. (You can see Decision ’97 at
DISTRIBUTION: WHOSE LINES ARE THEY ANYWAY?
The question of who may be responsible for another’s words was thrown
into stark relief last month, when ITN decided to sue Two-Ten
Communications over a press release that it distributed.
The release, issued by Living Marxism magazine, was posted on the UNS
Newswire service, and contained allegations about ITN’s coverage of the
Bosnian conflict which ITN considered defamatory. The news organisation
is also suing the magazine.
Two-Ten and other distributors can be held responsible for material they
release under the Defamation Act of 1996, unless they can prove they
’took reasonable care in relation to its publication’ and ’did not know,
and had no reason to believe’ that the distribution ’caused or
contributed to the publication of a defamatory statement’.
Two-Ten was unable to report any progress in negotiations with ITN as PR
Week went to press.
In the rest of the news distribution industry, reactions of disbelief at
the ITN action are common. Most distribution agencies have established
procedures for screening and attribution of information, which they do
exercise. ’It is difficult, but we do screen out contentious issues,’
says Graeme Radcliffe, founder of IPMG Newsdesk, the Internet-based
European IT press release distributor.
Despite Newsdesk’s own careful screening policy, Radcliffe is concerned
that the current level of disputes is nothing compared with the
potential problems which could be unleashed through the Internet. The
general lack of control over Web publishing represents a very
The risk is that journalists or analysts will gather incorrect or
damaging information through the Internet by a variety of means, but
will not be able to distinguish between trustworthy sources and other,
less discriminating, news sources. Possible sources include junk e-mail
(which can be impossible to trace to its source, even with expert help),
information collected by ’intelligent agents’, and the large number of
’anti’ sites where disgruntled customers publish negative information
’This is an important issue,’ says Radcliffe. ’We need to set down codes
of conduct and provide guarantees about our sources. How else do you
guarantee that the news on your network is real?’