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
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
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
Neither the IPR nor the CLA are entering the discussion with any
publicly stated position on whether electronic copies should be more
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
The NLA needs to settle the current argument over charges through
constructive discussion, rather than a repeat of the 1997 stand off.