EDITORIAL: M&S result raises copyright hopes

The Court of Appeal’s ruling that Marks and Spencer did not breach the Newspaper Licencing Authority’s (NLA) copyright in the typographical arrangement of newspaper cuttings, may well prove to be something of a landmark in relations between the licensing body and the PR industry.

The Court of Appeal’s ruling that Marks and Spencer did not breach

the Newspaper Licencing Authority’s (NLA) copyright in the typographical

arrangement of newspaper cuttings, may well prove to be something of a

landmark in relations between the licensing body and the PR

industry.



Since its creation back in 1997 the NLA has held the threat of legal

action over the PR industry, and a victory, even if it is a partial one,

is more than welcome news for PROs.



But, while Marks and Spencer won the day over the issue of typographical

copyright, the Court of Appeal was not apparently unanimous in its

conclusions over the difficult issue of what constitutes a ’news event’.

The NLA is appealing to the House of Lords over the issue of

typographical copyright but is also now launching a fresh legal

challenge which will encompass literary copyright. The NLA proposes to

complete an analysis of all the cuttings copied by Marks and Spencer and

to follow the copyright trail that will inevitably lead to a profusion

of staff journalists and freelancers.



No small task when you consider the scale of the M&S communications

operation.



The relationship between the PR industry and the NLA has been an icy

one, although there has necessarily been some thaw since the Copyright

Tribunal in 1998. The IPR and PRCA have been consulting on a couple of

issues arising of relevance to the industry, and will undoubtedly have

to come to the table together with the NLA over the issue of e-copying -

a potential nightmare for all parties.



The ruling on typographical copyright, if it is upheld at the Lords, may

also provide a new opportunity for the industry to put its case to the

NLA and to contribute towards its copyright framework. But there may be

even bigger fish to fry. While the NLA concentrates on the minutiae of

copyright law, the IPR and PRCA have their sights set on the new

regulatory framework that arises as a result of the 1998 Competition Act

which has recently come into effect.



In principle, the NLA’s stance could be argued as working against the

aims and objectives of the new Act and the Office of Fair Trading, which

is examining business practices that are subject to allegations of

anti-competitive practices and restraint of trade, particularly those

affecting SMEs.



While M&S can hardly be described as an SME, a large proportion of

consultancies operating in PR can. There may well be a case to be made

for those agencies which rely on cuttings, but because they cannot

afford the costs imposed by the NLA, are forced to stop providing this

crucial service, and proof of their effectiveness, to their clients.



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