LONDON: The UK's Supreme Court has referred the long-running battle between the Public Relations Consultants Association and the Newspaper Licensing Agency over online and media monitoring to the European Court of Justice.
The European Court is expected, within the next 18 months, to look at whether temporary copies of copyrighted material made in the process of browsing and viewing articles online require authorization from rights holders.
In the ruling it issued on Wednesday, the Supreme Court gave some backing to the case made by the PRCA, which has been supporting media monitoring agency Meltwater in its battle against the agency that grants licenses to organizations making copies of newspaper content.
Supreme Court judge Jonathan Sumption stated on behalf of the five-strong panel of judges that he “was not persuaded” by the argument that “if the viewing of copyright material on a webpage did not require a license from the copyright owner, he would be exposed to large-scale piracy of a kind that would be difficult to detect or prevent.”
However, Sumption said he had decided to refer the case to the European Court of Justice because the application of copyright law to internet use has important implications for many millions of people across the European Union.
The decision prolongs the three-year battle among the NLA, Meltwater, and the PRCA on the issue of media monitoring, licensing, and online copyright.
Francis Ingham, director general of the PRCA, hailed the decision and said he expected the NLA to “absolutely, completely lose.”
‘This was passed with clear recommendations backing our cause. Our advice to members is to continue to pay the NLA the bills they send you,” he said. “However, though we've lost a few battles along the way, I fully expect we will win the war, and the final result will mean that providers like Meltwater will be able to provide a service to end users that won't require a license. This could open up a new route so NLA users don't require a license at all.”
David Pugh, MD of the NLA, contended that the case was looking at a “hypothetical” scenario.
“It makes no difference to [Meltwater's] present email-based service. It would only change if Meltwater re-engineered a lower-grade service where clients had to go to a portal and find the data,” he said. “We will now await the [court's] judgment on this matter – which may take some time regardless of the final outcome.”
The battle began when Meltwater, backed by the PRCA, took the NLA to the Copyright Tribunal over its licensing scheme for online articles.
After the tribunal backed Meltwater and the PRCA, the NLA won a High Court challenge in November 2010, leading to the PRCA taking the case to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal ruled in 2011 that the technological process of displaying a web page on a computer is not exempt from copyright because it is a temporary copy, which the PRCA later decided to take up with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court heard the case this February.
The NLA was forced by the Copyright Tribunal to reduce its fees for web licensing in 2012.
This story originally appeared on the website of PRWeek UK, the sister publication of PRWeek at Haymarket Media.