The PR industry has united in outrage over controversial plans by the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) to extend its licensing remit to cover newspaper websites.
The NLA has said the changes (see below) would make sure newspapers were properly rewarded for their content. It also claimed the changes would encourage more professional web media monitoring.
But this week, angry PR agency bosses echoed fierce criticism from the CIPR and the PRCA as they learned of the plans. PR agencies claimed the licensing extension was simply a way for the NLA to make more money.
Idea Generation MD Hector Proud said: 'The NLA is looking around desperately to find new income streams from a dying business model. This is a ham-fisted attempt to extract the largest amount of money from the softest target it can find.'
Brahm head of PR Tim Downs said: 'With newspapers' revenue streams getting squeezed all over the place, the NLA is searching for ever more tenuous ways to protect its income - this is simply one of the more logical extensions of its power.'
With the recession continuing to bite, agencies criticised the timing of the changes. Generate Sponsorship PR director Jonathan Neil said agencies could be hit by asking clients to cover the cost or by covering the cost themselves as an overhead. 'Both of these options in the current situation are not good timing, especially for smaller agencies.'
The proposals have also prompted the question of who owns the rights to content. Threepipe co-founded Eddie May said: 'Who actually owns a piece of coverage if the copy, image, research or whatever the story is based on, is actually owned by the agency/client and not generated by the publisher?'
The NLA hit back at the criticisms. MD David Pugh said: 'Our aim is to protect the rights of publishers and help the web monitoring market grow. We are investing £2m in developing eClips web, which will provide a faster and more permanent service to cuttings agencies and their clients. This demonstrates how serious the NLA is about working in partnership to grow the industry. Publishers understand economic times are difficult - that is why charges will not start until January 2010 and will be low.'
How I see it
- Colin Farrington, Director general, CIPR
We are opposed to these proposed charges being imposed on our members. We can understand the NLA's desire to charge specialist online cuttings agencies in order to level the field with traditional print cuttings, but we oppose the levying of individual fees.
- Francis Ingham, Director general, PRCA
This proposal is simply a back-door tax that comes at the worst possible time for the PR industry. Charging organisations potentially thousands of pounds for the simple receipt or dispatch of website links is quite outrageous. It is money for nothing.
8 - National newspapers own the NLA
1,300 - National and local publishers receive revenue from NLA
15% - Increase in web monitoring costs under new scheme
2010 - When charges will be implemented
150k - Number of businesses currently licensed by NLA