The Newspaper Licensing Agency wants companies to pay for the privilege
of copying articles even for internal consumption and is threatening
legal action against those who do not comply.
There are several issues here, not least the NLA’s heavy-handed approach
to the issue. This has prompted worried calls to the IPR by members who
fear imprisonment or heavy fines for simply photocopying a newspaper
In fairness, the newspapers which are backing the NLA, led by the
Telegraph, have been negotiating with the press cuttings agencies for
the introduction of a levy on copying for a long time. But there
appears to have been little or no consultation with the PR industry or
the client sector generally, which actually pays for the service in the
Then there is the question of what responsible PR people should do
about publications which are not part of the NLA, such as the News
International titles. Clearly they cannot call publications not covered
by the NLA levy and offer to pay every time they want to make a
photocopy. Yet, legally, it seems that they must.
No one is arguing with the right of publishers to protect their
copyright or to get some form of remuneration for the use of published
material where it is for commercial purposes rather than private
research. Though, undoubtedly this still remains a murky legal area.
The NLA argues that a two pence per copy charge is excellent value
compared with the full cover price which those making copies would
otherwise have to fork out. It also argues that it is providing the best
solution to a problem that has existed for many years - the illegal
copying of copyrighted material - in the form of a one-stop shop for
But, not only is the levy which the NLA has set (currently two pence per
copy) an arbitrary figure arrived at with no consultation, but there is
no guarantee at all that it will not rise substantially as new
publishers join or existing members decide to tighten the screw.
Publishers and PR people exist in a state of inter-dependence -
according to an analysis by one City editor, some 30 per cent of the
stories in his newspaper were PR generated and that is not counting
those where PR still contributed. Business and industry already invests
millions of pounds in publishing through advertising revenue, should
those same companies or their PR agencies then have to pay for the
privilege of photocopying material they provided?
Still, as publishers ourselves we have to believe in the right of
publishers to be paid for the product they provide. PR agencies need the
media and this is one pill they will just have to swallow.