FOCUS: INFORMATION SERVICES - Being on the cutting edge has its price/If you copy press cuttings, the Newspaper Licensing Agency says you must be licensed on its terms, or risk prosecution. Tom Dawn investigates

Two years in jail or an unlimited fine. That’s the maximum penalty facing you if you are convicted of copying and distributing a copyright item without permission. The copyright owner could also sue you for damages in a civil action.

Two years in jail or an unlimited fine. That’s the maximum penalty

facing you if you are convicted of copying and distributing a copyright

item without permission. The copyright owner could also sue you for

damages in a civil action.

Now, do you still feel like arguing with the terms imposed on you by the

Newspaper Licensing Agency?

The NLA is the body responsible, since January 1996, for licensing

everyone who makes copies of press articles from its members’

newspapers. That includes all the nationals newspapers, with the

exception of News International-owned titles. It also includes 20 other

titles, mostly evening and regional papers, as well as the European,

International Herald Tribune and the Scotsman.

But in asserting the newspapers’ right to charge royalties the NLA has

drawn a storm of protest. The areas of business most affected - after

cuttings agencies - are PR agencies and internal PR departments.

Both the Institute of Public Relations and the Public Relations

Consultants Association have issued advice to their members to negotiate

their own terms, or at least reserve their positions until a national

agreement has been reached with the NLA through a joint IPR/PRCA Task


The Task Force, chaired by Quentin Rappoport, a former senior public

affairs adviser with BT, represents a wide body of interests who object

to the NLA terms and rates, claiming they are inappropriate and


’We’re not against the principle of licensing,’ says Rappoport. ’But

this unfair, excessive way of imposing a system, without discussion, has

provoked many complaints.’

The rules drawn up by the NLA are spelt out in detail in the booklet

Photocopying from newspapers - your guide to the rules. In a nutshell,

if you photocopy, fax or scan articles from the main national

newspapers, you need a licence. Unless you are entitled to a

concessionary licence, you pay 2p per photocopy.

The major targets for the NLA were the early morning press cuttings

services, which extensively fax and photocopy the national newspapers.

Other cuttings services which use actual clippings from the papers are


The major impetus behind the formation of the NLA was rumoured to be the

Financial Times’ purchase of Lincoln Hannah, an early morning service

which is now part of the Broadcast Monitoring Company. Through its

purchase, the extent of copying became known to the newspaper group. The

annual number of copies is believed to have been between 30 and 40

million, of which almost 90 per cent were taken from the national


Clearly, copying on such a scale could not pass unnoticed, and the NLA

has wasted no time in persuading all the other early morning cuttings

agencies to obtain licences, including CXT and Precise, but not Romeike

and Curtice, whose Press Express early morning service is small,

relative to its national cuttings service.

The NLA has also had some success in persuading PR agencies and internal

PR departments to toe the line, and last month announced an ’amnesty’

allowing those who signed up by 27 March to begin their royalty payments

from January 1997 rather than 1996.

But not all PR firms have been willing to accept the terms decided

unilaterally by the NLA. Dewe Rogerson, for example, succeeded in

negotiating its own terms over the NLA’s ad hoc charge.

Rappoport’s Task Force had its first face-to-face meeting with Anthony

Rentoul, chief executive of the NLA, in March. However, this only served

to emphasise the difficulty of negotiating with a body which sees no

need to negotiate. In the wake of the first meeting a legal challenge

has not been ruled out.

In reality, there is scope for independent adjudication of fair


One option for the Task Force is to refer the case to the Copyright

Tribunal, a statutory body set up following the Copyright Act. The

Tribunal would be able to use its own judgement regarding the level of

fair royalties.

If the NLA took a firm to court, then the court would decide whether it

was covered by one of the exemptions.

Rentoul explained his position to PR Week before attending the Task

Force meeting. ’They (PR people) are not regarded as a special group

that deserves a special arrangement. The NLA board was not prepared to

make any exceptions, bar two.’ Those exceptions are schools and


But Rappoport is determined to make headway on the key issues. First and

foremost is the issue of the unit charge which he claims is arbitrary

and too high.

’Two pence represents a level that the publishers felt was appropriate,’

answers Rentoul.’ It’s a bargain compared with the cost of buying 40

copies of a newspaper and having an army of people cutting them up.’

But Rentoul gives no assurance that licence charges will remain at their

’bargain’ level. ’Licensees should expect that charges will increase to

reflect what we think the market will bear,’ he says.

Such comments raise the worst fears of the Task Force. Some Task Force

members disagree with the basic principle of charging royalties,

particularly in the case of public authorities which provide much of the

source material for the papers in the first place.

’I have six PR staff spending 50 per cent of their time dealing with

requests from the press,’ says Hackney’s assistant chief executive

Lorraine Langham. ’We argue that it is in the public interest to give

the newspapers the information they need, but when we want to read the

stories that we helped to inform, then we have to pay.’

In answer to Langham’s charge that the NLA is siphoning money from

public services, he replies that six PROs must be a significant

financial burden, compared with its licence fee of a little over pounds

2,000. Some 52 English local authorities have agreed licences so far

(out of a total of 361), at an average cost of pounds 1,205.

Part of what needles Langham is being caught between the NLA’s two

licensing alternatives. The one, heavily bureaucratic, involves counting

every single copy. The other, which uses a sample period of a month to

estimate the number of copies, includes a charge for ad hoc copying

which eludes the sample.

While the NLA has yet to propose a formula that covers copying on

electronic media, one source suggests that this could prove to be the

solution to the disagreement over rates, rather than the source of added


According to Richard Woods, corporate communications consultant at UUNet

Pipex, ’Web sites offer an ideal opportunity to sell newspapers.’ He

suggests that Internet commerce will allow newspapers to sell individual

articles to users, in the format in which they are published. The

convenience of this method, he says, would significantly reduce copying,

and provide direct revenue to newspapers.

’Every time someone pinches something - in any form - they go through a

resource-intensive process to copy, package and send it out. A cuttings

service based on electronic processes could offer them a tremendous



Being accountable for everything you’ve said or written could be a tough

problem, especially when your adversaries have on record your views for

the past decade.

That’s the position that Labour and the Conservatives have created for

each other, as they have both bought into the Excalibur Rapid Rebuttal

Unit. This is a comprehensive database containing Hansard, newspaper

cuttings, papers, broadcasts, speeches, campaign leaflets and so on,

which can be attributed to the main three political parties, dating back

at least ten years.

Politicians are not the only ones who will feel the cutting edge of this

sword. If you believe everything you read in Private Eye (21/3/97, p6)

then fashionable novelist Will Self has been brought to book by Tony

Blair’s press secretary Alastair Campbell.

Self’s plans for a face-to-face interview with Blair apparently went

awry when Campbell used the reference database to expose a

three-year-old article by Self which was critical of Blair.

The database, which was chosen first by the Labour Party and more

recently by the Tories, has proven popular not just because of the depth

of its information, but because of the scope and flexibility of its

indexing and search tools. This simply translates into speed of

response. Each party can pick at the other’s claims and accusations

within minutes, throwing each other’s words back at them whenever they

see fit.

The technology has gone down well with journalists. ’We have got to be

on our guard, but nonetheless it is handy. You might call it

spoonfeeding if you wanted to be censorious. Tories do it too, but not

as well as Labour these days,’ says Michael White, political editor of

the Guardian, in an interview on Radio 5’s The Big Byte in January.

The importance of rapid rebuttal has to be viewed in the light of the

way election campaigns tend to cover an issue in a single day. Most

people are familiar with the scene where journalists armed with mobile

phones pass information between each other.

But the electronic reporting phenomenon has gone beyond that with the

launch of Decision ’97, the Microsoft network’s real-time on-line

coverage of the election. Its main source is Nick Assinder, the UK’s

first lobby correspondent, who can publish copy directly on to the

network within minutes. (You can see Decision ’97 at


The question of who may be responsible for another’s words was thrown

into stark relief last month, when ITN decided to sue Two-Ten

Communications over a press release that it distributed.

The release, issued by Living Marxism magazine, was posted on the UNS

Newswire service, and contained allegations about ITN’s coverage of the

Bosnian conflict which ITN considered defamatory. The news organisation

is also suing the magazine.

Two-Ten and other distributors can be held responsible for material they

release under the Defamation Act of 1996, unless they can prove they

’took reasonable care in relation to its publication’ and ’did not know,

and had no reason to believe’ that the distribution ’caused or

contributed to the publication of a defamatory statement’.

Two-Ten was unable to report any progress in negotiations with ITN as PR

Week went to press.

In the rest of the news distribution industry, reactions of disbelief at

the ITN action are common. Most distribution agencies have established

procedures for screening and attribution of information, which they do

exercise. ’It is difficult, but we do screen out contentious issues,’

says Graeme Radcliffe, founder of IPMG Newsdesk, the Internet-based

European IT press release distributor.

Despite Newsdesk’s own careful screening policy, Radcliffe is concerned

that the current level of disputes is nothing compared with the

potential problems which could be unleashed through the Internet. The

general lack of control over Web publishing represents a very

significant risk.

The risk is that journalists or analysts will gather incorrect or

damaging information through the Internet by a variety of means, but

will not be able to distinguish between trustworthy sources and other,

less discriminating, news sources. Possible sources include junk e-mail

(which can be impossible to trace to its source, even with expert help),

information collected by ’intelligent agents’, and the large number of

’anti’ sites where disgruntled customers publish negative information

about companies.

’This is an important issue,’ says Radcliffe. ’We need to set down codes

of conduct and provide guarantees about our sources. How else do you

guarantee that the news on your network is real?’

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