The Copyright Tribunal has ruled that Meltwater is subject to the same rules and requirements as other media monitoring organisations but that future fees proposed by the Newspaper Licensing Agency for online content are too high.
The interim ruling is the latest stage in Meltwater's three year legal battle with the NLA against the principle of online licensing.
The Copyright Tribunal's decision follows two court cases which also confirmed the legality of licensing online newspaper content.
Both the NLA and Meltwater claimed victory in the battle. Meltwater and the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) said that the decision would save UK businesses more than £100 million over three years, and Meltwater's clients more than £24 million. The NLA has consistently estimated that the media monitoring industry is worth just £10 million in licensing revenues.
One industry insider said: 'I don't know where they get £100 million from. At best, the NLA's own pricing model would have only collected one tenth of that over three years. It will be knocked down a bit but I suspect the three year revenues will be between £8 million to £10 million, or broadly in line with NLA expectations.'
David Pugh, managing director of the NLA, said: 'We estimated that we would earn annual licence fees of £1 million from Meltwater and everything we learned in the process backed that figure. Either there's been a breakthrough in economics or UK newspaper publishers have been losing more money to unlicensed providers than previously thought.
'We welcome today's decision which follows two court cases confirming the legality of licensing. We are pleased that the Copyright Tribunal has upheld the principle and structure of our online licensing scheme, and confirmed that Meltwater is subject to the same requirements as Media Monitoring Organisations (MMOs).
'The judgment provides a measured, equitable regime that will ensure stability for both publishers and end-users alike: our customers will benefit from a transparent licensing structure and newspapers can be sure of a fair reward for their content.
'We think that all concerned will welcome the certainty that the Tribunal has provided, and we look forward to working with the newspapers, MMOs and our customers to implement the licence as quickly and as smoothly as possible.'
The Tribunal ruled that the NLA's proposed introductory rates 'were reasonable' and has announced a table of agreed fees for 2010 and 2011, but it argued that the fixed rates that the NLA planned to implement from 2012 'are not realistic' and 'much too high'.
It has slashed the fixed tariff for new licences for a business with one user and between one and five employees by more than 40 per cent from the NLA's proposed £258 fee to just £150.
The fixed fee for existing licensees will be two thirds of the tariff for new licensees.
The Copyright Tribunal said it was unrealistic to suggest it should levy fees beyond three years, but said that the 'only increases we will permit to the fixed rate and to the variable reference point.... would be inflation based'.
The NLA had initially planned to introduce licensing for professional web monitoring in January 2010. But the legal battle had placed those plans on hold, although the NLA has said that licence fees will be backdated once the situation is resolved.
The PRCA also warned that more companies could be infringing copyright law when they use Google News and Google Alerts: 'During the Copyright Tribunal, the NLA revealed that it is going to require all commercial UK users of Google News and Google Alerts to obtain a licence. Furthermore, according to the UK courts, sending an email to a colleague with a news headline, browsing a free news service or sending a tweet with news while at work requires a licence from the publishers.'
But Pugh denies this suggestion. 'They are trying to scare people regarding Google News. Our licences are designed for firms like Meltwater who charge clients. Only a company that systematically use Google Alerts to find links to newspaper web content and send it around their organisation daily will need a licence,' he said.
'The NLA basic licence allows people to use Google News and Alerts in this way; a quarter of a million firms have this licence. Someone setting up a Google Alert for their own work use or who uses a browser to check out The Daily Telegraph's website during their working hours, or sending a link to friends, does not require a licence.'
Jerry Ward, managing director of Press Data, tweeted in response to the ruling: 'The simple truth is neither side achieved their objectives. Decision seems very fair, [the] winners will be the clients.'
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