Ruling means that Internet users can browse online without infringing copyright law
Florence is editorial assistant for CorpComms Magazine
The Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) has today won in a landmark ruling against the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) which declares that Internet users maintain the right to browse online freely without the threat of infringing copyright law.
But the ruling has no impact on the web licences that media monitoring services and their clients have been obliged to purchase since 2012, and which remain a requirement for those organisations that wish to copy and distribute online newspaper articles.
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled in favour of the PRCA and Meltwater, the media monitoring agency that has funded the legal action, that, in the 24 EU member states, browsing and viewing articles online does not require authorisation from the copyright holder. When Internet users read content online, the ruling means that they are now protected by the temporary copy exception of EU copyright law.
The battle between the PRCA and the NLA began in 2010 when the licensing agency, which represents eight national newspapers, announced plans to introduce web licences to cover online newspaper copy.
In 2010 the High Court ruled that newspaper publishers’ web content is protected by copyright law, which resulted in some confusion over who might be liable for such charges and whether it extended beyond the initial remit. The latest case clarifies that point.
In April 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone should be free to read or browse online newspaper content without fear of infringing copyright law. In this judgment, Lord Jonathan Sumption expressed that it was desirable that decision on the point of accessing such content be referred to the CJEU.
PRCA director general Francis Ingham said: ‘We are utterly delighted that the CJEU has accepted all of our arguments against the NLA. The Court of Justice, like the Supreme Court before them, understands that the NLA’s attempts to charge for reading online content do not just affect the PR world, but the fundamental rights of all EU citizens to browse the Internet. This is a huge step in the right direction for the courts as they seek ways to deal with the thorny issues of Internet use and copyright law.’
The NLA, however, insists that members of the public reading online news content would never have been liable for infringement of copyright. The NLA issues licenses only for those wishing to make commercial gains out of newspaper content, such as media monitoring services and PR agencies. David Pugh, managing director NLA media access, explained: ‘This case was always about media monitoring services. These judgments will have no impact on ordinary people.’
He added: ‘The result of the case has no implications for the licences NLA media access issues for the present web-monitoring services operated by Meltwater and other media monitoring agencies; although it may in time lead service providers to create new services which would operate under a different licensing regime.
‘The net economic effect of this judgment for newspaper and magazine publishers should be neutral: end user clients who pay for their current monitoring service still require a licence for the content they receive.
‘We are pleased that throughout these court cases, which began in the High Court in 2010, the principle that publishers should be fairly remunerated for use of their copyrighted content has been upheld.’
The ruling does not change anything for PRCA members, who will still have to pay for the licences they are issued by the NLA. But Matt Cartmell, PRCA communications director, said: ‘This was a legal point which needed clarification. This victory means that we can go back to the NLA from a new bargaining position.’