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News Aggregators Accuse NLA Of 'Taxing The Internet'

News aggregators and PR industry reps say the Newspaper Licensing Agency’s attempts to charge them for redistributing news article hyperlinks are “legally baseless”.

A statement signed by Meltwater, NewsNow, the PR Consultants Association and Updatum says: “The NLA has absolutely no legal basis for demanding that people sign up to this Licence (which) is nothing more than a blatant and unjustified attempt to tax the internet.”

The NLA announced in June that aggregators would have to buy a new NLA licence to redistribute newspaper links via their tailored, paid-for news alert services. The statement claims the rules will see customers paying an extra £33,474 a year to receive the same service. The aggregators say they “respect and value the investment made by the NLA’s members in creating content”, but argue that the “mere receipt of a hyperlink.. is not an act which gives the publishers any rights in English copyright law.”

As we reported in June, Moreover — a notable absentee on the letter’s list of signatories — was considering taking legal action against the NLA. But it appears the aggregators have decided a PR war is more effective (and cheaper) than taking the agency on through the courts.

Plus, the aggregators point out, they are sending traffic and audience to these publishers, who would otherwise just use Google (NSDQ: GOOG) News to get the same content. Framing the NLA’s plans as an attempt to claw back revenue for ailing newspapers, the statement adds: “If and how publishers choose to monetise that traffic once it arrives is a matter for them.” They compare sending and receiving hyperlinks to being sent a phone number and using it to make a call — pointing out that the license enforces a charge even if the link isn’t clicked on.

The NLA argues it isn’t targeting bloggers or journalists that link to newspaper sites — the agency admits this traffic is welcome — but it is targeting “large, commercial operations which are scraping the entire content of tens of thousands of websites and creating paid-for services from them.” NLA commercial director Andrew Hughes told us in June the NLA wants to “work with aggregators, not against them”.