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UK Newspapers’ ‘Link Tax’ Referred To Copyright Tribunal

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Online and print news clippings service Meltwater says it has referred the Newspaper Licensing Agency to the UK’s Copyright Tribunal over its new rules, coming January 1, that would compel online news monitoring agencies to pay thousands of pounds for providing links to newspaper stories.

Meltwater says in a statment on Thursday that the expanded NLA licence is a “link tax” and it’s challenging the entire basis of the NLA’s position on web licensing.

The tribunal is an independent body which exists to settle disputes surrounding licensing bodies. It may or may not decide to call a hearing, but don’t expect a decision for several months.

As other aggregators have in the past, Meltwater says that no-one can regulate the sending and receiving of hyperlinks. But this isn’t what the NLA is doing. The agency, owned by the main eight national newspaper publishers, says it is regulating companies that profit from selling links to other companies — i.e. the corporate buying and selling of links on a mass scale. Or as the NLA puts it in a statement: “This is not about links: it is about profiting from someone else’s intellectual property without paying your fair share of the cost.”

Moreover was also threatening to sue at one point, before signing up to the new scheme.

Norway-based Meltwater Group CEO Jorn Lysegge says “This fee is not only unjust and unreasonable, it is contrary to the very spirit of the internet.” He’s joined in the fight by PR Consulants’ Association director general Francis Ingram, who says “It is ludicrous for organisations to need a license to receive links to coverage that is freely available to view online.” But is it so ludicrous to licence the selling of that content? Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Bing don’t charge anyone to see its links, which is not the case for Meltwater….

NewsNow CEO Struan Bartlett — who this week removed some newspaper content from his site, instead of signing up to the new NLA deal — has backed a campaign to reverse the NLA licence.

He also cites freedom of expression as a defence, but this is also about money: the NLA expects to make an extra £1 million from licensing aggregators, so maybe these companies have a better case if they admitted that there’s also a financial motivation in opposing attempts to regulate their industry…

6 Responses to “UK Newspapers’ ‘Link Tax’ Referred To Copyright Tribunal”

  1. You state “Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Bing don’t charge anyone to see its links, which is not the case for Meltwater”. But the only difference is the business model used for monetization – Google and Bing “charge” users by displaying advertising, while the other aggregators charge customers a fee.
    The reason that the NLA does not want to charge a fee to Google or Bing is not because they don’t charge their customers, but rather, because the NLA participating newspapers would not want to lose the traffic that those sites generate.

    More importantly, the biggest argument that Meltwater and other aggregators have with the NLA licence is not that they are unwilling to pay a fee to the NLA, BUT that the NLA will require each of their clients to pay a fee to access the content through their platform. That is a game-changer for aggregators – suddenly, in order to buy your service, your customer must also pay a licence fee to the NLA, which in many cases will be a multiple of what you are charging.

    Think about it – what if PaidContent readers had to first license any content to which a PaidContent article would link to? Would you go along with that? Of course not.
    The NLA is taking the wrong approach to this issue.

  2. Among other things I find it funny that people think of Google and Bing as not benefiting financially from providing links. If this were the case then Google would have absolutely no revenue at all since search is the core of their business.

    They benefit just as much (if not more) from providing links to others’ content by serving ads to the visitors of their site. You could view this as the consumer “paying” for the service by having to view the ads. It’s just a difference in business model: subscription vs. ad-based.

    Also, as someone already pointed out: the service that companies like Meltwater and NewsNow provide is not content at all, it is the ability to find relevant content and direct their customers to it.

  3. @logical; Duh. The content is created by the aggregators. They provide aggregated search results and not a copy of the content. This is unique and novel content that the aggregators are fully entitled to sell.

    If the NLA had a legal case and was truly interested in ensuring publishers get a share of revenues, don’t you think they would be chasing Google.

    The whole goal of the NLA crusade is to tax UK business for using Internet news. They are not really interested in aggregators but want to paint the false picture that businesses must pay to use online news services.


  4. This move by the NLA is a disgrace. Meltwater and Newsnow aren’t selling the papers’ content, they’re pointing people to the content. Profitable websites will become more profitable. Unprofitable ones should probably be shut anyway.

  5. It’s not about maunual or ‘technology’. It’s about charging users for your service. Duh. Why is this so hard to understand? The NLA and Publishers are only trying to get a share of the profits of 3rd parties for content that wasn’t created by the 3rd parties. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

  6. It’s going to be interesting if we get to see this play out.
    If I *manually* read every newspaper article and manually write a pay-for web page with links to stories I recommend based on my human intelligence, is that the same offence in the NLA’s eyes? The only difference seems to be the use of robots that parse the articles?

    If the NLA gets a ruling in its favour, it could be an important marker in newspapers battle to reassert their digital value.