UK Newspapers Suspend ‘Link Tax’ Bills To End Users

The Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA), which has been criticised for requiring a new license from web news monitoring services and their customers, is suspending billing on the license to end users, while the whole issue is deliberated by the UK’s Copyright Tribunal.

The NLA, which aims to generate B2B revenue for the eight UK national news publishers that own it and which has long required fees from agencies that copy printed news cuttings for PR clients, this month implemented two controversial new digital requirements…

— Media monitoring agencies that offer paid web news alerts services to – like Precise, Meltwater and Newsnow – must pay between £5,000 and £10,000 per yer (depending on their revenue and size of client base).

— The services’ end users must also pay from £58 a year for receiving those articles.

The new requirement has been interpreted by opponents as a philosophical tax on hyperlinks. Charges are being levied because, even though the agencies only supply their clients with headlines and summaries of stories, they effectively make copies of the articles in order to process the stories as such, the NLA tells paidContent:UK.

The NLA is not charging consumer web news aggregators like Google (NSDQ: GOOG) News because they do not sell a service to customers, a spokesperson said. But individual newspapers’ discontent lingers toward The Big G. Either way, there is a philosophical battle going on, instigated against established, revenue-losing news publishers toward users they think might cough up.

While confusing many, the new license has also sparked fury from some of the agencies. Newsnow made a half-hearted attempt to start a broad, principled campaign at Right2Link, before relenting by removing its commercial story service, absolving it of the need for a license.

But Meltwater has gone further, in December referring the NLA’s licenses to the UK’s Copyright Tribunal, an independent body which exists to settle disputes surrounding licensing bodies.

NLA on Thursday said it will not invoice agencies’ end users for their license until the tribunal ends, to avoid “disadvantaging” Meltwater’s own customers, who would be billed by the NLA eventually. NLA tells paidContent:UK: “We’re confident the tribunal will rule in our favour. The fees will then be backdated to January 1.”

The NLA says the “vast majority” of such agencies have signed up to the new license, the UK Media Monitoring Association is on board and only Meltwater is outstanding amongst those who continue to provide paid services.

It was the Copyright Tribunal that endorsed royalty rates on streaming music that were finally settled by MCPS-PRS and online services in 2006 and that were in effect until Summer 2009.