Today, June 15 2011, marks the start of the UK Court of Appeal for the NLA vs Meltwater holdings case. I’ve blogged about this case previously, because it concerns me that a commercial entity such as the NLA–whilst attempting to enforce the monetization of its content–can end up introducing laws that affect all of us in the digital age.
I do not deny that the issue is complicated. The print newspaper industry is no longer robust. As more people seek to gather their news from literally any place other than an inky page, online news sources, seeking to fulfill this new need, have in effect cannibalised their own traditional heritage; so it’s not in the least bit surprising that firewalls have been erected to protect revenues and entities such as the NLA have sprung up into existence. But … just to clarify, this case originated because the NLA (founded by a group of newspaper owners) created their own “licenses” for users who in effect potentially make money from their sources. That includes PR agencies and newspaper aggregators or monitoring companies, such as Meltwater … and apparently their clients.
The license is effectively a tax for usage.
And as further clarification, Meltwater, to my knowledge, did not dispute paying for the license, but did vehemently dispute “on principle” that its end users– its clients, should pay the license also.
Andrew Hughes, the commercial director of NLA made this statement in a comment he wrote in response to a blog post on the issue:
“NLA and publishers are very happy for users of Facebook and for other social media apps to post as many links as they like as often as they like, without charge of licence. NLA is only seeking to licence PAID FOR services, not Google, Facebook, and other web tools.”
All very well and good … but by the very definition you raise a huge question about what is a “PAID FOR service”, because at a very literal level in the case of monitoring agencies they provide the service, so I can only assume you expressly mean: anyone who profits from, in some way using, the content in question.
Now I’m no expert on law or copyright but I am an everyday link-sharer. And from my Twitter business account I post links with, let’s face it, the express purpose of sharing information in order to build upon my professional reputation as a freelance writer, which I hope leads me to more work.
Could this be construed as using links to make money?
What about Meltwater’s not-for-profit clients, will they be charged? Or Joe-down-the-wordpress-road who has monetized his blog with some advertising … when he shares links to draw attention to his blog, will he be in breach?
Where will it end?
How the UK Court of Appeal handles this case will set a precedent for the future of content and hyper-link sharing. And once set, a precedent cannot be undone.
From all I have read everyone seems to agree on one fact, that there are a lot of grey-areas that this case has brought to light; particularly with a set of laws that are yet to effectively deal with a rapidly evolving digital landscape.
As a writer I firmly believe in the protection of rights with regards to copyright issues and hope that news sources find business models that benefit all concerned, but my thoughts today are resting with a more seamier truth … that is, how the NLA’s attempt at double-dipping could potentially end up having serious ramifications for every day link-sharers, like you and me, all over the world.
For more background on the case, the issue of copyright and wider legal ramifications watch this video from the recent Future of Content panel debate.
Panelists featured include Jørn Lyseggen (Meltwater CEO), David Pugh (NLA Managing Director) and Professor Bently (Cambridge University).