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Help required to exempt not-for-profit organisations from NLA fees

June 14th, 2013

A newspaper websiteIn April the Supreme Court ruled that visiting a public web page isn’t a potential infringement of copyright, overturning two perplexing earlier judgements from the High Court and Court of Appeal.

This decision undermined a key strand of the NLA’s case for charging organisations who receive emails with links to public content. Obviously we cheered, both for business reasons and because we agree in principle with Tim Berners-Lee when he said that:

Myth: “A normal link is an incitement to copy the linked document in a way which infringes copyright”. This is a serious misunderstanding. The ability to refer to a document (or a person or any thing else) is in general a fundamental right of free speech to the same extent that speech is free. Making the reference with a hypertext link is more efficient but changes nothing else.

However the Supreme Court also referred this issue up to the European courts, so even if they support the principle of linking and browsing, as we expect them to do, charities and other not-for-profit organisations still have to pay substantial sums in NLA online licences until that ruling comes through.

We have therefore included this issue in our May referral to the Copyright Tribunal, along with a stack of other problems with the NLA licences (for example, as a startup, we pay the NLA about 160 times as much per client as our largest competitor). We don’t need your help with that bit. But it would be great to have support with the challenge to fees for not-for-profit clients.

Please do get in touch with me if you work for a public or third sector body affected by these fees, and if you might be prepared to give us a statement in support of an exemption for all not-for-profit organisations. The deadline is 5th July 2013, so time is tight.

We did the sums on what these licences cost for local authorities, as reported here by LGN. Based on the NLA’s fees and the average local authority workforce size, a single council could have to pay up to £13,984 just to receive emails and click on links to public content, and there are 433 local authorities in the UK, so the potential cost to taxpayers is huge. Then you can add in similar fees paid by every other part of the public sector that uses media monitoring services, which is every substantial part that’s doing its job properly.

Similarly, although charities get offered a small discount, some are still forced to pay up to £10,000, as reported by CharityComms in this piece from Third Sector and here in Third Force News. I think the average donor would be appalled to find out that if charities want to be informed about freely available public news stories (typically stories the charities themselves have generated) then a proportion of the money they donated has to be paid to the NLA.

As we pointed out to the media, this spectacularly unfair fee regime means a massively profitable hedge fund would pay less for an NLA licence than a medium sized charity, even where the same number of people at each organisation receive the same number of links by email.

It’s time for this to stop. Will you help us make that happen?

Posted in: Legal & copyright

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