The National Licensing Agency and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations are at loggerheads over copyright and payment issues. Elisabeth Lewis Jones puts the CIPR's case- while NLA managing director Martin Stevenson hits back.
Few organisations are as unloved by the PR industry as the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA).
In attitude it behaves more like the Inland Revenue rather than a private company, working on the perverse premise that it is up to the PR industry and the members of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) to prove that they owe the NLA nothing.
Contrary to popular belief the NLA is not a Government enforcing agency collecting compensation for every time you photo UK newspapers, frightened at their ever decreasing circulations.
With the impact of PR practitioners receiving their press clippings electronically, the NLA has developed an E Clips charge.
This would phase out email links and paper copies of press cuttings and see the PR industry move over to a payper-view system, where the amount users paid would vary according to the publications they viewed.
If this goes ahead, it would see PR practitioners paying more to view an FT article rather than a Sun article.
Viewing patterns would be monitored rigorously and the NLA would reserve the right to delete articles at will.
There is also talk of the NLA bypassing media monitoring companies and dealing direct with end users.
At the CIPR, we believe that this proposal would be highly damaging to the PR profession. We have four key areas of concern:
* Cost - it would increase the amount our members and PR professionals pay n Completeness - it would allow the NLA to delete articles they dislike - such as this one
* Confidentiality - it would give the NLA access to confidential information as they monitor precisely what people view n Competition - it would ultimately give the NLA a monopoly over the dissemination of information.
Due to the unwillingness of the NLA to negotiate with the CIPR, we have been forced to lobby for copyright to be regulated not by a private company but by the Government. The CIPR is now campaigning for the abolition of the NLA. This is easier said than done.
The NLA has substantial resources. It represents the financial interests of some of this country's most influential organisations - our national newspapers.
And delivering this sort of change would take a considerable amount of Parliamentary time. The case for change however is strong.
More than 60 per cent of MPs say it is unacceptable for the NLA to have sole rights to sell newspaper copyright licenses.
This is the most popular view from MPs across all political parties - and significantly, opposition to the status quo rises to 72 per cent among Labour MPs.
There is also significant MP support for OFCOM assuming a regulatory role with 52 per cent of MPs in favour. Peter Luff, the Chairman of the DTI Select Committee has already written to the NLA, warning them that he is minded to open an inquiry into their plans.
The issue and the future of the NLA should concern us all - whether we're in house, in a consultancy or independent.
Newspaper copyright law is complex and we need it overseen by an organisation which is not a private body, would not benefit financially from its own semi-regulatory functions and would respond to the needs of a modern economy.