Online news headlines copyright fight goes on

The Newspaper Licensing Agency faces a lengthy battle with press cuttings agency Meltwater over the

A preliminary hearing of the Copyright Tribunal was held on 25 February, with the results published on Friday setting the time-frame for a full trial looking into the issue. A full trial is now set for February 2011.

The NLA estimates that charges for aggregated news headlines could be worth around £1 million a year to the UK newspaper industry. But this case could have much wider implications for the conduct of news aggregators, such as Google News, which will be a major issue as news producers increasingly seek to defend their own rights to charge for content.

The NLA issued nearly 200 licences for the use of aggregated news headlines from newspaper publishers at the start of this year. But it has suspended taking the money for the licences pending the outcome of this case.

Meltwater has objected to the charge for the licence, of £10,000 a year, saying that if all the sources it took news headlines from worldwide charged such a fee it would be liable for fees of £25 million.

The fee relates to the headlines and short text extracts from online newspaper stories, with hypertext links, which Meltwater sends out to its paying clients.

Press cuttings agencies and the PR industry already pay the Newspaper Licensing Agency fees which are worth £20m a year to the newspaper industry for reproducing articles in full. Meltwater believes fees shouldn't apply for the headlines and short story extracts which it takes.

Newspaper Licensing Agency commercial director Andrew Hughes said: "The principle that once you publish something on a website, that you still retain rights to it, is fundamental to publishing. In that sense there are some important issues at stake here which we think it is in the interests of the newspaper industry to defend."

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette.