Supreme Court rules in landmark online copyright case

The UK Supreme Court has sided with PR industry group Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) and media monitoring firm Meltwater in a copyright case related to news scraping and headline aggregating.

The decision found in favour of PRCA and Meltwater over the Newspaper Licensing Agency, which argued that media monitoring firms must pay licensing fees for distributing links to newspapers’ online content.

The case centres on whether or not online links are equivalent to newspaper clippings, for which media monitoring firms traditionally had to pay fees. But unlike the practice of photocopying articles, it’s less clear whether linking amounts to copying and, therefore, copyright infringement.

After a long-running case, the Supreme Court ruled this week that "temporary copies made for the purpose of browsing by an unlicensed end-user" do not infringe on copyrighted material. The decision was based on precedents in European law, which identified the conflict that arose in this case but did not directly address browsing, the court said.

“The issue has reached this court because it affects the operation of a service which is being made available on a commercial basis. But the same question potentially affects millions of non-commercial users of the internet who may, no doubt unwittingly, be incurring civil liability by viewing copyright material on the internet without the authority of the rights tamowner, for example because it has been unlawfully uploaded by a third party. Similar issues arise when viewers watch a broadcast on a digital television or a subscription television programme via a set-top box,” wrote Lord Sumption in the judgment.

“We are delighted that the UK Supreme Court has accepted all of our arguments, which we look forward to making again at the CJEU. The Supreme Court understood that this does not just affect the PR world, but the fundamental rights of all EU citizens to browse the Internet,” said PRCA Director General Francis Ingham.

The Supreme Court’s decision must now be considered by the European courts of Justice, which will decide how, or whether, to apply the ruling to European law.

Image Credit: Flickr (NS Newsflash)

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