The UK PR Association (PRCA) is promoting "a misleading view" of licences for paid-for newspaper monitoring, the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) has claimed.

Backed by the PRCA, the online media monitoring firm Meltwater is currently taking the NLA to a UK copyright tribunal, arguing that a new NLA system introduced this month is equivalent to a "stealth tax" and not supported by English law.

The PRCA will act as 'intervener' in Meltwater's case, challenging the NLA's clamp down on links for commercial gain.

In a letter to PR Week last week, Francis Ingham, director-general, PRCA said the association was studying Meltwater's submission to the Copyright Tribunal: "in order to see how we can best support them in stopping this ridiculous attempt to tax information".

"Unfortunately, common sense, kind words and good intentions do not seem to work with the NLA - only forceful action," he continued.

Responding to the PRCA's letter, NLA managing director, David Pugh wrote to PR Week today:

"The casual reader would assume the NLA has imposed licensing without consultation and in the face of vehement customer resistance. The facts are rather different, if less sensational."

Web monitoring licences resulted from 18 months' consultation with the media monitoring industry, Pugh argued.

"Their final design reflects a high level of engagement at individual company and trade association level - although not with the PRCA, which opted to gesture from the touchline."

In a statement issued yesterday, the NLA says news that PRCA had applied to support Meltwater as a an 'intervener' in the case "comes as no surprise".

"[It] makes no difference to web licensing for newspaper content. Monitoring agencies are still required to have and pay for a web licence but we will not invoice their clients for their NLA web licences until the Copyright Tribunal has ruled.

"We regret that, unlike other trade organisations and companies, the PRCA chose not to engage constructively while the NLA consulted on its web licences throughout 2009."

The NLA charges explained

From 1 January 2010, the NLA started charging sites, including aggregators, that link to newspaper websites and articles as part of their paid-for services.

The organisation, which is owned by eight UK national newspaper publishers, is targeting commercial services so as to recoup some revenue from the use of newspapers’ online content.

But the NLA has announced it will suspend invoicing for these charges until the results of the Meltwater copyright tribunal.

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