WHOSE CONTENT IS IT ANYWAY?

press cuttings

As a sector that advises others on how best to build and protect their reputations, the PR industry would do well to offer itself some professional advice sometimes.

After a closed consultation with the CIPR and a handful of its members, the NLA has proposed changes to PR agency licensing agreements, precipitating a public spat between the CIPR and rival professional body, the PRCA.

The question of why the PR industry has two separate professional bodies has perplexed me for some time and I’d be happy to hear from anyone who can offer me a sensible answer on that one! In the wake of the PRCA’s unequivocal criticism of the CIPR on the NLA controversy this week, however, that puzzlement has spilled over into a bigger question: why are the two not working together to fight members’ corner on this one?

The problem with NLA licences is not that they are too complex but that they are too costly and anachronistic.

While some level of compromise on the issue may be unavoidable, the idea that PR agencies should continue paying a third party organisation for published content that they themselves have generated is outrageous and the PRCA is to be applauded for taking a stand on this issue.

The genesis of the NLA was a collaboration between eight newspapers who wanted to simplify collection of copyright revenue from material written by the journalists they employed. It’s grown into an organisation that collects license payments on behalf of thousands of publications and, while it does put the majority of that money back into publishers’ coffers, the reality is that much of the content has not been written by journalists at all; it’s been written by PRs.

The NLA cannot deny that many publications rely on content, images and copy from PR agencies. Indeed, as a construction PR agency, Clare PR deals with many publications that work on a skeleton staff and would not be viable without content from PRs. NLA license fees, therefore, are encouraging publishers to bite the very hand that feeds it.

The organisation has also failed to move with the times. While the only way to share content used to be to photocopy or scan it, so much is now available to share online that it makes a mockery of the old-fashioned cuttings book in the clients’ reception.

And how far do we take the concept of copyright? If I share a tweet do I infringe a journalist’s copyright? What about if someone reposts my self-published blog on their website…should I expect them to pay a fee?

As a PR, I have the greatest respect for journalists and I fully support their right to be paid for their skill and knowledge but that’s not what NLA license fees do. The fees cripple small agencies with costs they are often unable to pass on to clients and prevent us, as a profession, from being able to measure and showcase our work effectively.

So, as the PRCA’s director general recently put it so succinctly, we need to stop validating the NLA’s ‘business model that isn’t relevant for modern life’ and join him in demanding a complete rethink rather than a minor re-negotiation.

 

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