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Copyright Issues for the Internet Age: NLA v Meltwater

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Since the advent of the internet it appears that piracy in cyberspace has been endemic, immune to copyright law and with very few being held to account.

Copying of online material without a licence from the copyright holder is not only incredibly difficult to police practically, but identifying an infringement or those guilty of infringement can also be complex.

The courts in Public Relations Consultants Association Ltd (PRCA) v the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) & Others, commonly known as NLA v Meltwater, have considered these and various other copyright issues.

The Supreme Court has finally brought clarity to one outstanding issue related to temporary copies that occur when individuals browse the web.

What Is the Issue with Temporary Copies?

The Meltwater group of companies provide clients with daily email indexes of ‘cuttings’ from newspaper websites based on customised word searches. Early in the proceedings, it had been decided that customers receiving these indexes by email would require an NLA licence as this created a new copy (the email in their inbox). The issue of simply displaying this information on Meltwater’s website for customers to view was more complex.

The court was asked to decide whether viewing copyrighted material on the Meltwater website, but not downloading it, was a breach of copyright as this would technically involve a temporary copy to be made on screen and in the internet “cache” on the hard disk of their computer.

What Did the Court Decide?

The court decided that the creation of new copies when viewing a website was temporary and merely an incidental consequence of using a computer to view the material, meeting the exception under section 28A of the Copyright Design and Patent Act which gave effect to section 5(1) of the Copyright Directive.

The end-user’s objective was to view the material not copy it and they do not make a copy, for copyright purposes, unless they download or printed the image.

Despite concluding that merely viewing copyright material online as opposed to downloading or printing that material does not amount to copyright infringement; before making an order, the Supreme Court referred the issue to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) for clarification.

The judgment will have important implications for many millions of people across the EU.

Effects of The Decision

It is expected that the CJEU will follow the Supreme Court in line with previous cases and avoid making millions of non-commercial users liable for copyright infringement when innocently browsing pirated information of which they were unaware.

It remains the case therefore that there will be little disincentive for web users to view illegitimate sources of information. Copyright owners will be left to pursue the source of the pirated material which can be extremely tricky and is rarely successful.

If you need assistance regarding copyright issues, Rollingsons has experienced lawyers who can help you. For more information please contact James Crichton via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.