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PRCA Wins Big Legal Victory Over Newspaper Distributors in Europe

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BREAKING: PR has triumphed over media in the UK. Well, sort of.

The not-quite-shocking conclusion reached by The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg holds that web surfers can Google and click to their hearts’ content without the permission of whoever holds the copyrights for the content they see.

Does this make sense to you?

Here’s the issue, as explained to idiots like ourselves: by uploading data, your browser creates “copies” of the pages you visit in order to display them for your viewing pleasure. Under existing European copyright law, some argued that content providers (represented in this case by the Newspaper Licensing Agency) could theoretically require any web surfer to request permission before viewing their own “copy” of said content because they are, in a way, creating their own copy simply by clicking on it. (This despite the fact that the owner of that content made it available online.)

Still confused?

The issue is that PR firms (represented by the PRCA) pay the NLA for permission to “distribute reproductions of newspaper content”, and the NLA argued that these fees should include all the “copies” made by surfers’ computers rather than simply accounting for the businesses (like defendant Meltwater) that distributed them online. The NLA argued that the point of the case was fair compensation for newspapers and writers and would only apply to those who are in the business of distribution while opponents held that, if the NLA won, it could selectively prosecute random people for reading its articles online.

The court overturned an earlier decision holding that the act of transferring content from one computer to another effectively amounted to “copying” and that all relevant copyright laws could apply. A second ruling holding that the reproduction of headlines falls under copyright law, even when those headlines simply link back to the original articles, still stands.

The effect of the decision is essentially null; distribution services like Meltwater still need license to distribute copyrighted content, but the average Joe or Jane may now rest a bit easier knowing that the Internet is, indeed, free (paywalls notwithstanding).

How does the PRCA feel about the ruling? Good enough to create a hashtag:

The suit has been going on for some time; the PRCA explains its history in a nifty Vine:

The NLA responded to the PRCA’s gleeful announcement with threats to increase fees for distributors, so the battle isn’t over.

This has been your weekly Obscure European Law update.

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