What is the role of copyright trade bodies?

There’s been some email discussion among members regarding the arrest over the TV Links website in relation to “alleged violations of Section 92 of the Trade Marks Act”.

This case is interesting from a public relations perspective  in respect of the role of the action group the  Federation Against Copyright Theft (), which is a trade body representing the “major British and American studios, television, satellite distribution, media and production companies, industry associations and societies”. This representation involves working:

closely across the UK with Police services, Trading Standards, HM Revenue & Customs, Serious and Organised Crime Agency and the Department for Work and Pensions. FACT has a close association with other enforcement bodies such as the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association (ELSPA)

FACT also has an important role in ensuring that the government and public understand the threat to the UK’s film and television industry and to the community at large from the growing threat of DVD and online piracy.

The of FACT is Kieron Sharp, who has “a strong background in law enforcement”, rising to the rank of Detective Chief Superintendent with thirty years police service.

Looking at the facts about FACT, the body does not seem to simply represent its members in the usual sense of undertaking communications and campaigning activities.  It actively pursues those it feels are impacting the interests of its members.  This includes establishing, in partnership with the Metropolitan Police, a , and employing a team of field investigators and forensic experts.

I am not condoning the theft of copyright material (although in this case, the issue is more about providing links to material infringing copyright – which arguably Google and YouTube also do – and seems unlikely to be judged as a civil or criminal offence under English law).

What I feel increasingly uncomfortable about is the way that industries establish “trade bodies” to aggressively target those they believe are infringing copyright. 

The is another such body.  Established by the UK national newspapers, it “authorises paper and digital copying of press cuttings on behalf of national, regional and international newspapers” – and over “over 150,000 businesses and organisations ranging from large government organisations, plcs, and limited companies to partnerships and public relations agencies” pay a licence to the NLA – amounting to many thousands of pounds a year in some cases.

Of course, a large percentage of the £18m each year distributed by the NLA to national and regional newspapers in respect of copyright works comes from the public purse as government and other organisations are required to pay to monitor media coverage relating to key public issues.

The argument of the NLA is that organisations that copy and distribute press cuttings are breaching the newspapers’ copyright.  Ironically, much of the content of said newspapers originates from the public relations practitioners who then have to pay to prove to their bosses that their actions have generated media coverage.  They may be our words, but when reproduced verbatim by journalists, the publication owns the copyright.

The NLA claims it “exists to simplify the otherwise difficult and complex problem of the exchange of copyright fees and licences between the publishers (national and regional press) and organisations that wish to copy (photocopy, fax, email) articles from newspapers.”  However, any PR practitioner who has been confronted by representatives of the NLA will report a very bruising encounter, with threats of prosecution and presumed guilt.  It is assumed that all organisations copy press cuttings – and obtaining a licence is an admission of prior illegal copying and so back-fines are charged.

The launch of the NLA eClips electronic database of press cuttings has brought even tighter monitoring and control over access to digital clippings in partnership with press cuttings agencies.  This service is not simply about managing copyright, but is financially profitable and seen to “provide a platform for innovation and growth in the next few years.”  Good news in the face of declining income from selling actual newspapers.

There is considerable debate regarding the future of , especially in the context of the Internet, but what is clear is that copyright is currently an economic benefit that some industries are establishing aggressive trade bodies to protect and not simply with words.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

One thought on “What is the role of copyright trade bodies?”

  1. Thanks Heather, you brought me up to date.

    There is no case for limiting the circulation of online editorial copyright in the UK. I believe it can be contested for being contrary to European law and the constitution, such as it is in the UK. Marks and Spencer did a good job contesting the NLA assumption in the last round but I believe it needs to be tested in the courts again, especially now so many publications are so committed to online interactions.

    There is fun here. eClips and the media, as with so many so called copyright owners, must know that the golden goose will join the baby as they chuck out the asses milk.

    There is a cultural issue here which is the use by people of hyperlinks. I know many people still do not use/understand them. Quite often one finds that hyperlinked references have not been accesses but PDF’s have and it is something we will have to teach management if they want to avoid the cost of the control freaks.

    I call them control freaks because, of course, their copyright has absolutely no value, but it probably has a cost.

    Without relationships that allow materials to be transferred from one person the the next, copyright has no value.

    So now the argument is about relationships. Who owns relationships. Do Microsoft and Facebook ‘own’ the relationships created by people in Facebook own the relationships?

    I don’t thinks so. People can go build their relationships elsewhere.

    So if not relationships what is it that gives copyright material its value?

    Is it the channel that facilitates relationships?

    Like the pub but unlike prison or the military dictatorship in Burma.

    Can eClip be in the same class with Than Shwe? Are they taxing relationships?

    Is it legal or constitutional to restrict and limit relationships especially for content that has been designed and created for the public domain. If so, have we already joined Shwe and his gang.

    Do the publishers believe their content is only for readers of their papers and web site and not for public consumption? would they turn down an extra 100,000 readers? Phooey.

    Bye Bye publishing!

    But, if they want to play it their way, there is a trade association with a unique (Chartered) responsibility for (all?) relationships. Its the CIPR. No doubt Colin Farrington has it in mind to charge for every relationship that is needed for publishers to exchange their material copy with all other parties. Should the transmitter pay, or the receiver. I like the idea of the transmitter. OK we will have to pay to send press releases but the newspapers will have to pay to publish on web sites and paper. We could also get an institution to do this for us for a modest fee… I had in mind the Treasury which might be persuaded to act both because the NLA collects a private tax and because it has so few tools to benefit from the communication revolution – now a large part of the economy.

    A final though. With all those potential revenues, would CIPR want to annex the conferences, exhibitions and meetings sectors ( including the Lord Chamberlain of the Household ‘s office).

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