Newspaper Licensing Should Go

by Nigel Heneghan

Newspaper licensing is regulation familiar to most public relations consultants and many of our clients. In Ireland, licensing is carried out on behalf of Irish media interests by Newspaper Licensing Ireland (NLI) and the UK’s Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) which in general oversees UK titles sold in Ireland. In my opinion this licensing unfairly penalises organisations without whom there would be any great degree of news.

Effectively newspaper licensing covers the use of press clippings and the area of copyright. Press clippings are used for numerous reasons: capturing references to an organisation in the press; references to competitors; issues relevant to an organisation, or for the purposes of research. In some cases newspaper coverage is used in part as a measurement of the effectiveness of a particular public relations initiative.

Press clippings come by way of PDF file, other times via a web-link. Sometimes, as if accessing some sort of secret file, a password is required. There are licensing limitations on the number of people that can view a clipping. The more viewers the larger the cost. The licensing agencies are making it more prohibitive to easily access or distribute press clippings. It has become time-consuming and more inefficient.

PR consultants and our clients rightly have issues with this imposed regulation. The cost, as a standard is accepted by client companies. In any case, the cost is not prohibitive and is not really an issue.

But there are reasons why I believe newspaper licensing is a nonsense. The primary reason is that on a daily basis, a very significant amount of media content is driven by our clients, on whose behalf we channel news and information to newspapers and journalists. We spend a good degree of our time in the arena of media communication; we facilitate newspapers in providing the news that their readers expect. Indeed, a good part of the news that is subject to copyright, is originated via the public relations sector.

Furthermore, NLI and NLA are penalising those companies and organisations who by supporting newspapers through advertising are the lifeblood of the published news sector.

Public relations companies in Ireland and other larger companies purchase newspapers in large quantities. This firm ( as is the case with many others, takes delivery each morning of a number of newspapers. If an analysis were to take place, the result might demonstrate a very significant level of custom for newspaper sector.

Because of the powerful media lobby and historical political reluctance to stand up to this lobby and carefully scrutinise newspaper licensing, it is now written in law. The Irish public relations sector has not responded with an effective challenge in providing the scrutiny that newspaper licensing merited and still does.

In this age of regulation and regulators, it is questionable that the enforcers of the law are a private-sector consultancy company. I am open to challenge on this, but I can’t readily think of a similar example in any other area of licensing and regulation in Ireland. As far as I am aware there is a direct state involvement across all areas of licensing. This is an area that merits examination.

Another area that might be looked at, is the broadcast media’s liberal use of newspapers in current affairs and other programmes. RTE Morning Ireland’s “What It Says In The Papers” and the front page preview on TV3’s Tonight With Vincent Brown spring to mind. Are they legally exempt from newspaper licensing? They certainly derive a commercial benefit from the use of newspapers there are numerous such examples on a daily basis across the broadcast media.

What about Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook and other digital uses of newspaper articles? How are these classified in terms of the dissemination of published newspaper articles?

As a minimum, I believe the constraints imposed by newspaper licensing should be relaxed. However, as the migration towards digital media platforms continues apace, newspaper licensing should be withdrawn. In time it will become irrelevant and obsolete. For me, newspaper licensing should go now.