When I was President of the CIPR, I was approached by the online monitoring service Meltwater and met with them with a view to joining their, about to begin, fight against NLA charges. I was interested in the battle, and keen for the CIPR to be involved.
Business commitments abroad meant I could not attend what was effectively a later council of war with all the interested parties, a meeting which led directly to legal battles led in the UK by the PRCA. However, one outcome of that meeting was a quite reasonable requirement for those fighting that legal battle to be prepared to share the costs.
There was, therefore, still a chance for the CIPR to get involved after the meeting. Unfortunately, that period coincided with a major financial crisis as the Institute looked to recover and rebuild in the face of a substantial budget deficit. Regretfully, I had to agree with the Board and Management view that the CIPR could not commit the table stakes at the time but would simply have to support from the sidelines.
From that moment on, the PRCA has been able to not only lead the PR industry fight against what are widely viewed as unjust charges, but also to make a bit of PR capital for themselves out of the position.
From my side, and on behalf of the CIPR, I then elected to follow Winston Churchill’s advice. I went for “jaw-jaw is better than war-war”; especially as I couldn’t afford to join the fight.
I met with the NLA – who at the time were looking to introduce new online charges, closing a loophole in their fee structure. Just like the CIPR now, we worked to get those fees reduced and simplified. I was clear in all the meetings that I had a fundamental disagreement on the principal, but in advance of the Meltwater/PRCA action, it appeared then (and now) that their position was supported by law so I felt my role was to do the best deal possible for CIPR members.
At the same time, I also wrote to David Lammy MP who was then the Government minister responsible for Copyright Law and managed to secure a meeting. In that meeting, the CIPR argued that copyright could not be infringed if all that was being supplied was a link to the original content. Also, by sending more viewers to the content, we were arguably increasing page impressions favourably for the content owners.
The return argument we eventually received back was that if agencies, in particular, charged clients for these links of coverage alerts, then they were making profit from the content and it seemed reasonable that should pay a fee to the originators. Of course this ignores the many organisations being charged NLA fees who do not make a profit, but nevertheless, at that time there was no Government appetite to review copyright law. I don’t see any evidence to suggest that position has changed.
Time moves on and in truth, I have not followed the current situation that closely. However, as it often does, it would seem that history is repeating itself with the PRCA still at war and the CIPR still in talks. The point is though, both approaches are valid, and in strategic terms it also makes sense for the two bodies to divide the roles. Furthermore, and in complete fairness, the PRCA represents the interests of many of the UK’s largest agencies, and is probably better placed to lead the fight side of the debate. They are certainly fighting a good fight.
What would be even better though, is for the two organisations to agree that the dual pronged approach is best. The strategy that happened by accident is actually quite a good one.
So please, stop arguing and point-scoring in public, and instead work together and find a way to support each other’s approaches. That would properly serve the interests of both sets of members.