Recently there have been some important changes to copyright law in the UK that may affect you, even if you’re based in the U.S.

There are two main licensing bodies in the UK, the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA), which covers both print and digital publications, and the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA), which covers national daily media. Typically, your PR agency’s license gives them permission to send you copies of articles in paper format, digital cuttings, snippet links and PDFs of digitally extracted content. If you have an agency in the UK and you don’t know if they have a license, it is worth checking. The fines for non-compliance can be very steep.

Even if your agency does have a license, unless you have a license of your own, you are prohibited from storing that coverage or forwarding it to anyone else in your company.

Over recent years however, primarily with the advent of social sharing and a dramatic increase in online publications, licensing agencies are getting more stringent about who holds content from a third-party publisher.

As part of a PR agency’s contract with the licensing agencies, the PR agencies must divulge a list of their clients and contact details – basically anyone who they send coverage to.  The cuttings agencies (or clippings in America) also are required to do the same.

The rules of the licenses are:

1.    Paper cuttings are not further copied or reproduced.

2.    Digital cuttings are only accessed once, and a single copy printed out, and 

3.    Digital cuttings or links are not retransmitted to anyone else.

The Public Relations Consultants Association, the UK’s PR industry body has been challenging the NLA and won the latest battle in this ongoing war.

The good news now, for online newsrooms that include coverage highlights, is that putting links on your website directing readers to coverage does not infringe copyright.  But beware, any text that accompanies the link cannot include text from the article or the article headline.

You wouldn’t be alone in finding the rules confusing and the potential for gray areas almost endless.  The parameters are changing regularly and the only way to get the most up-to-date information is to check with the licensing agencies directly. But as a rule of thumb, if you are engaged in any PR activity in the UK, either directly or with an agency partner, it is worth asking yourself these questions:

1.    Do we publish coverage on our website, and if so, are we certain we are not infringing copyright?

2.    Do we circulate coverage internally (be it daily news feeds to colleagues or coverage books in reception)? If so, do we have a license to do so?

3.    Does our PR agency have all the appropriate licenses it is required to maintain for these purposes?

With all the incredible opportunities to create strategic, impactful campaigns that contribute to building strong reputations for our clients, thinking about details like licensing can seem trivial. But certainly in the UK it is becoming an increasingly high-profile issue and companies ignore it at their peril.