The Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) has won its case against Meltwater News and the PRCA over the validity of the NLA's digital licences.
The rows kicked off earlier this year when the NLA announced new rules for the way clippings agencies paid for content they found for clients on the web. It said aggregators - those who collect the content - and end-users - those who receive the clippings and send them on to their clients - each needed to take separate licences.
The NLA also said that the aggregators needed to pay a share to publishers, which had originally written the content. This is because of the way clippings worked. The NLA said that Meltwater's search engine, which trawls through online newspapers and magazines, was copyrighting third party rights. It said it was making big revenues and therefore was only fair that they should pay the fee to publishers.
However, Meltwater has said the ruling "undermines the basic principles of the operation and use of the internet."
In a judgement issued this morning Mrs Justice Proudman ruled that web links taken from online news sources are protected by copyright law and that Meltwater News would infringe publishers' copyright if they aggregated online links without an NLA licence.
"In all the circumstances I find that without a licence from the Publishers there is infringement of the Publishers' copyright by the End Users in receiving and using Meltwater News," Proudman said in the ruling.
Meltwarter today said it believed the judgement is "a wrong interpretation of the law".
NLA MD David Pugh welcomed the ruling: "We are pleased that the Court recognises that newspaper publishers’ web content is protected by copyright law. We hope this ruling will help ensure a fair share of web monitoring revenue for publishers and a fair media monitoring market.
“Creating news content for the web is a substantial investment for publishers - it is therefore only right that they take a share when others are profiting from it. We estimate the total UK market for online news monitoring to be worth around £10 million. As newspapers’ content is central to that market, we believe publishers should earn a fair share of revenues from paid-for monitoring."
He added that now the company had legal clarity, it looked forward to the Copyright Tribunal decisions on the commercial aspects of web licensing.
Meltwater says it is obtaining permission to appeal the "disappointing" High Court judgment.
The company statement continued: "This decision is anyway only an interlude towards the Copyright Tribunal decision which will rule on the reasonableness of the NLA's licensing terms for online content which has been at the very core of Meltwater's case against NLA from the beginning."
Meltwater says that simply browsing of copyright protected content made freely available on the internet would infringe the new laws if it is read without a rightholder licence.
"We believe that browsing content made available on the Internet should not infringe copyright," it added.