Business experts

Sharing media coverage could breach copyright laws

Written by Fiona Scott.

Fiona Scott


Media coverage is an important part of any company's marketing mix, and if your business is lucky enough to be featured in a print publication you'll want to share a 'cutting' on your social media channels, your blog, or your website.

But an organisation called the National Licensing Authority, also known as the NLA Media Access, is currently actively slapping fines on organisations which are breaching copyright laws around the sharing of news articles online or otherwise in the UK.

Technically anyone who wants to share any photographic image or screenshot of an NLA-member newspaper or magazine article online, or in any other manner, should have a licence to do so. The licences are expensive - many around four figures - and they recur.

On the face of it, this law appears to apply to individuals, charities, schools, businesses – in fact, anyone who wishes to share on or offline 'copies' of any printed material of any NLA member.

Having spoken to a copyright lawyer it appears – even though the law is not clear on it – that in fact the exemption of 'fair use' would probably apply to individuals posting on their own social media. It seems it's all about being able to prove a 'profit' or 'commercial gain' motive.

And recently, it seems, the NLA is going for small businesses in particular.

The NLA has a very large membership of newspaper and magazine groups including the local newspapers and magazines which are part of Reach plc – and this widely affects Swindon and Wiltshire.

Using a copyright law from the 1980s the NLA are fining organisations for sharing screenshots or photographs of articles on social media platforms and websites for breach of copyright.

The organisation and the publishers claim they are ‘safeguarding journalism’ as ‘it’s not free’ and we should all pay for that creativity.

They claim that businesses are benefitting financially for ‘hosting’ that content on their social media platforms. Yet are they?

In an age of open sharing on social media, where everything is share, share, share, this seems ludicrous.

Just last week a business owner was issued with a fine of over £5,000 for sharing six articles – as photographs of the hard copy – in which he appeared in his local paper and one from a national publication which is free to pick up – just because the story was interesting and relevant to his sector.

Most of these articles were shared on his social media several years ago. The NLA had clearly trawled through his social media news feeds to find them.

There is no right of appeal and no breakdown of how the fines are calculated. This raises a number of questions:

  • How can you be fined for sharing something in hard copy – yet not if that story is shared from an online source? 
  • How can you be fined for sharing a photograph of an article that contains a picture you have provided?
  • How can you be fined for taking part freely in an editorial story and then sharing it to say thank you to the journalist for including you?
  • How can you be fined when you have – in most cases – not received a penny for your time, or your contribution, or your co-operation?
  • How can you be fined when the online version of an article offers up social media icons for you to share the article on your social media channels?
  • Isn’t this a two-way street where we – the media and the wider business community – share to help each other? 

Apparently not, if the publication is a member of the NLA. The assumption is that you will have made money for sharing that article in that way and you have to pay up.

Copyright is important for creatives – there’s no doubt about that. But, in my view, the application of it – in this case – is draconian and not fit for purpose in the modern world of communication.

Fiona Scott is a media consultant and qualified journalist with over 30 years' experience working in print, radio and television, and in recent years digital media outlets.