Editorial: Charities jib at licensing fees

A recent survey found that charities feel anger and injustice about the fees they have to pay the Newspaper Licensing Agency, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

What could charities do with £1.3m? Quite a lot, in the current economic climate, with demand from beneficiaries increasing and funding squeezed from all sides. But at the moment about 1,000 of them are paying this annual total into the coffers of the Newspaper Licensing Agency, a little-known organisation that collects fees on behalf of newspapers for the reproduction of their articles. This is the key figure from the recent research report by the sector communications outfit Charitycomms, which has done everyone a service by shining a light into this shadowy corner, examining how the NLA operates and asking charities what they think of the system.

The short answer from most of them is: not a lot. The research reveals a strong sense of anger and injustice among many respondents, who feel the system is arbitrary and experience the NLA as confrontational and even aggressive (one survey respondent called them "ball-breakers").

There is particular indignation at the fact that charities are being charged for the internal distribution of press coverage that they have often generated - and even written - themselves. Some of the NLA's practices are obviously unjustifiable: for example, it bases its fee levels on the number of staff at a charity, even if only two or three of them actually receive copies. The charity discount is a paltry £138 flat fee.

Charitycomms wants exemption for charities from NLA fees, arguing that they do not reproduce articles for commercial gain and that it is generally accepted that charitable status confers exemptions, including tax relief.

The signs are that the NLA, representing an industry with its back pretty much to the wall, is not going to give up some 5 per cent of its income without a fight. But the Charitycomms report is just the opening salvo in a campaign that deserves success. The next stage will be talking directly to the owners of the prestigious national newspapers to find out if they are comfortable with the treatment of charities in the system run on their behalf.

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