Academics name their price

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The Independent Online
A group representing British academics has threatened to charge newspapers for any advice or information given to journalists by their members, as part of an escalating row over fees demanded by the national press for the right to photocopy articles.

The threat is contained in a letter, seen by The Independent, sent to the Newspaper Licencing Agency, an industry body set up in January to collect fees from organisations in return for the right to reproduce articles and circulate them to their staff.

The NLA has offered two licences, one requiring a payment of 2p per copy made and the other based on a partial audit of cuttings files, topped up with a pro-rated payment according to the number of employees in a given organisation. The system could be worth pounds 1m a year to the five newspaper groups involved - Associated, Express, the Financial Times, The Guardian and the Mirror Group, which owns 46 per cent of The Independent.

Schools are exempt, but the charges are meant to apply to universities and colleges for all use that falls outside the limited exemptions listed under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

Negotiations have been taking place between the NLA and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom (CVCP), aimed at agreeing the new payments system.

According to a letter sent by David Anderson-Evans, of the CVCP, it is "doubtful whether there is any university which could regard copying from newspapers as being worth the charges you are proposing."

He goes on to write: "The committee has therefore come to the conclusion that, while it wishes to assist newspapers in their task of explaining complex matters to the public, they can no longer provide this assistance free of charge."

The NLA views the letter as a "veiled threat" and cautions the committee to consider its position under British competition law. "This is mugwash, and completely unhelpful," Andrew Hughes, chief executive of the NLA, said. "It certainly isn't conducive to negotiations."

The committee said in its letter that it had a range of fees in mind, adding: "They are certainly not nominal."