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Matt Aspinall of NLA Media Access: The power of collective licensing and protecting publishers against copyright theft

At this year’s FIPP World Media Congress, now in its 99th year and held in Cascais, Portugal, a key partner is NLA Media Access. In this exclusive interview, we ask NLA’s Matt Aspinall about the company’s vital role in the news media ecosystem and the different ways they continue to support journalism. For more information about this year’s Congress from 4th – 6th June, including how to buy tickets, click here

NLA Media Access was set up by UK national newspapers in 1996 with a mission to protect publishers’ intellectual property (IP) and to provide UK businesses with an efficient and compliant way to obtain a licence to use news for commercial purposes. Today, as well as securing royalties from the commercial use of copyrighted content, NLA provides publishers with an ever-increasing portfolio of products and services designed to generate revenue, save money and protect their IP.

NLA is a key partner at FIPP World Media Congress 2024, and in advance of the event we caught up with Matt Aspinall, Head of Commercial Services, to discover the latest trends in licensing and content distribution, and to discuss how NLA is tackling the evolving threat to intellectual property faced by publishers today.

Mx3HQ: In a nutshell, what does NLA Media Access do and how does that benefit publishers?

Matt: Everything we do at the NLA is ultimately geared around our core objective of supporting journalism. We deliver against that promise in a variety of ways, from ensuring publishers are rightly remunerated for the content via our licensing business to – amongst other things – protecting them against copyright crime with our Text Tracker tool.

Mx3HQ: Can you set the scene and give us a little more background about NLA Media Access?

Matt: NLA is the collective management organisation for the news media industry. While there are many facets to our business, the most established is generating and distributing royalties to publishers by providing UK businesses with a licence to use news media for commercial purposes.

As the many markets we serve continue to evolve, so do we. 2024 is set to be our most successful year to date with another wave of new products, services and improvements in an effort to support publishers, PR professionals and media intelligence organisations.

Mx3HQ: Can you share some more facts and figures about the scale of the licensing operation?

Matt: We represent the intellectual property of more than 14,000 news brands, ranging from UK and international news publishers, to magazines and newswires.

We have more than 10,000 licence agreements covering more than 200,000 organisations who buy one or more products from us in order for them to use publisher content for commercial purposes. These include charities, public sector organisations, PR agencies and household name brands. In 2023, we returned more than £40m of royalties to publishers.

Mx3HQ: Copyright doesn’t respect national borders, so how do you protect a publisher’s content when it’s cross-territory?

Matt: It’s true that digital content in particular can be shared comparatively easily across borders, but that doesn’t mean copyright won’t apply – and it doesn’t prevent royalties from being earned. We have established bilateral agreements with more than 30 countries around the globe, who sell licences based on the specific copyright laws within their own territories. This allows UK publishers to generate royalties in accordance with local regulations when their content is used overseas.

Mx3HQ: Over 750,000 stolen news articles were removed by NLA Media Access from pirate sites in 2023 which you have referred to as “just the tip of the iceberg”. How do you define ‘pirate sites’?

Matt: Copyright theft can take many forms – we see everything from individual articles being copied to entire websites being cloned. When we’re talking about pirate sites, these are websites that have stolen articles from a reputable publisher source and hosted them on an illegitimate news site for commercial gain. It’s part of an industrialised process designed to draw eyeballs away from the original source, with revenues typically generated through programmatic advertising. It’s a problem we’re seeing more and more, and we’re tackling it on behalf of publishers with our in-house copyright protection tool – Text Tracker.

Mx3HQ: Can you tell us more about Text Tracker? I understand 70 media brands now use the service including The Economist, The Guardian, and Wall Street Journal. How does the service work?

Matt: Text Tracker has helped publishers make real progress in the fight against content theft. In essence, the tool proactively scans the web to identify where a publisher’s content is being copied. Once those instances are verified as infringing copyright, NLA ensures the articles – or sometimes entire websites – are taken down.

Mx3HQ: How valuable is Text Tracker for the publishers using the service?

At their core publishers are IP businesses, and instances of illegal copying come at a cost. The Economist is a great example. Before working with NLA, they pointed to cases of fraudsters stealing their content and charging for access via cryptocurrency, or simply given away for free  – both having a negative impact on profitability, and the brand. 

The first hurdle for publishers like The Economist is identifying the instances of content theft – and that’s before undertaking the incredibly resource-intensive remedial action. It is often difficult to engage with the perpetrators, and publisher legal teams often need to invest in additional external support to have articles or sites taken down. With Text Tracker, NLA is perfectly placed to pick up the baton on their behalf. The service not only saves publishers time and cost, but also gives them confidence that they have a robust system in place to protect their valuable IP.

Mx3HQ: Many premium publishers rely on their paywalls to protect content. Is this enough?

Matt: Unfortunately not. We’ve seen instances of paywalled digital content being copied and republished by third parties, including journalism from niche titles that serve high-value, professional audiences. We’re also aware of instances where entire printed magazines have been illegally scanned and distributed in PDF form on content-sharing platforms. Sometimes publishers are aware of these types of infringements and sometimes they don’t realise the extent of the issue until they start searching – but as you might imagine, our service finds much more than they do!

Mx3HQ: What are the next steps for Text Tracker?

We’re delighted that a growing number of media organisations across the globe are using the Text Tracker service to proactively safeguard their content online. Looking to the future, we will continue to invest in the technology as part of our wider efforts to ensure publishers are supported in managing the evolving threat to their IP and maximising the possible returns from their investment in creating valuable content.


Come and meet Matt at the 46th FIPP World Media Congress, Cascais between 4th – 6th June and learn more about NLA Media Access . Book tickets here!