Published: 17 January 2012

Why is The Guardian supporting a tax on charities?

Current media licensing laws are unfair to charities, says Vicky Browning 

I’ve written a blog for The Guardian today. They didn’t pay me to write it. But if I want to send a copy to my trustees at CharityComms from The Guardian, I will be charged a copyright licence fee. However if you, as a private individual, want to send it to a friend, they won’t charge you. Indeed, they positively encourage you. The same is true for all charities. The Guardian is part of a media licensing system that charges charities to make copies of newspaper articles. Currently the system applies only to paper copies, but The Guardian is pushing for this to be extended to digital copies through its agent the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA).

Think about this for a moment. When The Guardian chooses charities for its Christmas appeal, these charities are charged if they want to circulate copies of their Guardian coverage to colleagues at work. If charities are shortlisted for, or win, a Guardian award, The Guardian wants to charge them for circulating copies at work. On the one hand they are rightly encouraging charities to engage with them, but when they do, the charities are charged for a copyright licence. 

The Guardian is not alone in this. The NLA is owned by the UK’s eight major newspaper groups (Associated Newspapers, Financial Times, Guardian Media Group, Independent News and Media, Northern and Shell, News International, Daily Telegraph and Trinity Mirror). Each year the NLA raises over £26 million in copyright fees, of which about £1.3 million comes from charities – around 5%. The NLA’s running costs account for about a quarter of all that is raised, and the rest is distributed between 1,400 newspapers.We think this system is unfair on charities for four main reasons:

  • Charities are paying to get their own coverage back. Our research shows that in the vast majority of cases charities copy newspapers to keep a track of the coverage they have generated, often as part of the requirement to show the impact of their work. Charities are paying to share the coverage they have generated. Indeed in many cases the newspaper article is largely lifted and copied from the charity’s own press release. So the charity writes the release, the newspaper copies it and then the charity is charged to share the copies. This is a bit like Take That being charged to attend their own concerts by the sound engineers.
  • Charities’ coverage is mainly local, but the NLA forces them to pay for national licences. Our research shows that the vast majority of coverage for charities is not national but regional or local. This is because local papers have a very good relationship with charities at the local level. However under the NLA’s licensing system, a charity has to pay for national coverage licensing even if it only has local or regional coverage.
  • Media licensing is not cheap. Our research shows that it typically costs £1 for every article copied, and the largest charities are paying over £10,000 for media licensing. There is a charity discount, but this fixed at £158 no matter how big the fee.
  • Why should charities pay when individuals can circulate articles freely? Of all the byzantine complexities of media licensing, the fact that individuals are encouraged to circulate online articles while charities are soon to be charged (held up only by a legal case) is the most baffling. Apparently this is because we are doing it for commercial gain!

At today’s CharityComms AGM, we begin our campaign to exempt charities from the media licensing regime. And we start with The Guardian, because for all its professed desire to support the charity sector, it is right at the heart of this regime that takes money from charities; money that could be better spent on our important work. This newspaper is one of the shareholders of the NLA and it has a director on the board.

We believe that The Guardian should show leadership and join our campaign to exempt charities from the media licensing regime.We’d love to hear from charities that they support our campaign: the more we have backing us, the stronger our voice will be. We won’t charge you to share this article – so please feel free to pass it on.

Share your views and experiences in the comments section of The Guardian article, below this post and on our Facebook page. We’ve also had coverage in PR Week and Third Sector, so feel free to comment on those stories too. You can also share on Twitter using #copyrightfees.

The research report on media licensing and charities is available from the CharityComms website at www.charitycomms.org.uk/resources/guidelines/charity_media_licensing


Vicky Browning, CEO, ACEVO

Vicky became CEO of ACEVO, the charity and social leaders’ network, in January 2017, helping to empower our inspiring sector leaders to make the biggest difference they can to their beneficiaries, their organisation and to society. Vicky was previously CharityComms’ director for nearly seven years.