Public Lending Right

What is the issue?

Public Lending Right (PLR) provides financial compensation to authors for the use of their work in libraries.

TWUC was instrumental in creating Canada’s Public Lending Right system. Successive TWUC Chairs Matt Cohen and Andreas Schroeder saw the PLR introduced by the federal government in 1986, after many years of dedicated lobbying. Administered by separate staff through the Canada Council for the Arts, governed by the independent Public Lending Right Commission, and distributing payments to thousands of writers and illustrators every February, the PLR is one of the most popular cultural supports for Canadian authors.

As author Roy Macskimming writes in a series of government-funded research papers on the subject, PLR “embodies a bargain struck in good faith between Canadian authors and the Canadian public” and is a form of “natural justice” that is squarely in the public’s interest. Authors happily see their books freely available in public libraries, and the government provides a payment for that use. 

Unfortunately, the program budget for PLR has not kept pace with sectoral need.

Last year, Canada’s PLR paid out just under $15 million dollars to almost 18,000 authors and other published authors. The average payment to individual authors was $822, almost exactly what it was in the early ’90s. There has in fact been a 38% decrease in average payments (adjusted for inflation) since the program began. 

While Canada’s writing and publishing sector has itself invested for growth and greatly increased the number of Canadian books in Canadian libraries, the government allocation to the PLR budget has not increased at anywhere near a sustainable rate. Authors view PLR payments as an essential, yet shrinking, part of their annual income mix.

What TWUC is doing

TWUC has always had members serving as part of the Public Lending Right Commission, which keeps us informed of the challenges the program faces and the decisions made by the Commission. 

In recent years, TWUC struck a Public Lending Right Task Force to analyze the growth and changes to the program over the years, and to bring recommendations from the community. The PLR Task Force delivered a report to the 2019 AGM in Halifax. 

In Fall 2019, TWUC participated in the Public Lending Right International Conference at the British Library in London, UK. 

In 2019-20, TWUC met with the Prime Minister’s Office, various Senators, policy staff at the Heritage ministry, the Canada Book Fund, the Canada Council for the Arts, various Members of Parliament, the Parliamentary Secretary for Heritage, and the Minister of Canadian Heritage. At all these meetings, we advanced to idea of increasing the PLR budget to a sustainable level. In TWUC’s 2020-21 Pre-Budget submission to the federal government, we included this recommendation:

TWUC calls on the government to double the PLR program budget from $15 million to $30 million in order to make up the immediate shortfall between books in the program and available funds. Furthermore, we ask the government to commit to annual increases tied to program growth. 

What you can do

Please consider writing to your Member of Parliament in support of TWUC’s PLR recommendation to the Finance Committee’s budget deliberations. 

Further reading

 

TWUC’s advocacy is most effective as the collective voice of Canada’s professional authors. We are stronger together. If you are not already a member of TWUC and are working as a writer, consider joining the Union. If you wish to support TWUC’s advocacy outside of membership, consider donating to the Union