Public Lending Rights Report

On September 26-28, I attended the International PLR conference in Dublin, at Farmleigh House, a spectacular residence whose Benjamin Library contains the books of all the authors in Ireland. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our government prized authors in this way?

The conference brought together 90 representatives from 35 countries — 30 of which have some system of PLR — to share information and discuss common problems. I’ve chosen a few topics to give you a flavour of the conference.

Our PLR system is holdings-based, which means that all registered authors get a cheque of some kind if their books are found in the libraries sampled. The loans-based systems, on the other hand, pay PLR only to authors whose books are borrowed. As you can imagine, this primarily rewards commercial books, and does not take into account the reading and reference and research that goes on within a library. Imagine a library that only stocks bestsellers. A holdings-based system respects everyone’s work, and we must defend it.

Australia has two holdings-based systems: PLR for public libraries and ELR for libraries of educational institutions, school, technical education, and universities. The government supports both systems, which use a sliding scale that factors the number of copies of registered titles. PLR counts the volume of copies, although those that are most represented receive less compensation per copy. Authors, illustrators, translators, and editors are eligible to claim. Publishers are also eligible, but receive only ¼ the creator rates. One size fits all — no differentiation is made about creator type, length of book, age of book, number of copies, and so on.

The Irish PLR system — in place since 2008, with the first payments paid out in 2009 — is loans based, and as of 2012, a cooperative venture with the U.K. Government funds payment to authors, illustrators, and other contributors who are required to register; all 32 public library authorities submit monthly borrowing data. Modelled on the UK scheme, the Irish PLR has 15,600 authors from 39 countries. This year, only 4,685 qualified for payment, and only 19 received the maximum payment of 2000 EUR. The most borrowed book was The Litigators by John Grisham; the most popular children’s book was Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney; and the most borrowed information book was The Official Driver Theory Test by the Road Safety Authority, who does not receive any PLR. In the past three years, James Patterson has been the most popular fiction author.

Fionnuala Hanrahan, Wexford County Librarian gave an impressive presentation of the library services in Ireland. Irish writing in the last 150 years has been not only about books, but about creating an audience, and the libraries support this with their 340 libraries that service 4½ million people. Last year, 19.2 million visits were made to libraries, and 17.1 million books were borrowed, half of which were children’s books. Ms. Hanrahan went on to say that the Department of Education and Department of Health work together on child development, and that library services support families, encourage children to read over the holidays, to become writers themselves, and to recognize that the skills they acquire will help them throughout their lives. Libraries have in place an e-infrastructure so people have access to education when they don’t live in cities. Their libraries are moving away from basic literacy skills towards the area of research skills to help people develop projects and gain critical thinking skills. Through their reading circles and science programming for adults, they create networkers of learners, who are self-motivated.

I was particularly interested to hear that visits to public libraries increased by 15% – 20% between 2009 and now.

A general discussion took place regarding the erosion of PLR funds, the lack of resources, and the difficulty of securing additional funding from governments to keep up with the new books and new authors each year. The catch phrase was “looking for new ways to manage resources,” something we are all struggling with. Angelo Loukakis, an Australian author spoke eloquently and passionately about what PLR stands for: to make a contribution to the material well-being of authors, and to provide remuneration for authors who lose royalties on their books when they are lent out for free. In Australia, he said, governments show less and less support for writers; economic rationalism rules. He felt that we authors need to do better in telling our story, and in securing our rightful placement in society. The technological developments have the effect of dividing us and setting us apart rather than uniting us. PLR philosophy should be to argue the case for authors. What authors produce is absolutely necessary. Yes, we need the money, but we also need moral support from government for authors and for PLR.

Paul McSweeney, Registrar of Irish PLR, working in the local Government Management Authority (LGMA) branch of the Irish government, responded by saying that the Irish government supports authors with things such as the Artist Tax Exemption on royalties, something that had everyone salivating, and something for which we, in Canada, have tirelessly lobbied, year after year, with no success.

Countries that have PLR systems are struggling to find a workable model for the lending of ebooks. However, with so many variables, there is no one easy model to follow. Some librarians feel that ebooks should be bought outright and lent out at the discretion of the library; publishers want to cap the number of times a book can be lent; aggregators want to sell licences only, and authors want to be compensated fairly for the loan of their works. The Federation of European Publishers — 28 national associations of publishers across Europe — is closely monitoring the situation. It considers the ebook, whether it’s borrowed from a library or bought in a store to be the same object. Ebooks are, at present, only a small part of elending, and publishers are reluctant to move forward when they won’t make money if ebooks can be lent eternally. It’s a muddy new world, and different countries are trying various solutions, a small sampling of which I’ll highlight here:

Like Canada, Australia and Ireland do not extend PLR to ebooks.

The UK intends to extend PLR to ebooks only if they are downloaded within the library premises, but this has not yet happened, because the required change needs to be made to its PLR law.

In Norway, ebooks are considered like print books: one book, one lending unit.

The Netherlands has a system in which library members pay for ebook borrowing. E-lending is still only 1 or 2% of all lending. In general, publishers are reluctant to cooperate when it comes to ebooks, and prefer to give priority to their own e-platforms including models of lending and renting. Recent legislation has clarified that PLR is not extended to ebooks. By the end of 2013, three models of e-lending will be adopted:

  1. Gallery of Honour – 25 Dutch classics free of rights
  2. Library Online (international collection free of rights [Gutenberg])
  3. Streaming collection – 1000 Dutch titles, 1-3 years old. Library members pay 20 euros for 18 titles.

Sweden: Ebook use in Swedish public libraries is not considered extensive. Last year over 1 million ebooks were downloaded, but this was only 1.7% of the total books loaned. More than 9 out of 10 libraries offer ebook loans. However their ebook loan system is not within PLR. Right now, one aggregator, owned by the publishing company Elib, supplies all the ebooks at 2 EUR per loan/download. The library does not own the books. The 2 EUR are split as follows: 1 EUR to Elib, and 1 to the publishing house, 50 cents of which goes to the author. There is no government involvement. Under this system, the costs for libraries have skyrocketed, and the libraries have begun to cap the number of loans allowed.

This is only a small sampling of an extensive international conference that covered issues relevant to all authors. For those interested in reading the details, I will submit a full report, which will be posted in the Members Only section.