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The extension of Public Lending Right to audiobooks and e-books?


The Society and other writers’ organisations have been pressing for PLR to be broadened to include audio books and, more recently, e-books. In 2007/08 there were 308 million loans of books and 11 million loans of audiobooks from public libraries. The PLR Act 1979 only covers books, so legislation is needed before the Scheme can be widened.

In the Digital Britain report, published in June, the Government made a commitment to look for an early legislative opportunity to enable PLR to cover non-print versions. If all goes well, the aim seems to be to include suitable provisions in the Digital Economy Bill that would allow the Scheme to be modified in due course to include non-print versions. Detailed changes to the Scheme would be worked out later.

Benefits and disadvantages

On the face of it, we are encouraged that DCMS has followed up the Digital Britain report swiftly.  It is also comforting to read that ‘additional public funding would be required… to sustain the level of the rate per loan and make the additional payments to new categories of rights holder… PLR may also require initial investment in order to establish the appropriate IT and administrative systems to process the additional scope of publications’.

There is one aspect that we will be considering thoroughly, in association with other writers’ organisations. Lending rights are currently conferred on authors, performers and producers by the 1988 Copyright Act.  However, the loan of books covered by the PLR Scheme does not infringe copyright.  The Scheme is currently restricted to authors, with performers and producers retaining rights  – at least in theory – under the 1988 Act.

The consultation paper suggests that if the lending rights in non-print editions are to be transferred to the PLR Scheme, producers and performers would have to be included as well. To some extent this suggestion seems to have been made in order to remove any possible need for libraries to obtain consent for the lending of these newly eligible works.

The campaigners for PLR were always very concerned that only writers should benefit. The inclusion of performers and producers would be a significant change. As publishers are not generally copyright owners, they do not have lending rights under the 1988 Act.

It seems to us that, in principle, it would be possible for the lending rights of authors in non-print versions to be transferred to PLR, leaving the lending rights of performers and producers to be exercisable under the 1988 Act.  One assumes that DCMS is proposing the inclusion of performers and producers largely in order to ensure that, as a quid pro quo for broadening PLR, public libraries can be sure of having a clear run in their lending of books in whatever form they may be published.

Our starting point is that only writers should benefit from PLR. However, we incline to the view that, if absolutely necessary, we should accept to the inclusion of performers and producers in order to smooth the way to authors receiving PLR on non-print versions. If legislation goes through, the apportionment of PLR between authors, producers and performers would be explored at a later stage when revisions to the Scheme are being considered.