Library rights laws extended to cover e-books

Authors of the seven million e-books borrowed from libraries each year will now receive government payment

Credit: Strevo/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The UK’s Public Lending Right (PLR) programme is being extended to cover all e-books and e-audiobooks borrowed from UK libraries.

The PLR uses government funding to, effectively, pay royalties to authors of works loaned from public libraries. The British Library administers the programme and, once registered, authors have the right to be paid a certain amount every time one of their works is borrowed from a library. 

For the 2017/18 year, the scheme received £6.6m in government cash. Authors were paid 7.82p per loan, up to a maximum of £6,600.

Up until now, library’s online lending of electronic books and audiobooks has not been covered by PLR. But, following the conclusion of a public consultation in which authors’ groups and libraries took part, the government has decided to extend the programme. 

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From 1 July, authors of e-books and e-audiobooks stocked in UK libraries will be eligible to receive remuneration paid at the same rate as for physical books. The first payments will be made in February 2020, when the British Library publishes its annual lending and payment statistics for the previous year.

Libraries minister Michael Ellis said: “We want to help our libraries thrive in the digital age. This legislation fulfils a manifesto commitment and recognises the exciting increase in e-lending. By extending the scheme, we are ensuring authors are properly compensated as the e-book industry continues to grow into the future.”

The annual amount of electronic titles being borrowed from UK libraries has grown ninefold over the last six years, from 750,000 in 2011/12 to more than 6.75 million in the 2017/18 year. This equates to an additional £500,000-plus in rights payments that will be made to authors each year under the amended laws. 

Many nations around the world have a PLR programme, and the government said that “the UK is one of the first countries to extend its library lending compensation scheme to remote e-lending”.

Tracy Chevalier, a historical novelist and a member of the British Library Board, said: “Both reading habits and library loans are changing with new technology, and PLR legislation needs to keep pace with that change. Authors will be delighted to have PLR extended to remote ebook loans, as it will reflect the true nature of how our books are shared with the public.”


Sam Trendall

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