Last week our theme was ‘Authority, Property, Piracy: From Copyright to the Commons’ – essentially, the complexities of the concept of authorship, the practicalities of copyright and the methods of those who subvert it, or reinvent it.
Our lectures are more like tutorials, thanks to course leader Ernesto Priego, with a lot of interaction and relevant tangents – for example, starting with a classic Beastie Boys video (think sampling and referentiality) and an homage to it by some (piratical?) librarians.
During the discussion I mentioned that I’d heard of a scheme by which authors can claim royalties from their books being issued by public libraries. My classmate James Atkinson confirmed that there was such a scheme but the conversation moved on and I resolved to find out more about it afterwards.
I remembered I’d heard about it from a news story quoting Terry Deary, author of the bestselling Horrible Histories series, lamenting the fact that he would be much better off if people bought his books instead of borrowing them.
The scheme in question is called the Public Lending Right or PLR and now operates under the wing of the BL, though it was formerly a separate operation. From its website: “Under the PLR system in the UK, payment is made from government funds to authors, illustrators and other contributors whose books are borrowed from public libraries. Payments are made annually on the basis of loans data collected from a sample of public libraries in the UK.”
But, as Ernesto pointed out, “To qualify for payment, applicants must apply to register their books.” According to the website, some 22,000 have done so and enjoy the benefits. Well, all except one. The Guardian article linked to above explains the figures as they relate to Deary:
As one of the most popular library authors – his books were borrowed more than 500,000 times during 2011/12 – Deary will have received the maximum amount possible for a writer from the Public Lending Right scheme, which gives authors 6.2p every time one of their books is borrowed, up to a cap of £6,600. “If I sold the book I’d get 30p per book. I get six grand, and I should be getting £180,000.”
He goes on to say that this isn’t his main problem with public libraries, but all of his objections relate to the fact that allowing people to borrow books free-of-charge fundamentally undermines the commercial structures that allow books to be created in the first place, effectively equating libraries with those who steal intellectual property for their own gain.
You could almost call it a form of sabotage. RIP MCA.