02 December 2003

Just an interesting side note for authors. In England, libraries are not completely free. Each circulation of or library-based photocopying from a book or article results in a micropayment to authors. According to KeepingLegal (a UK-based IP blawg),

The Authors Licensing and Collecting Society distributed £11.76m in 2003 (£10.32 in 2002). This was made up of £8.75m to book and journal; and £3.01m to broadcast writers. The payments went to 29,744 writers, including around 3,000 who had never previously received ALCS payments. And the organisation has over £2m in unclaimed fees.
The Society is funded from the commission that it charges writers together with interest earned from undistributed funds. The commission rate for ordinary members is 11%, and there is a 0.5% charge for the legal fund.

"ALCS" (26 Nov 03). These fees apply only to material published in the UK; a US edition that has been imported does not generate a fee. The situation for materials lent through libraries is a bit more complicated:

Funding for the PLR Scheme is provided by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The running costs of the Scheme are deducted from the PLR Fund and the remaining money is available for distribution to authors. This year (2003) £6.2 million was paid out to 19,064 authors, compared to £4,505,758 million paid to 17,581 authors in 2002. (See PLR News for more information.)
Payments to authors are based on an annually-calculated Rate Per Loan. The Rate is determined by dividing PLR's estimate for the total number of loans of registered books into the money available for distribution. The Rate for the 2003 payments round was 4.21 pence. So, if an author's books were borrowed 100,000 times he would receive £4,210 (4.21 pence x 100,000). No author may earn more than £6,000. The minimum qualifying payment is £5.

PLR Payments for 2003.

   Just doing some quick calculations based on my own records, I would have contributed over £400 toward author earnings from libraries last year (between myself and the boys). If I were being directly charged, I suspect that my library habits would change somewhat… which may, in the end, be counterproductive. But that is a balancing issue, not one of principle.