Public Lending Right – A waste of everyone’s time

Eoin Purcell

Sometimes the EU makes Ireland adopt stupid laws:
Like this one. Public Lending Right is one of those bad ideas that has just become too big to stop, no matter how valid the argument against it. Now I know it comes as surprise to most people to hear a publisher resist the extension of copyright but this one is truly the most useless extension one could devise. Just a few of the reasons why:

1) How do you assess a fee?
I assume one could be assessed by the number of times a book is borrowed by readers. This sounds fine except if the sum per borrow is low (as it is) the totals add up only slowly making the system inefficient and benefiting only the collection agency and the larger authors who don’t really need the money. The people who might actually really need the money (the struggling small author with few books) will not be read enough to get money in any scale. It would be far better to fund those artists directly (which we in any case already do). One could pay on a per book per library basis too. This has some merit but has the same flaw as above. The sums for most authors would be pretty useless. The system would cost as much to administer as the fees paid.

2) Where does the money come from?
Central taxation is the obvious source meaning people who don’t use libraries are paying which fair enough thats the rule. Often unmentioned here though is that people who buy books also pay. So someone who pays the retail price in a store and thus contributes to author royalties, publisher profit and booksellers wages, pays again from their taxes.

Even if you set aside that inconvenient truth look at the reality of budgeting. If Libraries get a certain allocation to cover their expenditure and they need to apportion some amount to pay these PLR fees, there will be less money for books, staff and building. Say what you like but that is the inescapable reality. Libraries budgets will at some point cease rising and PLR fees will be a legally mandated cost, books need not be bought (sadly true).

3) Logical Consistency
Would dictate that everyone should get a portion of the pot. If the author is being compensated for lower sales because of library readership, why is the bookseller not compensated for lower sales as a result fo the same and the publisher too? Are their losses somehow less worthy? I think not.

4) There are better ways
Let the libraries buy more books or pay full price for the copies they buy. That way higher sales would lead to higher royalty payments to the author, the publisher would see some return, money would not need to be wasted on collection data and money and then again on distributing it to authors.

PLR is an ill-conceived, useless idea, thought up by some Culture Buff thinking not of a real world but an imagined one where penniless authors can be rewarded for their endeavour through complicated, bureaucratic systems. Frankly I hate it and cannot see how anyone sees it as useful. I have no doubt that many people think it an essential component of copyright and author protection but not me. That Ireland has given in to the EU is sad, though also inevitable!

My only hope is that people will begin to understand that less copyright protection is what we need, not more. The notion that copyrights are essential to the making of money ought to be put to bed by this, this and this (oh this and this too)
Eoin

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5 comments

  1. Totally agree. Indeed, there’s an extra problem that you didn’t list. Copyright covers the making of copies of the work. However, during the lending of a book from a library, no copy is made. Why, then, should copyright apply to this activity?

    The library has bought the book. It now owns that book. Although it doesn’t have the right to make copies, it does have the right to do as it likes with that copy – lend it, resell it, doodle on it, burn it, whavever.

    This PLR is an illogical extension of ‘copyright’. It has historically been accepted that the general good of lending libraries exceeds the good to the author of making money. And that the existence of libraries helps authors gain fans – and hence to sell more books. I’ve not heard whether the UK (where I live) is planning to implement this. Must check!

    pax et bonum

  2. i’d say this is really about a longer game for someone-or-other. It’s not about printed books – it’s really about setting out the geometry of the playing field for payment for digital goods.

  3. Antoin,

    I can see your point, but if there is a long game, I just don’t see the rules!

    The sad reality is that authors will not set the terms for digital sales, distributors and buyers will and then authors will respond.

    How libraries paying a small fee per lend will resolve this I just do not know.

    Eoin

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