Government delay on ebook royalties labelled "unlawful"

The delay by the government to provide authors with royalties for ebooks library loans could be seen as “unlawful” and break copyright rules, says the Society of Authors.

According to Nicola Solomon at the Society of Authors, the delay to include audiobooks and ebooks in Public Lending Right legislation which gives authors royalty payments each time their work is borrowed from a library could well be breaching the law.

As part of the Digital Economy Act 2010 it was expected that ebooks would be included in the PLR scheme which awards a few pence to authors up to a set maximum of £6,600.

However, Solomon says that because of the government tightening its belt as part of the Spending Review, PLR money could still not be given to authors.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey told the Oxford Mail today that “If funds become available, we would consider extending PLR to cover ebooks”.

Solomon says that the government should “amend that position” as it is possible that copyright law is being broken by this.

“If they don’t amend that position, as lending is a copyright for which authors have to get remuneration, there is a possibility it is in fact unlawful,” Solomon told TechEye.

“It is possible that the law is being broken by this.  With all models for ebook lending it is important to make sure that authors are properly remunerated.”

There has been considerable debate about the lending of ebooks in libraries, with some publishers contending that free lending of ebooks will hurt sales.

Most of the large publishers have recognised that lending ebooks just as physical books can be lent is a positive step, and Solomon highlights that the government has made good steps in supporting library lending.

However while she recognises that the government is watching costs across the board, it is important that writers do not continue to miss out on an important revenue stream.

“They are doing what they are trying to do in every area which is to minimise cost,” she says.
“In this particular case what they may be out of touch with, and may be not really considering is, the need for creatives to be properly remunerated.”  

“Clearly authors can’t write unless they get paid, because they can’t continue.”

The view from the author community backs up the comments made by Solomon.

“The government seems reluctant to acknowledge that we live in a digital era,” one author told TechEye

“As the author of multiple real books published now in Kindle format, I find it completely outrageous that writers, as usual, end up with not even a pittance.” 

“Vaizey should be dragged screaming into the realisation that this is the second decade of the 21st century, not the Grub Street of Victorian times.”

Another writer we approached, who also wished to remain nameless, said that the government should be helping authors in creating content to support the boom in ebooks.

“The UK government has shown that it is a chocolate teapot when it comes to technology,” TechEye was told, “instead of doing anything to help authors it works to stick a spanner in the works at every turn.

“At the moment authors are trying to make a living off tiny amounts of money at a time when readers want more content for their tablets and Kindles.”  

“The government should be doing it all can to make sure writers get even the smallest amounts that library lending makes.

“If this was the US the libraries would not be allowed to lend without this cash changing hands.”

“The Digital Economy Act 2010 opened the way for PLR to be extended to library loans of audio books and certain categories of ebooks,” a DMCS spokesperson told TechEye.

“However, in the context of a challenging Spending Review it was decided to postpone any amendments to PLR legislation extending PLR to audio and ebooks.

“We do not accept the analysis that this delay is unlawful.”