I have spent the last two weeks revisiting the websites of a number of creators’ organisations in an effort to find out more about their ongoing campaigns as well as the more recent focus of their work. The underlying objective has been to identify and group organisations’ activities into different categories of copyright law related issues so as to narrow down the themes within the law, which I would invariably engage with through my work on creators’ organisations.
The nature of the issues currently on organisations’ agendas have proven to range from copyright enforcement through scope of rights related matters, right to the modalities of copyright exploitation. The Creative Coalition Campaign for instance, is a cross-industry coalition which brings together trade bodies and unions from the film, publishing, music, games and sport sectors. The primary focus of the CCC’s work is on copyright enforcement, in particular the implementation of measures aimed at tackling illegal file-sharing.
The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) on the other hand have channelled their more recent efforts into the field of copyright exploitation. In their September campaigning update, BASCA report that the organisation has been exploring how best to protect creators’ royalties from streaming. The briefing highlights the recent conflict with YouTube, whereby the streaming platform threatened indie labels to remove music videos from labels which had not agreed to its new non-negotiable licensing terms.
Having dedicated a lot of my attention to the music industry in the past few months, the web resources provided by the Society of Authors offered me perhaps the most new and stimulating food for thought. More recent work by this organisation appears to have focussed on the scope of one economic (copy-)right in particular – the public lending right (PLR).
PLR is the right of authors to receive compensation for the loans of their printed books from public libraries in the UK. In 2009 the UK government opened a public consultation on the extension of PLR to non-print formats. This was followed by the Digital Economy Act 2010 which amended the PLR Act 1979 by broadening the term ‘book’ to include audio as well as e-books, thus extending the scope of PLR. The DEA 2010 only extended PLR to audiobooks and e-books downloaded within library premises (on-site as opposed to remote e-lending).
In the years that followed, however, the provisions in the DEA 2010 were not enacted. This caused the Society of Authors (SoA) to publish a comprehensive briefing note on PLR and royalties from library e-lending in May 2013. Among the findings of the SoA was the society’s concern that lacking a statutory entitlement to receive PLR royalties from e-book lending, authors were losing around 2/3 of the income they would normally receive from physical library lending.
Unable to find more recent updates on this issue on the SoA website, I searched the official PLR web portal, where I found a headline from the 1st of July 2014 reading: ‘UK PLR extended to loans of audio-books and on-site loans of ebooks – but don’t apply yet!’. The publication summarises that the Digital Economy Act 2010 provisions take effect from 1 July 2014 and any payments arising from loans of the new categories of works will be made in February 2016. The news briefing deals with two categories of works – audio books and e-books.
While authors, narrators and producers of audio-books can look forward to a new royalty stream from fixed PLR shares (60% for the author, 20% for the narrator and 20% for the producer), the ‘news’ on e-books appears to be rather bleak. The British Library, responsible for the administration of the PLR, reports that to their knowledge, all e-book loans by public libraries are to ‘remote’ location, i.e. e-books may be downloaded to people’s home PCs or other devices not on the library premises. Since the DEA 2010 only extended the PLR to on-site e-book loans, the statement concludes that without a change in EU and UK copyright law or the introduction of on-site e-book lending facilities in public libraries, no e-books will generate a PLR payment. A rather disappointing outcome.
How will (or is) the Society of Authors (and other authors’ organisations) taking this result forward? What are their next steps and (how) can they still extract benefit for authors within the current legal framework?
Have I, perhaps, found one of the focal legal issues of my research?