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Extension of the Public Lending Right Scheme to ebooks and e-audiobooks

11 July 2018

The Public Lending Right (PLR) Scheme now covers ebooks and e-audiobooks that are loaned from public libraries in the UK, including where they are loaned remotely. This change came into effect on 1 July 2018 and authors and other rights holders can register now to start receiving PLR income on digital editions from February 2020.

The PLR Scheme is managed by the British Library on behalf of the Government and provides authors, illustrators, photographers, translators and other rightsholders with the right to receive payment each time their books are borrowed from public libraries. Each year the PLR Scheme makes more than £6 million of payments to rightsholders, and these payments can be an important revenue stream to rightsholders, particularly for those whose works are out of print but are still being loaned in libraries.

Before 1 July this year, a number of libraries operated e-lending facilities but only loans of physical editions and digital editions downloaded on library premises attracted PLR income. The change was prompted by a European Court of Justice ruling in November 2016 in relation to a Dutch remote library lending scheme. Following the decision, the UK is one of the first countries to extend its library lending compensation scheme to remote e-lending. This may have been driven by the dramatic increase in e-lending over the past six years, with figures released by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport showing that more than 6,750,000 works were borrowed electronically from UK public libraries last year compared to just 750,000 in 2011/12.

The change has been achieved by the commencement of provisions in Section 31 of the Digital Economy Act 2017, which amended the PLR Scheme so that it applies to e-books and e-audiobooks that have “been lawfully acquired by the library” and where “the lending is in compliance with any purchase or licensing terms to which the book is subject”. Section 31 also redefines “lent out” as meaning “made available to a member of the public for use away from library premises for a limited time (including by being communicated by means of electronic transmission to a place other than library premises)”. It is important to note that the PLR Scheme does not currently extend to Kindle and Amazon audio download editions as Amazon operates a closed digital rights management system and has not licensed its books to be available via public libraries in the UK.

The implications of greater lending for the commercial ebook and e-audiobook markets remain to be seen. Presently, publishers typically supply copies of works to public libraries on specific purchase or licensing terms which seek to replicate the limits to supply which are inherent in the physical loans market, such as the lending of each digital copy to a limited number of readers at a time, securely removing e-books from readers after lending and having digital books “deteriorate” after a number of loans.

The government is also planning a further amendment to the PLR Scheme to ensure that UK resident authors will remain eligible to register for PLR after the UK’s exit from the European Union. At present, it is expected that this amendment will be made after the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill receives Royal Assent.

Further information on how authors and rightsholders can register their e-books and e-audiobooks for the PLR Scheme is available here.

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