Out-Law News 2 min. read

Government may be in breach of EU copyright laws over volunteer-run libraries' royalty payment commitments, authors' body claims

The Government may have failed to abide by EU copyright laws if volunteer-run libraries are not required to pay authors royalties when they loan out books, the Society of Authors (SoA) has claimed.

Nicola Solomon, chief executive of SoA, has written (4-page / 174KB PDF) to Culture Minister Ed Vaizey to express the organisation's concern about diminishing rates to authors' compensation as a result of the rise of volunteer-run libraries in place of traditional public libraries.

Under the EU's Directive on copyright relating to rental rights and lending rights (Lending Directive) authors generally have the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit others from renting or lending their original works or copies of those works. Those authors are entitled to a "single equitable remuneration" as way of compensation from those who loan out their works.

The Directive does allow EU member states to "derogate" from that "exclusive right" where it concerns "public lending" and they may "exempt certain categories of establishments from the payment of the remuneration" if they so choose. However, authors are still entitled to "obtain a remuneration for such lending" in those circumstances.

Authors' 'public lending right' (PLR) only applies to "public libraries administered by local library authorities" which are defined by the Public Libraries Act, Solomon said. The Government has admitted that volunteer-run libraries are not included within the definition, she added.

The way UK copyright laws are worded, however, means volunteer-run libraries do not currently have to pay authors royalties when loaning out books those authors wrote, Solomon said. Because of this, she claimed, the Government may have failed to comply with the Directive.

"[EU] Member States may allow a derogation for public lending (i.e. public libraries) provided that authors obtain royalties," Solomon said. "[The Department for Culture, Media and Sport] have now confirmed that it is their understanding that the new community libraries are not covered by PLR, as they are outside the statutory library service."

"Under the [EU] Directive authors are entitled to equitable compensation for any such loans. However, it seems that the Government may have failed in its obligations to enact appropriate UK law for this purpose," she added.

UK copyright laws enable certain 'prescribed libraries' to lend out books without paying authors royalties. The Government can define what is meant by 'prescribed libraries' by drawing up new regulations, but existing wording of the laws allows for a broad interpretation and means all libraries, other than "statutory libraries", can avoid paying royalties until those regulations are introduced, Solomon said. She called for the Government to "immediately ... rectify this by making appropriate regulations" under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.

"It would be unfair and deeply damaging to authors if authors were prejudiced by transfers of loans to volunteer libraries," Solomon said. "We seek an assurance that the overall fund will not be cut due to volunteer run libraries being removed from the scheme."

Under the Public Lending Right Act authors can register to receive compensation for the loan of their printed works. The royalty rate is dependent on the number of loans made through public libraries. Last year registered authors were compensated at a rate of 6.05 pence for every loan of their material and authors can claim a maximum of £6,600 a year in compensation for the lending. Their rights in this regard last for the duration of their life and 70 years after their death.

Solomon said that the PLR was particularly important to authors "whose books are no longer in print but are still being read" in libraries.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that authors' royalties payments were unaffected by the operation of volunteer-run libraries, according to a report by the Guardian.

"PLR payments to authors are set annually, with the amount going to individual authors based on the number of loans from a sample group of libraries," DCMS said. "It is true that the small number of libraries that fall outside statutory local authority provision do not form part of that sample, but this has no effect whatsoever on the total amount of money paid out each year to authors."

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