20 Years of International Public Lending Right

Dr Jim Parker, co-ordinator of International Public Lending Right (IPLR) Network and organiser of the biennial IPLR conference, reports on the 20th anniversary meeting in The Hague.

Some 80 delegates from over 30 countries attended the 11th International PLR conference in The Hague, held between between 24 – 25 September. The conference was open to representatives both of countries like the UK which already have well-established PLR systems, and to nations where authors’ organisations are campaigning for PLR to be set up. Hosted by the Dutch PLR office – Stichting Leenrecht – the 11th conference took place at the world-famous Mauritshuis art museum and marked the 20th anniversary of the very first IPLR conference back in 1995 when only 14 countries had PLR systems. Over the last 20 years that number has doubled. Most working systems are in Europe, where European Community legislation requires Member States to set up PLR systems to ensure that authors receive payment for the lending of their books by public libraries. But PLR systems also exist outside Europe in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Israel.

The IPLR Network exists to encourage closer contacts between PLR systems across the world, but also provides a means to press for the introduction of PLR in countries where authors do not yet benefit from payments for public library loans. To strengthen IPLR’s efforts on behalf of authors, we are now working in partnership with the International Authors Forum (IAF) and this is opening up new opportunities to promote the importance of PLR for authors internationally. Closer working arrangements with the European Writers Council are also under discussion.    

Among the good news stories at this year’s conference was the launch of a PLR system in Malta, with first payments being made to Maltese authors in January. In Poland, after two decades of campaigning, parliament passed PLR legislation in early September and the new system is expected to get off the ground next year. And there are also promising developments in Romania and Switzerland. To show that PLR is not just a European phenomenon, Derek Lee from the Hong Kong PLR Alliance spoke in a session chaired by ALCS’s Barbara Hayes about the ground-breaking campaign to establish PLR in Hong Kong. If successful, this would have huge implications as it would be the first PLR system in Asia.

The news from other countries was less good. In Spain, the obligation to provide funding for PLR payments falls on over 5,000 local municipalities, which are proving reluctant to pay. In Portugal, the PLR legislation continues to exclude public library book loans from payment, despite European court rulings that this is illegal. There was much discussion on the cuts in government funding for PLR now common in many countries because of the world economic crisis. This is resulting in levels of PLR payments to authors which Maureen Duffy – sadly absent from the conference because of illness – has described as ‘derisory’.

The other big issue for the future of PLR discussed at the conference was the explosion of e-book lending by public libraries across the world. PLR systems underpinned by European law have been restricting themselves to payments for loans of printed books as e-lending has been deemed to fall outside their legal remit. But a case shortly due to be heard by the European Court of Justice will rule on whether PLR may include e-lending. A legal expert explained the issues to delegates and speculated that the ECJ would come out in favour of e-lending being included in PLR. Meanwhile, Peter Schneider from the Canadian PLR office announced that Canadian PLR would be including ebooks from next year. Canadian PLR is not based in legislation and the PLR Commission there is free to make its own decisions. (For an in-depth look at the situation of PLR in Canada you can read the speech given at the conference by Canadian novelist Genni Gunn: A brief summary on the issues facing PLR in the future from an author’s perspective).

It was great to have delegates and speakers from so many countries and from such a variety of professional backgrounds at the conference. With major issues like PLR and e-lending still to be resolved, there will undoubtedly be a continuing need for these two-yearly get-togethers.

Dr Jim Parker was Head of the UK’s Public Lending Right (PLR) office from 1991 to 2014. In 1995 he set up the International PLR Network which brings together the growing number of countries which recognise PLR and provides advice to countries seeking to establish their own PLR systems. Since stepping down as Head of UK PLR he has continued in his role as PLR Network Co-ordinator and is working in partnership with the IAF to promote PLR internationally. 

© Jim Parker