The ALCS Interview: Janet Anderson

Last month, Public Lending Right (PLR) was extended to remote e-lending after a long campaign by ALCS and The Society of Authors (SoA). We talk to Janet Anderson, key political adviser to ALCS and the All Party Parliamentary Writers Group (APWG) during the process.

Interview by Barbara Hayes, Deputy Chief Executive of ALCS.

UK Public Lending Right was established by Act of Parliament in 1979. Administered by the British Library, it gives authors the legal right to receive payment from government each time their books are loaned through the public library system. Since its inception, PLR has distributed over £160 million to authors, and in its latest annual round of payments in February 2017, it paid out £6 million to 22,202 authors at a rate per loan of 7.82 pence.

What exactly does this new e-lending legislation mean for authors, Janet?

The legislation was finally added to the Digital Economy Bill (now the Digital Economy Act) by a last-minute Government amendment following a long-running campaign by ALCS and SoA. We work from the basic position that creators should be rewarded for their work. If they are not, then they may decide not to create any more, which would be seriously bad news for the UK economy. It is estimated that our creative industries generate £8 million every single hour and that, by 2018, the annual figure will be £100 billion. Writers are at the very heart of this. Books, film, television, even computer games: where would any of these be without writers?

Why is PLR a right? Why can’t writers just let their work be borrowed for free as part of a wider social programme in the UK?

As I said earlier, we believe that writers should be rewarded for their work. PLR is not a huge income stream for most authors: it amounts to 7.82p per loan and is subject to an annual cap of £6,600 per recipient. However, writers will tell you that they find it extremely gratifying to know their books are being read and this provides a source of encouragement for them to continue writing. Writers, illustrators, photographers, translators and editors are also eligible for PLR. The Government has now guaranteed that an annual fund of £6.6 million will be made available for PLR up to 2019.

Why did extending PLR to e-books take so long? What sort of work goes into campaigning and implementing something like this?

With the development of e-books, we have long thought that PLR should be extended to the remote lending of e-books by public libraries. Previously, writers received no recognition at all of the value of their work to the public consumption and enjoyment of literature through e-books. To achieve our aim, it would require legislation. We therefore set about the task of lobbying Government ministers and both Houses of Parliament to persuade them there was a need for the moral rights of writers to be acknowledged in the age of developing technology which had facilitated the remote public lending of e-books.

When will the extension be implemented?

The new arrangements will officially take effect from 1 July 2018, and any payments arising from the newly eligible loans will be made in February 2020.

The great thing is that remote e-book loans will receive the same PLR rate per loan as print titles and audio titles, and the terms for receiving PLR will also remain the same.

Who has worked on this campaign? Are there any MPs, Lords or others who you feel have made a particular difference?

We have been lucky to be supported by so many members of both Houses of Parliament, and Government ministers too. The Rt Hon John Whittingdale MP, former Culture Secretary, and the former Creative Industries Minister, the Rt Hon Ed Vaizey MP, deserve thanks for all their efforts to make this happen. So too does Lord Clement-Jones, who helped to move an earlier amendment in the House of Lords, and has worked tirelessly to help us on this and many other issues of concern to writers; and Baroness Tessa Jowell, who has been a valuable source of advice. Also members of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, particularly Paul Farrelly MP, and current chair, Damian Collins MP. Kevin Brennan MP also helped tremendously. But it would be remiss of me not to mention especially the late Baroness (Ruth) Rendell, who served as secretary of the All Party Writers Group for many years and was always ready to wade in on our behalf. And finally, Dr Jim Parker, former head of UK PLR and now coordinator of   PLR International.

Is the APWG a good example of a cross-party effort to ensure that writers are recognised as important contributors to the economy and the overall cultural contribution of the UK?

The All Party Writers Group has 61 members now, across both Houses of Parliament and all political parties, including many published writers. It is an invaluable source of support to enable us to speak up for writers, and ensure they are properly rewarded for their work and that their concerns are brought to the attention of those who can make a difference on their behalf.

Is there more work to be done?

There will always be more work to be done. We are currently turning our attention to unfair contracts for writers and trying to make sure that writers are aware of their rights and how to ensure they are enforced. As the mother-in-law of a successful published writer, I am well aware of the need to campaign on this!

Lastly, is there any other legislation affecting authors and cultural workers generally that you’d like to see implemented?

As a former minister in the Department of Culture, Media & Sport, I would like the Department to be taken more seriously across government. It tends to be regarded as a small, and relatively inconsequential, government department. Nothing could be further from the truth. It deals with issues that directly affect everyone’s quality of life. The enjoyment of literature and the wider contribution of the creative industries generally is central to that. We will continue to stand up and campaign for that on behalf of the creative industries, but, in particular for the 90,000 writer members of ALCS.

Janet Anderson is a former MP for Rossendale and Darwen, as well as a former Minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). She chaired the All Party Parliamentary Writers Group from 2009 – 2010 and is currently assisting ALCS in our lobbying activities.

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