In this latest of my series of articles on how to maximise your income as an illustrator, author, photographer, narrator, translator etc. I will focus on Public Lending Rights (PLR), what they are and how to claim UK and Irish PLR and then move on to how to claim PLR elsewhere around the world, where possible. I will warn you now this article is very long but worth it so hang in there as best you can. Now let’s dive straight in and start with the basics, what is PLR exactly?
A lot of people think PLR is the right of authors to receive payment for free public use of their works in public libraries, because that is what the PLR website states. Well I don’t think that is totally correct because an author is not just “the” author, they can be the co-author as an illustrator is for a picture book, or a photographer, may include the narrator(s) for an audio book, or the translator. PLR gives published authors, illustrators and other contributors, a legal right to payment each time their work, such as books, music, artwork etc., is borrowed from public libraries.
The below is taken directly from the PLR UK website on who is eligible to claim PLR, so you don’t have to take it from me:-
- Writers – share to reflect contribution
- Illustrators/photographers – share to reflect contribution even if paid by fee
- Translators – share fixed at 30%
- Original author – even if out of copyright or deceased a notional share should be allocated to reflect contribution
- Adaptors/Re-tellers – 80% of the text share (after the illustrator’s share is allocated) where the original author is named on the title page or 100% of the text share where no original author is named or has an agreement with the author named on the title page
- Ghost writers – if named on the title page or entitled to royalties from the publisher
- Editors/compilers/abridgers/revisers – share to reflect contribution.
It is also very important to point out that to qualify for PLR you should be named on the book’s title page (yes title page not cover page, the title page is normally an inside page with all the information on it about edition, who owns copyright etc.) or be entitled to a royalty payment from the publisher, but you do not have to own the copyright. I believe that copyright should always be retained by the illustrator / creator etc. but that is a separate issue which I will look to cover in a future article.
So we now know what PLR is but why does PLR exist? Well you can look at it in a couple of different ways depending on which country you are in! …. Yes the answer is it depends! …. To some it is a programme to compensate illustrators, authors etc. for the potential loss of sales (book royalties etc.) for their work, such as books, music, artwork, being made available in public libraries. To others it is governmental support of the arts, through support of their work being available in public libraries. It is the latter argument that I understand is one of the main reasons why there is no PLR system in the USA as government support clearly means Communism, ignoring the fact that companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems etc. get government assistance through their defence contracts under the guise of “in the interests of national security”, but that’s a different argument.
The other thing I find most people don’t realise is that PLR has been around for over 70 years. The first country to establish a PLR system was Denmark in 1946, followed by Norway in 1947 and Sweden in 1954. The UK system was set up by the PLR Act of 1979, so that’s over 40 years ago,
OK here are some of the facts around PLR that I have found online, for anyone interested, before we get stuck into the how to claim ….
At least 41 countries recognise lending rights in their legislation, but PLR systems exist in only 28 of these. When I say systems exist I mean where payments are being made, or where there is PLR legislation and funding has been provided. 24 of these are in Europe namely: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. Cyprus and Hungary I understand are also working on implementing PLR schemes too.
In the 28 countries where a PLR system does exist these fall broadly into three categories as outlined below with some countries adopting a combination of all three:-
- A copyright based system – As found in countries like Germany and Austria, where lending is seen as a form of copyright exploitation of authors’ works. Authors have the right to license the lending of their works by libraries. All arrangements for licensing and distribution of fees are undertaken by collecting societies on behalf of rights holders and these societies negotiate with either the Federal and Provincial governments or libraries for the funds to make payments with.
- PLR as a separate remuneration right recognised in law – This is the system in the UK where the 1979 PLR Act gives authors a legal right to receive payment from the government for the lending out of their books by public libraries as administered by a government agency called the PLR office. This is a right to payment, not an exclusive right allowing authors to prohibit or license the lending of their books.
- PLR as part of state support for culture – this is the system adopted mainly in the Scandinavian countries where, for example, payments are made only to authors of books written in a country’s native language. This is aimed at minority languages and encouraging the writing of literature in those languages. The effect is to prevent PLR payments in those countries going to writers in more dominant languages such as English.
Also within the European Union (EU), the 1992 Directive on Lending and Rental Right established a copyright framework for the recognition of authors’ lending rights by Member States, which was another good reason to stay in but hey what do I know?!? Basically this gives authors and other rights holders an exclusive right to license or prohibit the lending of their works by libraries. However, EU Member States can differ from an exclusive right, provided that they remunerate rights holders for the loan of their works. EU Member States are also allowed to exclude the lending of authors’ works from specific categories of library and can give priority to their national cultural objectives when establishing a PLR scheme. Still much better than nothing and allows all three types of PLR systems to work side by side.
In a nutshell each PLR system has its own rules about who may qualify for payment, but EU Member States cannot discriminate on grounds of nationality.
Elsewhere around the world there are working PLR systems in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Copyright legislation in Mauritius and Kazakhstan provides for lending rights but no PLR system is yet in operation. In Japan a government advisory committee recommended back in 2003 that discussions take place between author and library organisations towards the introduction of PLR, but this has not yet resulted in proposals for a PLR system as far as I am aware.
There are no PLR systems in the United States, South America, Asia or Africa.
That’s not all, there are two main methods used to calculate how much you can claim as follows:-
- Payment on the basis of how often an author’s works are lent out such as used in the UK where details of book loans are collected from a sample of public library computer systems across the country by the PLR office. This is then used to calculate the estimated number of times that books are borrowed nationally, and payment is made on the basis of an annually calculated rate per loan.
- Payment per copy of an author’s work held in libraries.
There are some other methods used too such as relating payments to book purchases, payments made as grants etc. but that is enough detail on that for now, my head is starting to hurt.
For us in the UK we can claim UK and Irish PLR through the UK PLR office, which I will show you how to do in a moment. I know it is about time but I will get around to it. From the UK and Ireland we can also claim PLR from countries including Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and France through the Author’s Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), and for artists through the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS), both of which I will cover later on in this article.
The UK system is open to authors resident in any country in the European Economic Area which is basically all EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Well it was up until the UK left the EU and now I have no idea if any of these standing agreements will remain or not. I fear not but let’s see as nothing has changed until everything has changed!
To be eligible to register for the UK PLR scheme you must have your home or principal home in the UK or in any of the other countries within the European Economic Area (EEA). Continuous residence after registration is not a requirement, however, if you move outside the European Economic Area after registration you will not be able to register any new titles or editions for PLR. Books which are already registered will remain unaltered. As for the Irish PLR scheme, you may be a resident or citizen of any of the countries within the EEA. If you are not an EEA resident and are applying for Irish PLR as a citizen, you must provide a photocopy of your passport to confirm your citizenship within the EEA.
The PLR year runs from the 1st July until the 30th June. As long as you complete your submissions by the 30th June each year they will collect loans of your books from the previous July, with any payments due paid the following February.
If you are finding all this painful then let me give you some motivation to continue, given that we have not even started the painful bit. Payments from UK PLR are usually made in February and range from a minimum of £1 to a maximum of £6’600. This does not include any payments from other countries’ PLR systems. Even if you get a couple of hundred pounds a year I still think it is a good thing to do as it should keep paying out year after year. Registration is free so it’s only going to cost you the time to get off your lazy backside and register your titles. Well actually the truth is you need to sit your lazy backside down in front of a computer and submit them all.
Enough of all that necessary nonsense, now let’s make a claim …. the good news is you can do all it all online and it’s relatively simple.
Where to start? Well if you don’t have a UK PLR account yet then that is the best place to start! Step one is to go to the PLR UK website https://www.bl.uk/plr. Once you land on the home page click on the “Apply for an online account” button at the bottom of the page and follow the instructions to register.
Once you are all done you will most probably get an email with a link to set your password and you are done with the first step. You now have a PLR UK account!
Now go back to the PLR UK website https://www.bl.uk/plr , and click on the “Online account login” button which will take you to the login page as shown in the screenshot opposite. Now login!
Once logged in we can finally get truly started.
OK go to the section in the bottom half of the page under the heading of “What would you like to do?” and select “Register a title” as shown in the screenshot opposite.
At this point you will need all your books’ International Standard Book Number(s) (ISBN)s. If you don’t have them then I highly recommend you start thinking about creating a log of all your published work and where all your work has/is being used because you are going to need it, not just for this but for almost every other article I have either already written, or will be writing, on how to maximise your income as an illustrator or author.
To add a book title to your claim simply input the ISBN into the top box and then click find. If the PLR database has your ISBN it will fill in as many of the other fields as possible. All the other fields you will have to manually fill in. So when I mentioned earlier that you need a log of all you ISBNs, I should have actually said you need a log of not just your ISBNs but also their title, publisher, publication year, edition type and your percentage share. That’s why creating a log/register of all your works from scratch was my first article in this series as to me it is the foundation of everything.
If the PLR database does not recognise your ISBN then you will get a message saying that they do not currently hold the bibliographic details for the ISBN you have just entered and you will have to add in all the details manually.
Also make sure you tick one of the boxes on the right hand side of the page to indicate what form of contribution you are claiming, as shown in the screenshot opposite.
The one biggest bit of advice I will give you now is each time you add a title to your PLR account, or any other collecting organisation claim, is to make a column in your log/register of your works to show that you have added it to your PLR account or else you will find yourself each year trying to work out or remember what you have already registered and what still needs to be added. If you don’t I’ll explain what will happen in the next bit that just might drive you mad depending on how many titles you have.
Before a title can be accepted you will need to complete all the fields as show in the screenshot above, including ticking one of the boxes on the right hand side of the page that identifies your contribution. Have I mentioned that already? Yes because it is the one thing I always forget to do. Once all is completed you will then need to click on the “add book to table below” button in the bottom right hand side of the page. When you do that you will see it appear in the table at the bottom of the page ready for submission. All you have to do now is keep going until you have finished adding all you book titles or until you have had enough for the day.
Now as you do this for the first time, or even when you are updating your registered titles each year, you will make mistakes, or get bored doing it or distracted etc. We are only human and this stuff is dull work let’s face it. The most common mistake I make is forgetting what I have just added and inadvertently try to add the same title again. Well when you do, the system is setup to help you by giving you an error message just like the one in the screenshot below. What can you do? Nothing, well other than to click the “clear form” button and start again. No big deal I know but if you don’t keep a good record of what you have already entered you will see this time and time again and it will drive you insane knowing you are just repeating what you have already done wasting even more time on a dull task that is going to take longer to finish. Please don’t do that to yourself, life is too short as it is.
Once we have reached the limit of the number of titles you are going to add in one go, which could be as few as one believe me, scroll down to the very bottom of the page, below the table of all the titles you have just entered, where you will find in the bottom left hand corner the “submit to plr” button. Now press submit …. Nothing will happen otherwise!
Now we find ourselves on the eligibility statement page which is all the legal stuff that you need to read as it is your head on the block if you don’t. If you agree with the statement then simply press the “Accept” button at the bottom of the page and you are done for now.
The process is now done but not done done as I like to say. Your book titles have been submitted and are now awaiting approval by the PLR team. They do an amazing job so be patient. If there is an issue with any of your registered titles they will email you. If they reject any of your titles they will email you with the reason why. If you have any more information that will help them approve your rejected title(s) then you can reply. So all is good and I like their system very much.
Once you have entered the information for any of your titles it will be held against your account by PLR UK and you will only need to enter new ones each year, or any that you could not be bothered or had forgotten to add before. Also it does not matter when your work was printed, or even if the title is out of print, you can still claim as libraries may still hold it.
Naturally now that I have written all of this the format will probably change and will be a new improved look, but I am sure it will not be so much different that the above wouldn’t be useful in some way so happy adding, and if you get stuck please do drop me a line and I would be more than happy to help where I can.
The time spent registering your book titles will be time very well spent. I currently have over 485 titles registered with PLR UK and only 4 titles rejected (all 4 are audio books for which illustrators do not receive PLR). I have a few more that I have not registered that are books that have been translated to languages such as Greek and Russian as the system does not seem to recognise anything other than the Latin alphabet, which is no surprise as it is aimed at the UK after all!
That’s UK and Irish PLR sorted so we can now turn our attention to the other …. We are about half way if you are thinking Oh My God have we not done enough already? The answer, I am sorry to say, is no we have not …. let’s keep going ….
For UK and Irish authors and illustrators etc. to claim payments from overseas PLR systems operating in a number of other European countries such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Austria, you need to register your works with the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) who administer the reciprocal PLR agreements with other countries. Eligible illustrators, photographers and visual artists can also apply to claim their share of Dutch PLR payments through the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS). Well this was the case before the UK decided to actually leave the European Union and now I have no idea if any of these standing agreements will remain or not.
You might be thinking why am I saying works and not books? Well ALCS allows you to register not only books but also any contributions you have made to magazines, journals and scripts. So you don’t just need a full list of all you books’ International Standard Book Number(s) (ISBN)s, you will also need the International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) for any magazine or journal your work has been published in too. That’s not all, you will need much more information about your work such as publisher, number of visual contributions (if any), estimated word count for articles and publication year. For scripts you will need different information such as title or series, episode title or number, Channel it was aired on, type of work, length of programme in minutes, original transmission date, year of production, your contribution, production companies, and countries of production.
ALCS collects two main types of income for everyone who writes or contributes to books, magazines and journals. The first is from the overseas Public Lending Rights (PLR) from countries the UK has reciprocal agreements with. The second, and biggest of the two, is licences issued by the Copyright Licencing Agency (CLA), which offers licensing options for businesses, educational institutions, and government agencies for copying or scanning works, and licences issued by the Publishers’ Licencing Service (PLS) to licence reproduction rights on behalf of its member organisations. For script writers ALCS collects several types of income including re-transmission of works broadcast on TV and radio, educational recording and private copying (In most European countries, a levy is charged on the sale of recording and copying equipment. This is usually referred to as a private copying levy and is intended to compensate rights owners for the reuse of their works).
That’s all the basics covered so let’s get on and make a claim, it’s what we are here for after all.
Where to start ? Well as always if you don’t have an ALCS account yet then that is the best place to start! Go to the ALCS website https://www.alcs.co.uk/, and once you land on the home page, under the section headed “Not a Member?” click on the “Register Here” button in the middle of the page and follow the instructions to register. As you are registering be sure to join the ALCS mailing list, yes their mailing list, and yes we are actively asking someone to send us stuff rather than asking them to unsubscribe us. Why? Because ALCS will keep you updated on when to ensure your register of works is updated and
submitted by and any new developments that you might have to complete a different claim form for, be it another countries PLR scheme or any other forms of secondary use of your works, such as photocopying, scanning and digital reuse etc. If you are not in it you will not win it!
Once you are all done you will most probably get an email with a link to set your password and you are done with the first step. You now have an ALCS account!
For all artists the next thing you should do is to either create a DACS account and/or ensure that you are on their mailing list too so you can also benefit from notifications from DACS on when to ensure your DACS payback claim has to be completed by and, more importantly for this article, when to complete different claim forms for things like Dutch PLR etc.
If you need any more motivation to do this then I will tell you that if I was not on DACS’s mailing list I would not have got an email in 2019 from them telling me that artists and estates can now apply for royalties if their work has been published in Germany, thanks to the partnership between DACS and the German collecting society VG Bild-Kunst. I completed the forms for any of my works published on a German website, in a German book or featured in a German art exhibition before the then 14th June 2019 deadline and received a nice slice of income more than I was expecting that year. What more motivation do you need? So go to the DACS website https://www.dacs.org.uk. Once you land on the home page click on “For Artists” from the top menu line, then click on “Find out more” under the Payback header, then click the button “Login to claim Payback” and finally at the bottom of the login box select “New to Payback? Sign up here” …… or just follow this link by clicking here!. Fill the form in with your details etc., making sure you sign up to their mailing list, and submit. DACS will send you an email with a link to set your password and you are done.
Now let’s all go back to the ALCS website, https://www.alcs.co.uk/, as it is time to login to your account and start registering your work. You should now be on the “My Works” page with a big red “View All and Add More Works” button looking straight at you in the middle of the page. What are you waiting for? Click it.
This takes you to the “My Works” page ….. but we have just come from there? Yes I know but that was just the landing page showing your most recently added works and this one shows you all your registered works and has a big green “Add New Work” button at the top which you need to click on to, surprisingly, to add your works.
We are now on the page that I call the Arc de Triomphe roundabout page because when you first look at it you think there is too much going on and there is no way I can work out what to do, where to go, or how to survive! It looks busy and potentially stressful with so many different options to take to leave the page depending on where you need to go. It’s actually not that bad and if you ever watch the traffic from the top of the Arc de Triomphe you will see that in what seems to be total chaos somehow it actually works.
From the busy screenshot above you will see that you have to select first what type of publication the item of your work you wish to add has been published in, either a book, a magazine or journal, or a script. Once you have selected then it’s time to add in details such as title, ISBN / ISSN, publisher etc. filling in the fields on the left hand side of the page, ensuring you complete all fields marked with an asterisk otherwise you will not be able to add the work to your account.
Once done you then need to select from the drop-down menus, roughly in the middle of the page, which type of contributor you are and your writing name. Other than that, don’t forget to tick the box to declare you own the copyright for your contribution and/or the box declaring you own the copyright for your visual contribution(s), including the number of visual contributions. For everyone registering visual contributions remember to count each image as one, so if you have the same image in a book five times that’s five images not one. All of this information you should hold in your log/register of all your works, I did say you would need one and you’d find it very useful.
Once all that is completed then click the big red “Save to My Account” button and start the process again until you have entered in every published item of your works from books to magazines etc.
As I have mentioned in previous articles, the one biggest bit of advice I can give you now is each time you add an item of work to your ALCS account, or any other collecting organisation claim, is to make a column in your log/register to show that you have added it to your ALCS account or else you will find yourself each year trying to work out or remember what you have already registered and what still needs to be added. If you don’t you will regret it for the rest of your life! …. Well it’s not that bad but you will get annoyed that you didn’t, which is bad enough.
ALCS have actually produced a YouTube tutorial guide on how to add work to your account, covering books, magazines, journals and scripts, which is much better than anything I can write, which you can see by clicking on the following link https://youtu.be/KnCTcxQZ8qY. I know I could have mentioned this earlier but what can I say, I like the sound of my own voice!
As you might have gathered from all the above, to be able to claim anything through ALCS you need to own the copyright to your works. I don’t think this is completely right personally as that is not the requirement to claim PLR in the UK. However, as ALCS collects a lot more than just PLR from other countries, as mentioned earlier, I fully understand that to manage two separate systems would potentially be quite difficult. So when you are negotiating a contract etc. hang on to your copyright as it will benefit you for years to come. Also note that publishers can’t claim through ALCS, nor can they claim for PLR etc. so to me it is a bit mean not to allow illustrators, authors etc. to keep the copyright of their work, even if they sign a clause in the contract stating that they get no royalties from book sales. Where your copyright is already owned by the publisher, for example, then why not try to negotiate the copyright reverting back to you, even if it comes void of any financial gain from the publisher, at least it will allow you to claim for PLR, and other similar schemes that they can’t claim. Maybe I should investigate that area a bit more and write an article on that too?! …. I think I already promised to do that in earlier articles and still haven’t!?! oooppppssss.
If you’re unsure if you own the copyright to any of your published works then check your contract or with your publisher etc. as it should be in there somewhere.
As a visual artist if you are a member of the Designers and Artists Collecting Society (DACS) or the Picture Industry Collecting Society for Effective Licensing (PICSEL) payback schemes, you cannot also make a visual contribution claim through ALCS, and you will need to decide which organisation you wish to receive payments from. Now read this paragraph again and think for a moment reminding yourself why you are registering your works with ALCS in the first place. If you are an author then it’s your main collecting society, however, if you are a visual artist such as an illustrator you are registering your works to claim overseas PLR. So you should still register all your works with ALCS too. Confused? .… me too.
To me the unnecessary complexity is highlighted nicely by the contributions to a picture book. Here the royalties from the book are usually split evenly between the writer and the illustrator as the words don’t work without the images and the images don’t work without the words. The writer and the illustrator are joint authors. Both the illustrator and writer are entitled to an equal share of PLR. The UK PLR system recognises this beautifully and you have to register your share of royalties each time you register a book. Perfect. With ALCS, however, it is not as obvious.
When I review my registered books with ALCS I am still a bit unclear as to how the percentage share is allocated and am concerned that I might be missing out on overseas PLR claims etc. From my previous conversations with the team at ALCS, I understand that ALCS acts as an agent rather than acting as the deciding authority and the separate overseas PLR systems decide what percentage is allocated to author, illustrator etc. However, there seems to be a vast inconsistency even for individual countries. If I look at three picture books published in the UK by the same publisher in English where the author and the illustrator share equal royalties, the illustrator’s share on ALCS is shown as either: 0%, 50% or 100%, when they should be all 50% to each the author and the illustrator. If I then look at three picture books initially published in the UK under the same terms as above and then translated to French (say) and published in France, I also find that the illustrator’s share on ALCS is shown as either: 0%, 50% or 100%, when they should be all 35% each to the author and illustrator and 30% to the translator if we go by UK PLR rules.
I know I am writing this article with the intention of helping you, so please forgive me for not understanding, but I can’t see how this is correct. So I don’t know what conclusion to come to with regard to picture books etc. Should you register as an author? Should you register as a visual contributor? Or should you register as both? I am happy to listen to all your opinions and advice on this as I have my own opinion but actually no idea at all!
Fortunately for me I have retained copyright for almost all my works so my job is to just make sure all the books are registered to the best of my ability and accept the things that I cannot change. Time to move on.
It is my understanding that DACS is looking to take over the collection of overseas PLR for designers and artists as they have already started doing for the Netherlands and for Germany. So make sure you are on their mailing list not to miss out.
I cannot not mention in this article PLR international as there are other established PLR schemes in Denmark, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Faroe Islands, Georgia, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden, that if you are a resident or domiciled in, or a national of, you might be able to claim directly. In the UK we are currently reliant on UK PLR, ALCS and DACS to collect overseas PLR on our behalf. However, I do double check the PLR International website, https://plrinternational.com/, every now and then for updates as there are also another 27 or so countries that have PLR schemes in development.
For all collecting societies as part of the process of verifying your submissions / claims etc. you might be required to provide supporting evidence, such as copies of contracts or other commissioning documents, or evidence of visual contributions things like screenshots of images in books with total number of images in each screenshot etc. To date I have been subject to an audit check which I am quite happy about as it gives me a lot of confidence in the system, which I was able to satisfy quite nicely by providing a PDF copy of the log of all my works. I told you it would be a good idea to have one.
That is us done with PLR as much as reasonably practical. I have been doing this, well my husband who is also my PA actually has been doing it for me, for some time and have been shamelessly squeezing that lemon for every last drop. It has made a very welcome difference to my income and I hope it can do the same for you too. If there are any ideas or schemes, that are legal that is, that I have not mentioned then please get in touch and I’d be more than happy to add them on. Thank you.
There is no doubt that registering all your works, one by one, with PLR, ALCS and/or DACS can be a mammoth task. The main difficulty is the amount of time it takes to do it all. It’s not difficult it’s just laborious and dull work. Registration is free for all three so, as I said what must seem like an age ago, it’s only going to cost you the time to get off your lazy backside and register your titles. Well actually the truth is you need to sit your lazy backside down in front of a computer and get it done in bite size pieces. As I said earlier, you make your own luck in this life so let’s do this.
I have finally managed to convince my husband to offer this as a service to other authors, illustrators etc. If you are interested then you can email him (email@example.com) and he’ll be happy to talk to you about finding the right setup that would work for you both to initially get a register started of all your published works, if you don’t already have one that is, and then getting them registered to your various claiming society accounts. Naturally he would also be more than happy to share his thoughts and experience with anyone to help in anyway, so if you do have more questions or are having an issue with something then please do drop him a line and he would gladly help you as much he can.
Tina Macnaughton freelance illustrator – March 2020.