The government is expanding the Public Lending Right (PLR) to include e-books and e-audiobooks, meaning their authors will be eligible for payment in the same way as those whose physical books are borrowed from libraries.
Authors will be paid from a government fund that compensates authors for loaning their works for free from public libraries. The pot of money allocated to PLR, £6.6m, will not change, a spokesperson from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport confirmed, with the maximum any one author can claim £6,600 per year.
The catalyst for the change, taking effect for all loans from 2018, stems from a judgement in November in the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). It held the definition of lending by public libraries in European copyright law also includes remote electronic lending, thus removing the final barrier to its expansion.
The UK is one of the first countries to extend its library lending compensation scheme to remote e-lending, following amendments to the Digital Economy Bill.
Rob Wilson, minister for civil society, and responsible for libraries, called it an "important change" that would help libraries to embrace the digital age and put e-book authors on "the same footing" as other writers, illustrators and photographers whose physical books are borrowed for free. “This legislation fulfils a manifesto commitment and underlines our support for the growing e-book sector, while ensuring that appropriate protections for rights holders are maintained,” he added.
Nicola Solomon, chief executive of the Society of Authors (SoA), said she was "thrilled" by the news, having campaigned on the issue for many years, and following the work put into wording amendments to the bill in consultation with publishers, authors, libraries and bookshops.
"We are thrilled at this announcement. The SoA has been pressing for PLR to be extended to e-book lending for many years and we have worked hard with booksellers, libraries, agents publishers and the Government to find wording which addresses an anomaly which sees authors receive a small payment (around 7p) via PLR when physical copies of their books or audiobooks are loaned but nothing when they are remotely lent in digital format but ensures that the balances currently in place to protect authors, publishers and booksellers remain. Another very pleasing aspect of this work is to see how the whole industry has worked together constructively to push for this change and iron out all the concerns," she said.
The scheme is managed by the British Library on behalf of the Government, which reported more than £6m in payments were made to 22,000 authors, illustrators, photographers, translators and rights holders each year.
Last year e-book lending saw an increase of 38%, according to the British Library, with more than 4m e-book loans and almost 1m e-audiobook loans in Great Britain in the 12 months to April 2016, for which authors were not then remunerated.
According to the SoA, the cost of the new measure is "negligible" (payment for 3m loans would come in at under £250,000), "but the principle is extremely important". The government has also increased the payment rate that authors receive for each loan of their books from 7.67 pence per loan to 7.82 pence per loan.
Roly Keating, chief executive of the British Library, said: “With the rapid rise in popularity of ebooks and e-audiobooks in recent years, it’s fantastic news that authors' PLR payments will now reflect remote e-book loans of their books from public libraries as well as the borrowing of hard copies.
“Over 22,000 writers, illustrators, photographers, translators and editors who have contributed to books lent out by public libraries in the UK receive PLR payments each year, so we look forward to working with even more new authors who are now eligible.”