Joanna Trollope called it "justice at last", as legislation making the UK the first country in the world to extend Public Lending Right (PLR) to include remote loans of e-books and audiobooks was finally passed.
The Digital Economy Bill, one of the last to be passed before the pre-election dissolution of Parliament, became law at the end of last week (27th April). From 1st July 2018, PLR will now apply to e-book and audiobooks loaned remotely, with the first payments to authors due to be paid in arrears in January 2020. The rate of payment will be the same as for physical books (currently 7p per loan).
The Society of Authors branded it "a great victory" for its members, after years of campaigning on the issue, working with authors, libraries, publishers, agents, bookshops and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Rob Wilson, minister for civil society, and responsible for libraries, announced the plan to extend PLR to e-books in February, saing the "important change" would help libraries to embrace the digital age and put e-book authors on "the same footing" as other writers.
Trollope, a council member of SoA, who have been campaigning on the issue, said the new law would make "a significant difference" to many authors. "This is such good news," she said. "Some justice at last! Of course, it is the successful writers who hit the headlines, but there are so many good but unshowy writers for whom PLR is of vital importance and for whom this legislation will make a significant difference."
According to the SoA, there were four million e-book loans in the year to April 2016. Around two million titles are currently available to be purchased by libraries for e-book lending, with Hachette the only major publisher not making e-books available in this way, the body said. The wording of the new legislation will ensure that books can be made available to libraries PLR-paid while protecting the commercial interests of both publishers and authors.
Priorities for the Society of Authors now include working with the PLR office to clarify the registration process, as well as pressing for the fund to be maintained, for the government to pay the PLR office for the costs of introducing the new scheme, and for PLR to be extended to volunteer libraries. There is currently an anomaly under which private lending libraries do not pay authors for loans.
It is anticipated authors can register e-books for PLR using the updated system in the autumn.