For authors in the UK, 2019 marks 40 years of Public Lending Right (PLR), and so it was suitable that the British Library in London hosted this years’ PLR International conference.
The conference opening featured an interview with Maureen Duffy, who played a key role in campaigning for the establishment of PLR in the UK. Maureen discussed the campaign work of the Writers Action Group (WAG), how they brought in support from across the writing community and how they adapted the approach to UK PLR to ensure that it came at no cost to the reader or the library. Discussing what PLR meant to her, Maureen said that firstly it had supported her in continuing her work as a writer, but that one of the most important things about PLR is that statements about her books being lent show her work is still being read. In recognition of her years of work as an author and campaigner, the British Library presented a certificate acknowledging its adoption of Aphra Behn’s novel Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister on her behalf.
The first day of the conference was launched by Damian Collins MP, Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Damian gave his insights on recent developments for PLR in the UK, which has been extended to properly cover loans of ebooks, and he praised the history of libraries as centres of culture and knowledge. Kate Ebdon, Head of PLR Operations at the British Library gave a presentation on how they run the PLR scheme, including how the samples are put together, and their future plans to promote the scheme and make use of the data gathered. Demonstrating the yearly flurry of interest in PLR and book loans around payment day, it showed continued potential for more to be done with PLR. Many of the sessions over the course of the conference covered recently established or major expansions to PLR systems. In a presentation on Irish PLR from Brendan Teeling of Dublin City Libraries, a common theme of library support and concerns for library budgets came up, but as with many other systems, confidence in central funding enables support from all stakeholders. In Ireland, PLR clearly came alongside positive policy changes for libraries including increased funding, literacy programmes and a sometimes controversial policy of abolishing late fees for loans.
In a special keynote speech, Karyn Temple, Register of Copyrights and Director of the US Copyright Office, gave a presentation on the unique features of copyright law and libraries in the US. This included the need for mandatory deposit which has contributed to the Library of Congress becoming the largest library in the world; Section 108 of the Copyright Act of 1976 which enables distribution and limited copying; as well as Fair Use provisions that are drawn into many of the ways copyrighted works are utilised by libraries.
While PLR is most common within the EU (due to the Rental and Lending Rights Directive) a session on PLR Beyond Europe showed that progress is being made around the world. Peter Schneider gave an update on Canadian PLR, explaining how their method of cataloguing books available for loan ensures PLR reaches a wide range of authors. Kim Brunoro, Director, Literature and Lending Rights at the Department of Communications and the Arts, Australia detailed how the Australian PLR system focuses on cultural support for Australian creators, while highlighting key findings in recent research on the role of libraries and how authors are paid. Jeong-Yeou Chiu, Graduate Institute of Library, Taiwan gave an outline of the PLR pilot scheme in Taiwan, which has seen strong support from parliament but has yet to win support from all stakeholders involved, something that Chiu hopes will come about from the experience of the pilot.
Some panels covered aspects of PLR that are not currently widespread, but make clear sense as an extension of the principle. Carola Streul of European Visual Artists gave an update on a survey of how visual artists are included in PLR systems across the world; this showed that there are frequent inconsistent treatments of visual contributions. Educational PLR, or Educational Lending Right, is a natural extension of PLR, taking the principle applied in public libraries to libraries in education institutions. Kim Brunoro, attended a panel on this issue along with Ann Salomaa of Sanasto, Finland; Geoffroy Pelletier of SOFIA, France; and Giga Kobaladze of the Georgian Copyright Association. A common reasoning for Educational PLR was that it applied the same principle of PLR but it reached different kinds of authors whose work is particularly used in university libraries.
In sessions chaired by Pierre-Olivier Lesburguères of IFRRO that focused on campaigning for PLR, perspectives came first from Angela Dimcheva, Bulgarian Writers Union; Rodica Guiu, CopyRo, Romania; and George Zannos, OSDEL, Greece. In Romania, campaigns for PLR have been delayed by constant political moves which saw campaigners being sent between ministers who frequently changed positions. In Greece, the implementation of the Rental and Lending Directive has been frustrated by opposition from libraries, but a working group has been formed along with a new legislative committee focused on issues including PLR and the Copyright Directive: as a result, PLR should hopefully be implemented in Greece within the year.
Progress of establishing PLR in Africa was discussed by Rosario Kamanga, Copyright Society of Malawi; Monica Seeber, ANFASA, South Africa; and Mtuwma Khatib Ameir, Copyright Office of Zanzibar. Rosario talked about how new legislation in 2016 helped establish the Copyright Society and would enable PLR via a Copyright Fund with a broad mandate to promote creativity. Monica presented on the recent challenges faced by authors with the Copyright Amendment Bill in South Africa, but discussed hopes for the establishment of PLR in South Africa after other creative sectors had received support. Mtuwma set out how by following new regulations, PLR would have an obligation to be paid out, with the Copyright Office undertaking consultations to consider budget for this.
Closing the conference, IAF Chair John Degen gave thanks to those who have campaigned to establish PLR in their countries. As a final surprise, PLR International Co-Ordinator Jim Parker was presented with an award acknowledging him as a PLR hero for his years of advocacy with PLR International.