Culture minister: ‘we intend to legislate’ to extend PLR to the remote lending of ebooks

This week’s Government commitment following the European Court ruling last month is a welcome next step towards PLR for remote digital loans in line with loans of printed publications.

In November, we hailed the European Court of Justice ruling on the case of Vereniging Openbare Bibliotheken v Stichting Leenrecht as removing “the final barrier to applying Public Lending Right (PLR) to the remote public lending of ebooks and audiobooks.” Culture Minister Matt Hancock had already said that the outcome of the case should inform the wording of an appropriate Clause in the Digital Economy Bill.

The ruling, based on a ‘one copy, one user’ approach to public library lending, confirmed our own reading of the relevant law, on which we have campaigned for several years to ensure fairer remuneration for authors and a more consistent PLR regime for their works.

Speaking this week, the Minister said:

“We had to wait for the conclusion of a court case, which ended earlier this month, before setting out the proposals, but I can confirm today that we intend to legislate to extend the public lending right to include the remote lending of e-books. It is important that we get that right and ensure that any changes are compatible with the copyright directive. We will therefore bring forward legislation as soon as possible.”

Now that the Government has made this commitment, we are working with libraries, publishers and booksellers to ensure that the legislation is designed to work in the best interests of the whole industry, enabling a lending and payment regime that protects licensing arrangements and commercial models, and allows publishers to continue applying ‘frictions’ to ensure fairness and put ebook lending on a par with physical book lending. Common frictions are:

  • Each copy of a digital book should only be loaned to one reader at a time, just as with a physical book
  • A digital copy of a book can only be loaned for a limited period.
  • Digital copies of books should be deemed to deteriorate, ensuring their repurchase after a certain number of loans, as recommended in William Sieghart’s independent review of ebook lending for DCMS. The review stated: “Their printed counterparts naturally deteriorate, forcing popular books to be repurchased. This principle therefore should be applied to digital books; otherwise publishers would be unfairly discriminated against.”

Nicola Solomon, CEO of The Society of Authors commented:

“Last month’s ruling from the EU Court of Justice made it clear that PLR could apply to remote lending of ebooks and that individual countries can develop their own models. This is great news as we have been pressing for PLR on ebooks for many years and the Government gave in principle agreement some years ago. We must work together to ensure that the wording of the amendment to the Act is in harmony with viable licensing or economic models and does not undermine ebook sales. I am confident that this can be achieved. We now urge DCMS to send us suggested wording asap in the hope that it can be  agreed as a Government Amendment to the Digital Economy Bill to the Lords before the end of this year.”

To find out more about our work to ensure fair remuneration for authors: Valuing and rewarding authors.