South African Authors Seek First Public Lending Right In A Developing CountryPublished on 29 June 2009 @ 3:21 pm
By Dugie Standeford for Intellectual Property Watch
South Africa could become the first developing country to permit authors to be paid when libraries lend their books if an authors’ group gets it way, but the proposal is likely to spur strong opposition from access-to-knowledge advocates and libraries.
The proposal by the Academic and Non-Fiction Authors’ Association of South Africa (ANFASA) for a “public lending right” (PLR) is now being circulated among writers, the organisation said. The proposal is available here.
At least 41 countries recognise the right in legislation, but PLR systems exist in only 28, according to PLR International, a network which connects countries with established schemes to those interested in developing them. Many of them are in the European Union, which in 1992 adopted a Directive on Rental Right and Lending Right (92/100/EEC). Australia, Canada, Israel and New Zealand have PLR systems, and several other countries are considering them. There are no systems in the United States, South America, Asia or Africa, the network said.
PLR systems are either copyright-based, a separate remuneration right recognised by law, part of state support for culture, or a combination of all three, the network said. In the copyright approach, which the EU directive adopts, authors have the right to licence the lending of the works by libraries, with licensing and fee distribution handled by collecting societies.
The UK treats PLR as remuneration outside copyright, giving authorities a legal right to payment from the government when their books are loaned by libraries. PLR as part of state support for culture exists mainly in Scandinavian countries, PLR International said. There, payments are made only to authors of books written in a country’s native language.
The ANFASA Proposal
Authors need PLR because they cannot sustain full-time writing careers given the small amount of income they earn from book sales, ANFASA said. Moreover, income due authors from books sales is lost when readers borrow books from public libraries instead of buying them, it said. The PLR system has proven to be a vital form of payment that has boosted the literature and cultural industries in countries that use it, mostly because it “acknowledges the personal development” of published and aspiring authors, rewards them financially and allows them to continue creating, it said.
ANFASA proposed that South Africa’s system be based on sui generis legislation designed specifically for PLR, in order to avoid introducing another form of intellectual property right. Only writers residing in-country will be entitled to payment, it said.
Remuneration should come not from strapped library resources but from a central fund provided by Parliament, ANFASA said. Payment should be calculated on the basis either of library books loans or library book holdings, and the system should be managed by a PLR office or one of the national rights organisations, it said.
PLR does not exist yet in third-world countries because no one has lobbied for it, ANFASA said. The system, which can be tailored to a specific country’s needs, will promote the cultural industries, an objective “not foreign to” developing countries, it said.
Questions over Rationale
The assertion that library lending displaces sales is questionable, African Copyright and Access to Knowledge Project member Tobias Schoenwetter said. To the contrary, there is good evidence that libraries stimulate demand for books by, for example, creating and maintaining the required reading culture, he said. Moreover, current copyright regimes adequately protect the pecuniary interests of authors and rights holders, he said.
The financial interests of ANFASA’s authors “are arguable least worth defending” because they are usually paid for the academic work through their salaries, Schoenwetter said. It is also unclear where the money for PLRs should come from, since the South African government seems to have more urgent spending priorities and ANFASA recommended staying away from library budgets, he said.
Considering the additional administrative costs for enforcing PLR systems, Schoenwetter said, “I am of the opinion that any PLR model would eventually result in higher membership prices for libraries or, alternatively, in smaller library collections,” he said. Both scenarios are problematic from the access-to-knowledge perspective so important to South Africa and other developing countries, he said.
PLR represents an opportunity and a threat to libraries, said a 2005 background paper by the Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLAS).
The regime works well for libraries in some countries when it recognises that the role of librarians is crucial for its function, IFLAS said. Where librarians are positive about PLR and forge successful partnerships with authors and the PLR administrator, both parties reap the benefits, it said. But there is always the risk, when a new PLR scheme is proposed, that libraries will have to pay for it from their existing budgets, IFLAS said.
There is also the question of whether the regime has a place in the digital age, IFLAS said. If PLR evolves to take account of the digital world, librarians must “campaign hard” to ensure awareness of the fact that nearly all digital products are already subject to licensing and potential access controls through digital rights management and technical protection systems – and, it said, that rights holders are already well-compensated.
Dugie Standeford may be reached at email@example.com.
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