Wednesday, February 24, 2010

those cheques?... they're in the mail

I have noticed quite a bit of Twitter and Facebook chatter from Canadian book authors wondering when the Public Lending Right cheques are being released.

Today, PLR has sent a news release announcing this year's payment:

Over 17,000 Canadian authors share $9.9 million in public lending right payments

Ottawa, February 24, 2010 – The Public Lending Right Commission announced today that it issued $9.9 million in public lending right (PLR) payments to 17,058 Canadian authors. These payments are issued to writers, translators and illustrators every February for the presence of their books in Canadian libraries during the previous year.

According to the full release on the Canada Council for the Arts website, Ontario writers received $2,978,061.35 in PLR payments for the previous year.

Excellent Canadian writers in excellent Canadian libraries -- and how appropriate that the cheques are released during Freedom to Read Week.

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Darryl Moore said...

Thank you John. It certainly is important for us as a society to support authors, and in particular, Canadian authors who tell Canadian stories.

The PLR, while having the best of intentions, comes with extra burdens which really identify it as a less than ideal vehicle to this end.

First it ratchets up Intellectual Property protection expectations, much the same way as ever increasing copyright terms have done. Once implemented it is very hard to reduce in scope, which puts another fixed and increasing overhead on stretched library systems.

Second, when implemented on an international scope such as through directive 92/100/EEC in the EU or as has been discussed in the WIPO, it will benefit the net cultural exporting countries at the expense of net importing countries. These net-importers will find their tax dollars going to support authors in other countries rather than their own. This could have a considerable negative effect on local writers. A good thing to remember during "Freedom to Read Week".

A better program is one administered strictly through grants. The Canada Council spends a roughly equivalent amount on grants to Canadian writer. By doubling the size of this grant and eliminating the PLR, we would still be supporting Canadian authors by the same amount, but with a lesser burden on our library systems (which each operate on smaller tax bases than our federal government), and less pressure for "national treatment" as international IP laws move towards a greater convergence.

The second point may not be as significant for Canada as we do have many great authors who are read around the world, but it will be very significant for other smaller nations. And what is Freedom to Read if it isn't freedom for everybody?

Just thought I would bring this up for any of the authors out there who read John's blog and may not have considered some of the negative consequences of PLR systems.

John said...

Thanks Dale,

I appreciate you affection for Canadian culture. I think I'll keep out of discussions about appropriate levels for arts council budgets here since I am plenty involved in those discussions through my work, and that's a more appropriate place for my input. I can say that a quick query of arts funding success rates would likely show far greater demand than can currently be met, so if you are seeking to balance out payments, you might want to work with real numbers.

I'm maybe not following you on your concern about intellectual property as related to the PLR. Do you not believe in the value and importance of protecting intellectual property? I think respect for IP was one of the founding principles behind Canada's PLR, and those in other countries as well.

To get into some of your specific concerns, I don't believe the PLR money impacts library budgets in any way. It is a separate program administered by the Canada Council. It measures use in libraries, but does not 'charge' libraries for use. I think this was an early concern for the libraries as well, but has long been understood as misguided by those involved. Interestingly, as welcome as these cheques are to writers, the original impetus was as much about respect for the intellectual property contribution as it was about payment (if not more.)

As to international agreements, again it's not my place to advise anyone on the relative value of Canada's trade and policy agreements - at least not in this forum. I will note that your concern for IP compensatory imbalance is something I've heard before. Canada tends to be in a negative trade imbalance on cultural product - look at the movies, for instance. I agree it's important to stay conscious of those pressures. I'll leave it to others to suggest remedies if indeed they feel remedies are needed.

Your reference to Freedom to Read week confuses me. Writers and libraries partner on Freedom to Read week, and are vigilant about real threats to expression and access.

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