The Government commissioned an independent review of e-lending in public libraries in England last year and the panel, led by William Sieghart, recommended that the public lending right be extended to e-books and audiobooks. The government response to the review, published on
I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but is he aware that the loan of e-books and audiobooks is increasing and that public libraries are lending them without the copyright owner’s permission—meaning that, technically, libraries are infringing copyright because those books are not yet within the PLR system? Does he agree that public lending rights should be extended without delay to cover digital, audio and e-books, so that writers can be properly compensated for the use of their work, as recommended in the Sieghart review?
My Lords, the first thing to say is that e-lending is indeed increasing. It is still about 3% of the total, but it is undoubtedly increasing. Non-print book rights holders are currently conferred lending rights by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The law requires library authorities to reach appropriate agreements with non-print rights holders and with other parties on behalf of those rights holders. Indeed, library authorities offering e-lending must do so by contracting the services of third-party aggregators, who liaise with publishers on their behalf.
Does the Minister recognise that the authors’ public lending scheme has been very successful indeed over many years and that it has become an established part of our culture? We afford recognition to authors by way of a payment for each loan by public libraries of their physical books. Is it not now long overdue that we extended that practice to e-books and audiobooks? The Government have prevaricated for a long time. Will they now stop hanging about?
My Lords, in fact more than 23,000 writers, illustrators, photographers, translators and editors who have contributed to print books lent out by public libraries currently receive payments each year up to a maximum of £6,600. It is precisely why the Government asked William Sieghart to come forward with the review. Further work is being undertaken this year.
The noble Earl is absolutely right that remote lending is distinct from on-site lending, as I noted when I went to Diss library only last Saturday, and there are arrangements for that. The noble Earl made the point that there will need to be primary legislation. The Government are aware of that. They need to consider also the complexity with the copyright directive, but this matter is being considered.
My Lords, that is an interesting point. It is fair to repeat my words about further work. Some important research work, undertaken and funded by the British Library Trust, is under way this year. That is going to help us furnish better details because this whole area is undoubtedly evolving.
My Lords, will the Minister say what estimate has been made of the income made by local authorities for charging out e-books and digital books? If he cannot give an answer today, please would he agree to write to me with such an estimate? In asking this question, I declare my interest in this matter.
I understand that, in fact, libraries are not charging for lending e-books. I will look into this in further detail, but when I asked the question, I was led to believe that public libraries were not charging. I will come back to the noble Lord with further clarification.