E-book lending

Digital Economy Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 1st November 2016.

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‘In section 43(2) of the Digital Economy Act 2010, leave out from “limited time” to “and loan.”’

This new clause aims to extend public lending rights to remote offsite e-book lending.—(Kevin Brennan.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage) 10:15 am, 1st November 2016

I beg to move that the new clause be read a Second time.

This new clause would enable the consideration of public lending right for remote e-lending from libraries. That would be achieved by amending section 43(2) of the Digital Economy Act 2010, which sets remote loans outside the definition of lending under public lending right.

I do not know whether the Minister, like me, is a bit of a dinosaur and prefers his books to come in physical form—I am currently reading Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, which I recommend, as well as Ed Balls’s book on politics, which is also very good. However, in this Digital Economy Bill we should acknowledge the increasing role of e-books and their impact on the income of authors. The spirit of the Bill is that we should better reflect how technology has changed our economy, so it is important that we go further in some places to acknowledge where technological change has outpaced legislation in relation to the arts.

Our approach here should be informed by the fact that we have the Digital Economy Act 2010. At the time that it was passed, some opportunities were missed. We should keep that in mind as we discuss this Bill and make sure that we do not allow those opportunities to pass by again as the Bill completes its stages in the House of Commons and afterwards in the other place.

The Digital Economy Act 2010 made some progress but it failed to forecast how our relationship with books would change. In particular, the 2010 Act touched on the subject of e-books, but its wording ignored the main way libraries would end up lending e-books: remotely, over an internet connection. Of course, remote lending is a natural continuation of the function of e-books. One of the main benefits of e-books is that they escape physical constraints such as location and storage.

However, under current legislation, authors receive no payment when a public library loans their book remotely, which is different from any other form of book loan. Last year, 2.3 million remote loans were made, but they were not counted at all towards authors’ payments because the 2010 Act allowed only for on-site loans of e-books, of which there was a negligible number—who will go to a library when they can borrow the book remotely? That is the whole point of e-books. There is no reason in principle why the distinction should exist; that is what the philosophy of this Bill is supposed to be. Nevertheless, as a result, the public lending right—a right for authors established in 1979—has not been honoured, due to the failure of the 2010 Act to keep up with technological change.

I hope that we can take the opportunity today to avoid repeating that mistake. The Society of Authors, the Association of Illustrators, and the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society all support the new clause. Public lending right is designed to balance the social need for free public access to books against an author’s right to be remunerated for the use of their work. Indeed, public lending right provides a significant and much-valued part of many authors’ incomes, particularly those authors whose books are sold mainly to libraries and those whose books are no longer in print.

The recent opinion of the Advocate General, relating to a case on rental and lending in respect of copyright works that is currently before the Court of Justice of the European Union, asserted that the lending of electronic books is the modern equivalent of the lending of printed books. I am aware that the Government expressed a desire to reflect this technological change in their March 2013 response to the independent review of e-lending in public libraries in England, but for some reason—perhaps the Minister can tell us why—they have neglected to take the opportunity presented by this Bill to put the matter right.

Furthermore, figures from March this year show that 343 libraries in the UK have been shut down in the past six years, with another 111 closures planned for 2016, which will result in the loss of almost 8,000 jobs. So it is particularly nonsensical not to apply PLR to remote e-book lending, given that it is becoming increasingly hard to visit a physical library. PLR is a legal right and a keystone of a society in which authors receive reward for their considerable cultural contribution. While we can all benefit from technological change and new ways of accessing creative works, it is important that the obligation to remunerate authors fairly is acknowledged and honoured.

Having acknowledged this loophole and the difficulties it causes, it is vital that the Bill addresses the issue, so that right-holders are treated equitably. Will the Minister take action on this issue and accept the new clause—and if not, why?

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Minister of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Policy)

I wholeheartedly support the hon. Member for Cardiff West in his analysis of the increasing range of digital services at libraries across the country and the importance of those digital services to the communities they serve. I also agree with what he said about the increasing range of e-books and the importance of e-book lending. I am touched by his care for our delivering on the Conservative party manifesto and can tell him that we will deliver on this one too.

Libraries are increasingly providing remote e-book lending, so readers have the opportunity to borrow physical and audio books. Over the last year, 2 million e-book loans were made, which shows how important this is. We have been carefully looking at options for how to implement the manifesto commitment and appropriately compensate authors for remote e-lending, including by extending the PLR to e-books. In doing so, we have engaged with representatives of authors, libraries, agents, publishers and booksellers as well as the Public Lending Right Office. The collaborative input is very valuable and helps to ensure that we achieve an outcome that will be supported by all.

Like the hon. Member for Cardiff West, I am a mixed book reader. I am reading “Down and Out in London and Paris”—a well-thumbed hard copy. I am reading “King Lear” on an e-book, although I would say it is more studying than reading, because it is quite hard work. I bought a Kindle book at the weekend. I fully appreciate all types of books: hard copy and soft, hardback and soft.

The hon. Gentleman will understand how keen we are to implement our manifesto commitment. However, we want to take the time to get it right. Furthermore, we need to ensure that the measure is compatible with the copyright directive while we remain within the European Union. In doing so, we are also paying close attention to a relevant court case, again in the European Court of Justice, where we expect a ruling later this year that will have a bearing on how any clause to bring this into place would be drafted.

For those reasons, we are taking our time to get this right. With that explanation, I hope the hon. Member will withdraw his new clause.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) (Arts and Heritage)

I will, but I do not think that there is any real need for the Minister not to commit carrying the measure out in the Bill. It simply extends what is already available. If someone borrowed an e-book by turning up at a library, the author would receive their public lending right, but if they did so remotely through the same library service, the author would not. Clearly that is an unacceptable injustice and anomaly.

The Minister has said that the Government need to take their time. It was March 2013 when they said in their response to the independent review that they intended to reflect that technology change. Three years and eight months later, we have a Bill in Committee in the House of Commons and still the Government say they need to take their time to get it right. This Bill is the right time to get it right. I hope the Minister will reflect further on the raft of amendments to this defective Bill that will be introduced in the House of Lords if we do not put this right in the House of Commons. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 19