Back to the (E-) Books?

I have spent the last two weeks revisiting the websites of a number of creators’ organisations in an effort to find out more about their ongoing campaigns as well as the more recent focus of their work. The underlying objective has been to identify and group organisations’ activities into different categories of copyright law related issues so as to narrow down the themes within the law, which I would invariably engage with through my work on creators’ organisations.

The nature of the issues currently on organisations’ agendas have proven to range from copyright enforcement through scope of rights related matters, right to the modalities of copyright exploitation. The Creative Coalition Campaign for instance, is a cross-industry coalition which brings together trade bodies and unions from the film, publishing, music, games and sport sectors. The primary focus of the CCC’s work is on copyright enforcement, in particular the implementation of measures aimed at tackling illegal file-sharing.

The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) on the other hand have channelled their more recent efforts into the field of copyright exploitation. In their September campaigning update, BASCA report that the organisation has been exploring how best to protect creators’ royalties from streaming. The briefing highlights the recent conflict with YouTube, whereby the streaming platform threatened indie labels to remove music videos from labels which had not agreed to its new non-negotiable licensing terms.

Image available under CC BY 2.5 DK by Johannes Jansson

Having dedicated a lot of my attention to the music industry in the past few months, the web resources provided by the Society of Authors offered me perhaps the most new and stimulating food for thought. More recent work by this organisation appears to have focussed on the scope of one economic (copy-)right in particular – the public lending right (PLR).

PLR is the right of authors to receive compensation for the loans of their printed books from public libraries in the UK. In 2009 the UK government opened a public consultation on the extension of PLR to non-print formats. This was followed by the Digital Economy Act 2010 which amended the PLR Act 1979 by broadening the term ‘book’ to include audio as well as e-books, thus extending the scope of PLR. The DEA 2010 only extended PLR to audiobooks and e-books downloaded within library premises (on-site as opposed to remote e-lending).

In the years that followed, however, the provisions in the DEA 2010 were not enacted. This caused the Society of Authors (SoA) to publish a comprehensive briefing note on PLR and royalties from library e-lending in May 2013. Among the findings of the SoA was the society’s concern that lacking a statutory entitlement to receive PLR royalties from e-book lending, authors were losing around 2/3 of the income they would normally receive from physical library lending.


Image available under CC BY-SA 3.0 by Maximilian Schönherr

Unable to find more recent updates on this issue on the SoA website, I searched the official PLR web portal, where I found a headline from the 1st of July 2014 reading: ‘UK PLR extended to loans of audio-books and on-site loans of ebooks – but don’t apply yet!’. The publication summarises that the Digital Economy Act 2010 provisions take effect from 1 July 2014 and any payments arising from loans of the new categories of works will be made in February 2016. The news briefing deals with two categories of works – audio books and e-books.

While authors, narrators and producers of audio-books can look forward to a new royalty stream from fixed PLR shares (60% for the author, 20% for the narrator and 20% for the producer), the ‘news’ on e-books appears to be rather bleak. The British Library, responsible for the administration of the PLR, reports that to their knowledge, all e-book loans by public libraries are to ‘remote’ location, i.e. e-books may be downloaded to people’s home PCs or other devices not on the library premises. Since the DEA 2010 only extended the PLR to on-site e-book loans, the statement concludes that without a change in EU and UK copyright law or the introduction of on-site e-book lending facilities in public libraries, no e-books will generate a PLR payment. A rather disappointing outcome.

How will (or is) the Society of Authors (and other authors’ organisations) taking this result forward? What are their next steps and (how) can they still extract benefit for authors within the current legal framework?

Have I, perhaps, found one of the focal legal issues of my research?

The Magic Properties of a Table..?

The arrival of Autumn and the re-awakened university campus, pulsing with groups of new students, have spurred my levels of energy and my capacity to work under discipline and concentration.. A few days ago, my colleagues and I were formally welcomed back as second year PhD students. I couldn’t help but feel relieved at the thought that, technically, I will still be in my first year until November.

Only a week into the new academic year, I am coming to realise, with an ever-growing to-do list, that a PhD is all about time management, structure and information management. I have spent months reading relevant articles, books, studies, public consultation responses and websites, as well as educating myself in social science research methods and making notes as I go along. I now have numerous endlessly long word documents with comments, notes and reflective thoughts on questions of substance as well as methodology. While I have no doubt that this process has widened my understanding of the research area, I feel that now I need to commit to introducing more structure – into my thoughts, into my notes and into my research plan.

I mentioned in my previous post that I had received a lot of constructive feedback during my first year panel. One of the main messages which the panel members communicated was that I needed to narrow down my research focus and the number of organisations that I proposed to study. These recommendations, while useful and well justified, entail a number of changes pertaining to the way I will go about selecting which organisations to study and condensing my research questions.

In order to address these issues and generally revise my research design, I created a table comprising 6 columns:

flying table

A flying table? Not quite what I have in mind… Image available under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Chris Marquardt

Research Questions,

Relevant Hypotheses,

Necessary Data,

Sources of Data,

Data Analysis Strategy, and

Legal Issue at Stake.

The act of creating this table took less than 5 minutes but the impact it had on my focus of thinking was tremendous. Data visualisation is a strategy, which textbooks on research methods often mention when describing the data analysis stage. However, from my own experience, the sooner one begins to play with the layout of a page and the arrangement of ideas and questions, the more clarity one can obtain on the topics at hand. It is more challenging to commit to placing ideas under certain categories, than it is to scatter them on a blank A4 size page. Yet, it is worth putting in that extra thought now as I am sure it will save time and confusion as the research progresses.

Although I am still struggling to complete my table, unlike before, I now have a stronger sense of structure. I can easily identify where the difficulties lie, which questions about my research design are yet to be addressed and under what categories I can fit my previous notes and comments.

On Monday, I will be travelling to Glasgow for the CREATe All Hands Event, where my research poster will be displayed along many others. I look forward to this event and the opportunity of being questioned about my research.


What if I do not know how to respond?

Well, at this stage (and presumably at stages still to come), I can still benefit from discussion. It is not about providing all the answers, rather it is about identifying where the questions lie.