Anji Clarke, Contracts and Copyright Consultant
Collective licensing enables you to earn money from copying and digital sharing of your content in businesses and institutions (educational, public sector, charities, etc). It would be difficult to license these situations individually – the cost of administration would outweigh any income. Economies of scale mean that it makes sense for collecting societies to license en masse.
- Membership organisations can sign up to the UK’s Publishers Licensing Services (PLS) as a ‘publisher’ for free.
- In the UK, copying can take place unless you choose to opt out. If you are not signed up it doesn’t necessarily mean your work isn’t being copied; it might just mean that you are not being paid. (See if you might be due any royalties here.)
- Often signing up is a ‘no-brainer’. A copyright exception for education e.g. schools and universities allows limited copying without remuneration to the rightsholder unless there is a collecting scheme in place for a work in which case users are obliged to report their copying under that scheme and the rightsholder paid accordingly. In other words the copying will happen anyway and organisations only have a choice about whether to receive the money.
- That said, organisations should exercise some caution. For some material, like workbooks, allowing copying and sharing may defeat the purpose of the publication. Textbook publishers also remain vigilant because copying multiple extracts could undermine core sales of a complete work. It’s a careful balancing act.
How does it work?
- The Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA) licenses businesses and institutions to copy limited amounts (usually up to 5%) from written works on the basis of a per person fee for staff or students.
- CLA determines which works are being copied and who should be paid in two mains ways: –
- The old way – collecting survey data and extrapolating to produce payment allocations which cannot be completely accurate but which, with careful methodology, over time produce a more or less fair result.
- Newer ways – using digital technology to get more accurate data including large scale transactional licensing (where a user simply pays for what they get) which would, of course, generate perfect data.
- A membership organisation’s share then gets paid to the PLS who will in turn pay the organisation. The author’s share is paid separately via the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) once an author has signed up for membership.
Is this too much hassle?
The ‘hassle’ factor is always relevant especially if you don’t expect to receive much revenue but it is the initial set-up which takes most of the time. What’s more, the vagaries of the UK system mean that organisations should not have to allocate any of the money for authors who might not be employees (see above).
My advice would be that if PLS contacts you suggesting that you sign up it is worth doing because they likely think that you are due something.
‘We have a publisher who does all this for us.’
This could be the case so please do check with your publisher.
That said, free-to-view website content, leaflets or newsletters are all regarded as publications for PLS purposes if they can be identified e.g. by an ISBN, an ISSN or even a URL. So if an organisation has any content that is not controlled by a publisher it may still wish to sign up in its own right.
Looking after the collective licensing for a large academic publisher I always found PLS staff a delight to work with. However, if you would like any independent advice, help with setting up a collective licensing account or help with an existing relationship please do not hesitate to be in touch – [email protected]
 Publishers Licensing Services used to be called Publishers Licensing Society but is better known by its acronym which remains the same.
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