NLW Digitisation Proposals
Below are comments Literature Wales (formerly Academi) has received in reaction to the debate on the issues of copyright and digitisation of literary magazines.
Christopher Meredith (August 2007):
I was glad to receive your letter of 14th August with its expression of concern about the proposed NLW digitisation of all literary magazines in Wales. I’m glad too that Literature Wales is canvassing opinion among members about this issue.
I feel you hit several nails on the head, although some of them a little too gently.
I agree that the scheme is a great idea. But I think your note of concern is justified. I feel strongly that the failure to address the copyright issue and payments to authors is a huge mistake on the part of NLW which we should all resist.
The Public Lending Right system and the work of the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society have both established the principle that authors should get paid for borrowings of their work from libraries or by means of photocopying. ALCS payments can also cover photocopying from journals. Authors need only register to get PLR payments and join ALCS and register their work to be elligible for ALCS payments. The principle is long established and applies over Europe. Downloading authors’ work from a library website is simply another means of borrowing/copying without bothering to buy the book or magazine, and by the same principle we should get paid for it.
If systems of sampling and payments for PLR and ALCS can run successfully, then they can for downloads from digital archives. Indeed, with digital downloads I imagine it should be possible to keep exact records of authors whose work is accessed this way.
It’s extremely disappointing (though somehow not surprising) that the copyright and payment issue has been ignored so far. This should have been part of NLW, JISC and the Assembly’s calculations from the outset. If they cannot afford it then the scheme should not go ahead. I’m dismayed that Planet magazine is already signing up for this scheme and requesting contributors to opt out, and I’ve expressed that dismay as an editorial board member. I urge all magazines and their publishers elligible for the scheme to refuse to participate until the issues of copyright and payments to authors have been sorted out to our satisfaction. I urge all authors to withold permission for digitisation of their work until a satisfactory payment scheme is in place. I ask the executive of Literature Wales to support such action and to pursue all means to work against the erosion of our hard won rights in this matter.
It would be great to see a digital resource like this in operation. For it to happen, the organisers should be prepared to pay for the use of copyright material and build the cost into the scheme.
If my work is to be published for the first time, I should be paid. But, as my material published in back issues of Welsh mags is to be republished by the project, on this occasion I have no qualms, as long as they allow me to link to it from my own website.
I wholeheartedly agree with Chris Meredith’s arguments (above). The NLW digitisation is either a republication, or a copying, of existing works, and in either case authors should be paid - as they are in the non-digital world. How exactly these payments would be made, and for how much, can be left for later. The important thing is to establish a principle: that author’s work copied online (which is of course downloadable) is a form of publication, and should be treated financially as such. See PLR and ACLS for library and copying payments in the non-digital world.
It seems to me there are two different issues at stake here. The digitising of existing magazines is something I’ve come across before, having been approached by the Poetry Library for my permission to reproduce work of mine as part of the selected issues of some of the magazines in their growing archive. I gave them an unqualified Yes. When a piece of mine is accepted by a magazine I am either paid, as agreed, or not, again as agreed, by the publication concerned. If that magazine then appears online, I will by then have either spent my sixpence or resigned myself to my bugger-all and the only effect it will have on me is to extend the readership for the piece. The decision to forgo payment or not is by then a matter of history and thus irrelevant at this stage. The magazine publishers are the ones who stand to lose on sales revenue, not I. That’s for them to negotiate.
In fact, should those publishers decide to digitise, I can only gain. The more people who read the piece, the more famous I become and the more offers I get, so to speak. (Don’t worry, I’m grinning as I write this…)
On the other hand, the thought of a book I have written, and royalties I depend on, being "stolen" by freeloaders via the Internet is a completely different matter. I want the same choice that the magazine publisher in the earlier example was given. I want the final yea-or-nay and the right to cut a deal to my advantage if I can. To that end I will accept any help I can get and align myself with my fellow-authors.
Anonymous (October 2007):
While the aims of the project are laudable, it is nothing less that completely extraordinary that this project should have been conceived without regard for payment for the intellectual property of the authors. They and they alone are responsible for the existence of the material being digitised, and any value of the material is entirely due to their creative efforts. That the people most essential to the success of the project should be the only people in the digitisation process who are not paid is as insulting as it is unjust. The reasoning given for the project’s non-payment are specious:
"A crucial feature of this project is that the bulk of its material is in copyright. Most publications in Wales are not produced by large organisations jealous of their intellectual property rights; many are non-commercial, and many are subsidised from the public purse. The project hopes that the rights holders will be prepared to permit their material to be included in the resource, although it will respect the wishes of those who decline."
Firstly, no mention whatsoever is made of the authors. Secondly, why should a small organisation be assumed to be less prepared to defend its intellectual property than a large one? Less able, perhaps. With fewer resources and lawyers certainly. But to attribute a lack of jealousy to Welsh periodicals is a baseless assumption and an exceedingly patronising one. The very use of the perjorative term ’jealous’ is an attempt to stigmatise as unreasonable and emotional what is actually a universally recognised legal right. And on what possible legal ground does the fact that an organisation is subsidised from the public purse mean that it or its contributors have less right to its intellectual property? Welsh periodicals and authors might be unable and unwilling to defend their intellectual property, but that is not a licence to exploit them, nor does it justify the false and misleading inferences which this statement makes. The project is simply taking advantage of goodwill, lack of legal knowledge and poor advocacy resources among the already-underpaid Welsh literary community.
Intellectual property law does not stop at Offa’s Dyke. A legal right in England does not become ’jealousy’ when applied to Wales. Welsh authors have as much right to their intellectual property as anyone else. And they have a right to be paid.
I would be happy to suggest that Literature Wales request the Library to de-scope aspects of the digitisation project in order to divert funds to pay the authors, either individually or via bulk payments to relevant writers’ organisations. As this is a matter of principle rather than of personal gain, I would undertake to donate entirely to charity any such payments that may be due to me personally.
Robert Minhinnick (October 2007):
I’ve passed the letters on to the publishers of Poetry Wales and the PW committee.
My personal recommendation to them is to oppose unremunerated digitisation. But I have no ultimate say in this policy.
But opposition is obviously growing apace.
Helle Michelsen (Editor, Planet Magazine) (October 2007):
Linda Rogers, Past President League of Canadian Poets and Federation of British Columbia Writers (November 2007):
We have had the same problem in Canada. Librarians do not seem to comprehend the meaning of intellectual property. The conclusion we came to is that they are too lazy to do the minimal paperwork required to keep track of the users of our work. Isn’t this part of the job description? If it were their work, the story would be quite different. Librarians cherish their perks and benefits. The attitude of so many in the "book industry" is that writers live on air and praise and that is all we require. Do not let this happen. Every time a writer is disrespected it sets a precedent for the next assault on our minimal rights.
Greg Cullen (November 2007):
I wish to add my name to the list of writers who quite properly object to their work being put on-line by the National Library, without royalty payments. It seems that once again writers are expected to be philanthropic whilst the rest of the professionals in industries in which we work, are paid their due, normally through salaries with pensions schemes, sick and holiday pay, even the odd company car and God forbid, private health care packages. Furthermore they can expect incremental pay increases, promotions and the odd early retirement package. I do not begrudge my fellow professionals a penny, though I admit to sometimes envying their security. So I would ask them all, please don’t deny writers further financial remuneration for our work if it is being exploited beyond the original commission fee. A fee I hasten to add which would not include any of the above advantages salaried staff, such as academics, accept as normal.
In many instances those many salaried professionals would not have careers were it not for writers, so I urge them to support our right to be paid if our work is reproduced, and exploited by others, even if it is for the "general good", "national good", "good of the people" etc. etc. Actually, most writers I know work with those in mind anyway. Why it always seems to be writers and other artists who are expected to thwack themselves with the birch of societal guilt whilst everyone else gets paid for their labour is beyond me. So if you’ll pardon the expression, "don’t take the piss", just because that’s often all there is left to take.
The Writer’s Guild of America, by striking, are putting UK writers to shame over an issue which touches on this one; " As technology advances how do we pay writers for their work?"
How about in every new commission there is an element of an enhanced fee which comes automatically from the Welsh assembly (via the National Library), to pay the writer for the National Library’s right to put their work on-line? Meanwhile a fee be paid to all writers for previously commissioned work. That fee will remunerate the writer for eg.100,000 hits after which the National Library will pay the fee (adjusted to take into account inflation etc) again.
It surely cannot be beyond the wit and labour of our salaried compatriots to work out a decent way to pay us for our work.
Please pass on my comments to Andrew Green at the National Library. Meanwhile, If it is true that the people at The Planet magazine are supporting the National Library’s attempt to take our work without paying for it, perhaps writers should not work for them anymore. After all if much loved national institutions can rip us off, what chance have we against cut throat companies who want to sell our work to digital media across the globe in perpetuity? (Oh…perhaps that is The Planet?) Surely there’s no advantage in this for them?! Just joking chaps, I mean God forbid that writers should bite the hands that feed them!
With Christmas coming up, Peter, perhaps those mightier than ourselves might care to remember dear old Bob Cratchit, scribbling away at his desk and throw on another lump of coal. Or, if charity doesn’t ding their mean little bells, and if like me you’d find it demeaning, then perhaps we should regale them with a doorstep chorus of, "Oh! For f***’s sake pay us our due and stop embarrassing yourselves, you self important chatter boxes, hiding us behind principles, whilst you dangle your bits in public and go whistling down the road".
Did I actually just say that? I do apologise. Oh, my God I might never be digitally recorded for all time by the National Library. They’ll be nothing, no evidence I was ever truly a writer in Wales!…Oh well…" Tum-te-tum!" Just have to get a good hacker to f*** the National Library of Wales right up the digital highway.
Egbert Shytley (taxpayer) (December 2007):
I’ve just been reading "the great copywright debate" section on the academi website and nearly fell off my chair laughing when I read this: "writers who want to keep Welsh writing on a professional basis will not allow the National Library of Wales to digitise their work."
Can I just point out that if you really do wish to consider yourselves "professional writers" please hand back all the grants that you’ve been given courtesy of the taxpayer and compete like "professional writers" in the market place. Writing in Wales is propped up by grants so it’s only fair that the taxpayer now gets to see a few old poems etc online for free.
The annual doling out of funds to authors always provides me with much mirth. My all-time favourite hand-out was when Sheenagh Pugh (I’m sure she’s a lovely person) was awarded £5K to go to Norway to write some winter poems. Sheenagh love, you’re a writer - use your imagination: it’s cold and dark in Norway in winter; there are pine trees and there is snow. There, that’s five grand that could have been saved.
Let’s be completely honest here, the "great" copywright debate is a misnomer as the general public couldn’t give a monkey’s about it. So all you writers on that list, stop being so up yourselves and let us (and there will be a miniscule number) read what you’ve written in those dreary old magazines that hardly anyone bought in the first place, for free online. Either that or give us our money back.
Sheenagh Pugh (December 2007):
I was about to respond to the latest comment on your copyright debate page, when I noticed that the comment was pseudonymous and therefore not deserving of a reply. Shame, because there are several points which seem obvious enough to me, but which I’m sure I could explain simply to him (it is a him, I’m sure; it is mostly men who employ the patronising form of address "love"). But I really can’t debate with folk who are too scared to sign their names.
Malcolm Langley (January 2008):
I see that writers and yourselves are complaining about copyright with regard to the National Library of Wales.
Do any of you pay any sort of copyright to the plumber that designed and installed your central heating systems? The architect that designed your houses? The designer that designed your cars? Surely they are due a payment every time these things are used, after all it is their "intellectual property" that you are using. The National Library of Wales has purchased the original works and they now have the right to use them as they see fit. As you do with things that you buy.
Sheenagh Pugh (February 2008):
In a comment on the above debate, Malcolm Langley states "The National Library of Wales has purchased the original works". As I understand it, that is just what they have not done. The National Library has purchased nothing and paid nobody. Certainly not me.
As for his query "Do any of you pay any sort of copyright to the plumber " - no, I don’t, but then I paid the man a hefty sum for his work in the first place. Small mags often pay for poems in the form of one free copy - about £3-worth. When they pay money it is typically about £10. A poem may take days, weeks or months to complete but it certainly takes longer than an hour. If Mr Langley knows a plumber prepared to work for less than £10 an hour, I wish he wouldn’t keep the man’s name to himself.
The subtext of the above attitude, of course, is a deep resentment at the thought of creative artists getting paid at all and a vague feeling that they should do it for love.
Robert Nisbet (February 2008):
I’ve just read with interest Chris Meredith’s piece on the Academi website about digitisation. Increasingly I’m inclined to sympathize with his (and your) argument. In a way you know, the issue he’s talking about is exactly the one for which Hollywood writers went on strike recently.