Following the release of the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS) study “What Are Words Worth Now?,” already covered in TeleRead, which showed a catastrophic drop in writers’ earnings, and the numbers of full-time authors, in the UK, the ALCS held a debate at the UK House of Commons on the issues raised in the report. Some participants at least didn’t mince words about the report’s conclusions.
Owen Atkinson, Chief Executive of ALCS, said after the release of the report, “These are concerning times for writers. This rapid decline in both author incomes and in the numbers of those writing full-time could have serious implications for the economic success of the creative industries in the UK. If writers are to continue making their irreplaceable contribution to the UK economy, they need to be paid fairly for their work. This means ensuring clear, fair contracts with equitable terms and a copyright regime that support creators and their ability to earn a living from their creations.”
Some very interesting tweets came out under the #ALCSdebate hashtag in the course of the discussion. Poet Wendy Cope said: “authors in the country apparently get the worst contracts in Europe,” and “we have a human right to be paid for our work.” However, Richard Mollet, chief executive of the Publishers Association, was quick to call for copyright initiatives rather than contractual term changes. “Give us the cash – we’ll give it to the creators to create a campaign (about copyright) and we’ll get somewhere.” And some writers at least did echo his concerns. Author Joanne Harris did warn that: “content is so readily available that people feel it is ok to use it for free,” and as reported elsewhere, called for writers to go out into schools and other public venues to teach the public that it is not okay to download their work for nothing.
What was missing from the debate, as far as I can see, was specific data about how much UK authors are actually losing from piracy and copyright infringement. I strongly suspect that the biggest copyright infringers are not pirated content users but publishing companies who take advantage of rights and entitlements that the authors may not be aware they have. “It is becoming increasingly important for writers to prove their ownership of rights in their works in order to secure key sources of income,” warned the original ALCS report.
This debate will almost certainly run and run …