Julie Sullivan discusses Public Lending Right.

A recent exchange on Twitter made me realise that many British and Irish writers, translators and illustrators do not know how lucky they are that they can be paid each time their books —now including e-books — are taken out of a public library. 


Yes, few countries have this law. I wish the United States did! American authors and illustrators, unlike their British counterparts, are paid exactly once, when a library buys the book — no matter how many times it is later lent out.

The Public Lending Right is not to be taken for granted. The UK Society of Authors, among others, fought long and hard for it, and it was finally passed in 1979. 

The first country to pay authors and illustrators for books being lent to library readers was Denmark, in 1946. Norway passed a similar law in in 1947, and Sweden was next in 1954. 

Today, at least 35 countries, including most European nations, as well as Israel, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, pay book creators when their books are taken out of libraries. In the European Union, it has been the law since 1992 that authors must receive compensation for library lending. 


Sadly for us Americans, as far as I know no writers' group is currently even fighting for the same thing in the USA.


Jolly Roger pirate flag, from Vector Portal

Another complication, too long to deal with here, is that book piracy is increasing all over the world. It's almost impossible to stop someone from pirating a popular book. There is currently a major lawsuit against the nonprofit Internet Archive, based in the US, by American publishers saying that the Internet Archive's free loans of unpaid-for books amounts to piracy. 

The British Society of Authors comments, 'To be clear, whatever the outcome of this US case, the Internet Archive’s practices are undoubtedly an infringement in English law, which does not have a similar fair use doctrine.'


Although the amount of money is rather small, British and Irish authors and illustrators (and translators on occasion) can receive something when their books are popular with library readers. The amount yearly can be up to several thousand pounds in Britain, and €1000 in Ireland. 

The Public Lending Right rewards authors whose books go on being read long after they are published, even if they are no longer for sale in bookshops. Children's books are among the most-borrowed at libraries, so the PLR money is a welcome addition to what is for most writers and illustrators a small income from their work. In 2018, e-books were added.

Children at a Library, The Boys' and Girls' Library (1851)

How do you receive this Public Lending Right money? It doesn't happen automatically. You must register here (, through the British Library. British and Irish writers and illustrators can register for both countries at the British Library site, as the two have reciprocity. In Ireland: 


You will need your book's ISBN number, and you must create an account, which involves sending actual copies of the verifying documents. The FAQs are here:

The British poet Maureen Duffy, one of the chief campaigners for the original British Public Lending Right, puts it in a nutshell'First and foremost, PLR upholds the principle of "no use without payment” … It supports the creation of new work.' 

Nothing makes writers want to keep working as much as knowing their books are still being read and enjoyed, long after they were published.

Pay the Creator (logo), from Creative Rights Alliance

Learn more about PLR:

* Header image Dog with Books, from Mr Punch with the Children  


Julie Sullivan is an American translator (French and German to English) and a copy designer. She loves libraries and is a SCBWI volunteer. 

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