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Cheque Please

Friday, March 15th, 2019 | Posted by Violette Malan

Canadian FlagWe’ve got a odd thing here in Canada that I’m not certain exists anywhere else. Oh I’m sure that other provinces, states and countries have Arts Councils, but I’m not sure that any of them do what the Canada Council for the Arts does for writers. Specifically, they have a little program called Public Lending Rights.

For those of you who don’t already know about this, it’s money the government gives us writers (thank you Canadian tax-payers everywhere, including myself) to compensate authors for the royalties they miss from the use of library books.

CCA logoOf course they don’t hand out money to just anybody (I see you there in the back, you might as well sit down again.) There’s quite a stringent set of rules. To begin with you must be a Canadian author, though I believe you can be living abroad if you’re a citizen. You have to prove that your novel exists, and that you are the copyright holder. Oh yeah, and your books have to be in libraries, though you don’t have to prove that yourself.

What you have to do is fill out a nice blue form with information like the title of your work, the ISBN, the number of pages, and the percentage you contributed. Along with this you send them copies of the title page, the copyright page, and the table of contents, if that’s applicable. Anthologies are allowed, but only under further complicated rules, involving that percentage I just mentioned. Lately they’ve added audio books to the list of eligible works, and payment there is divided 50/50 between the author and the narrator. Every year they send you a new blue form along with your cheque so you can update them.

Access(By the way, if there’s a translator involved the percentages change again)

Once they’ve got your book(s) identified, they check out (no pun intended) a specific number of libraries looking for “hits,” which is to say, does your book appear in the library’s list? You don’t know which libraries these are going to be, and they aren’t the same ones every year, so you can’t really stack the deck in your favour. (Again, you in the back, sit down.)
Depending on the number of hits, you get paid a specific amount, which decreases the older your book is. The idea is that after a while fewer and fewer people will be taking the book out, as everyone who wants to read it already has. I’ve always thought that this should be more flexible if your book is one of a series. Often the appearance of a new book in a series causes people to go back and borrow the older books, just to remind themselves of what’s going on. I imagine that the borrowing of Game of Thrones must have increased a few years ago. Not that GRRM is Canadian.

A friend of mine once commented that what with everything being digital now couldn’t the libraries actually give an accurate count of how many times your book got taken out, so you could be compensated on that basis? You know, if your books were taken out more than someone else’s, why should they get the same money as you, just because they’re in the same library? My answer to this is: there’s a limited amount of money available, and if this system was used Margaret Atwood (yes, she’s Canadian) would get all of it. I think the system as-is is just fine.

As if this wasn’t enough, here in Canada we also have a thing called Access Copyright. This is another organization, completely unconnected with the Canada Council, that compensates you for the photocopying of your work by others, such as university students. These guys work on the number of books, etc. that you have published, not on whether they are likely to be photocopied by anyone. Luckily for me.

Every Canadian who writes for a living, and even those I know who have day jobs have experienced how important these cheques can be. In my own case it has once or twice tided us over until the building season started again. And I know it’s made that kind of difference to many others.
So again, thank you my fellow Canadians.


Violette Malan is the author of the Dhulyn and Parno series of sword and sorcery adventures (now available in omnibus editions),  as well as the Mirror Lands series of primary world fantasies. As VM Escalada, she writes the Faraman Prophecy series, currently in two books, Halls of Law, and Gift of Griffins. Like her page on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @VioletteMalan.

3 Comments »

  1. Similar scheme in the UK and Ireland administered by the British Library, https://www.bl.uk/plr for details. Permanent residence in the EEA is required at the time of registration but not citizenship, and application is done online.

    Comment by Vulch - March 16, 2019 6:26 am

  2. This warms my heart after a long cold Canadian winter :)

    Comment by Barsoomia - March 16, 2019 8:57 am

  3. Public lending right has been around in the UK since the 80s. I can remember the campaigns of the authors to get this right established and the complaints as to how it was first administered. Not ground breaking news for most people, when there was mass unemployment and a controversial war with Argentina but of interest to me as I was trying my hand at being an author. Neil

    Comment by NeilH - March 16, 2019 9:20 am


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