Canadian Authors and the Public Lending Rights Program

If you are a Canadian author with books published in Canada, you should ensure they are available to readers through the public library. There are many reasons why but in this post, I will focus on the Public Lending Rights (PLR) program and how it benefits Canadian authors.

I first learned about the Public Lending Rights program almost a decade ago from the late Jay Underwood. Although I had been writing for about a dozen years before that time, I had never heard another writer speak about the program and the benefits to authors.

What is the Public Lending Rights program?

From their website: “Each year millions of Canadians access books from their public libraries, free of charge. This free use we enjoy means that authors potentially lose revenues from sales of their books; readers who might otherwise buy a book can instead consult or borrow it from the library.

“The Canada Council’s Public Lending Right Program helps to address this inequity. Each year it distributes payments to authors to compensate them for the presence of their books in public libraries. The Program has grown steadily since it was established in 1986 and last year over $9.7 million was distributed among over 17,000 authors registered in the Program and the average payment to a registered individual was $568.”

What does it cost?

It is free to register books in the PLR program.

How does it work?

Each year, targeted library catalogues are searched. If your book is found, you receive payment. They don’t search all library catalogues. This is why it’s important to ensure your books are not all in the same jurisdiction. In other words, I wouldn’t donate a book to the libraries in Dartmouth, Halifax and Bedford, Nova Scotia—they are grouped in the same catalogue (same family of libraries). It is wiser to donate a book to the libraries in Dartmouth, Canso and Amherst, and then look outside the province.

If I can’t personally visit a library, I mail my book with a letter addressed to the branch manager. To ensure I am not sending books to the same catalogue and to learn the name of the branch manager and the address of the library, I search online.

Although it is possible the library will reject the book, it is also highly likely they will add it to their collection. The one-time cost of the book and the postage will more than pay for itself the first year it is counted.

How much money will you be paid?

This depends on several factors.

  • the number of books registered in the PLR program
  • the number of times each book was counted by PLR
  • the type of book
  • the length of time it has been in the system
  • the percentage of the book claimed by the author (in the case where there is more than one author)

On average, each book counted will pay between $40 and $50. The value of the book depreciates over time. Books that have been in the system between 0 and 5 years get the maximum payout, whereas books that have been there for more than 16 years gets only 50%.

There is a minimum amount that must be reached before you receive a cheque. If the search results net an author less than $50, there will be no payment made. From what I’ve read, money cannot be accumulated over the years. In other words, if you made $30 in 2014 and $20 in 2015, you still won’t get a cheque.

When do you get paid?

The third week of February.

Do I have to claim this on Income Tax?

Yes. It is income from writing. You will get a tax slip (T4A) in February only if the amount is $500 or more. Even if you don’t get a tax form, you must claim the income.

Who can register their books in the PLR program?

The list includes…

  • an author or co-author
  • an illustrator or photographer
  • a translator
  • an anthology contributor
  • an editor with an original written contribution

To qualify, you must be a Canadian citizen (living in Canada or abroad) or have Permanent Resident status, as defined by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

What types of books qualify for the PLR program?

The eligible books are…

  • works of poetry, fiction, drama, children’s literature, nonfiction and scholarly work
  • printed and electronic books (eBooks) with a valid ISBN
  • books that are at least 48 pages in length, or in the case of children’s literature, at least 24 pages. For eBooks, the book page count is based on the PDF version.

What books do NOT qualify for the PLR program?

Please refer to the website for the complete list. Some of the books that are NOT eligible include…

  • a practical book giving advice or instructions, a self-help or “how-to” book (eg travel, nature, cookbook, etc.)
  • a professional guide such as legal, technical, medical and scientific guide
  • a newspaper, magazine or periodical
  • a calendar, agenda, colouring book, quiz book or game book
  • a book created for your employer in the course of your employment

To learn more about which books qualify, which ones don’t, about editor contributions and similar items, read this page.

Do they accept eBooks?

Yes. This is new this year. You can register printed books and eBooks.

Do I have to register every year?

Yes and no. Once a book is registered, you don’t have to register it again. It will remain in the system. But if you have had new books published in the past year or you missed registering a previously published book, you can do that between February 15th and May 1st. You will receive a green registration form in the mail with your cheque. Use that to register previously unregistered books.

Can I register online?

No. Use the green form that arrives in the mail. If you’re new to the program or you are registering more than two books, download the form(s) here.

However, you can complete the form online, print it and mail it in.

How do I register a book?

To register a print book, complete all pertinent information on the form, including ISBN, format (paper), language, category, contribution, % Share and number of pages. Remember to check all four boxes in the Declaration. If you cannot check all four truthfully, you will not be able to register your books. Also remember to sign and date the form.

Once the form is complete, for each book, attach a photocopy of the title page and copyright page where your name and the title of the book appears. If the book contains a table of contents, that too must be photocopied and submitted.

To register an eBook, enter the following information on the form: ISBN, format (PDF or ePub), language, category, contribution and % Share. Only ePubs and Portable Document Formats (PDFs) are eligible to be registered. You must also send print copies of the title page, copyright page and table of contents (if there is one) from a PDF version of the book.

If you are registering a title for the first time and it is available in print and eBook formats, you can enter the title once, indicating a format on each line beside the appropriate ISBN. Send only one set of support material (photocopies of title page, copyright page and table of contents).

Note: You must have an ISBN for the book to register it. Remember, you need an ISBN for a print book and a separate one for the eBook. They can NOT be the same.

Can you register a book under a Pen Name?

Yes. In the line where you write the title, you add “by Miss Mee Supper” or whatever name you write under.

Where do I learn more?

This is an overview of the Public Lending Rights program. To learn more, visit Canada Council for the Arts.

Do other countries have a Public Lending Rights program?

Yes. From their website: “There are public lending right programs operating in 29 countries worldwide. However, the Canadian model is special in that it is not linked to copyright legislation and is mandated to compensate Canadian authors exclusively, across a specific range of eligible literary and scholarly genres.”

If you found this information helpful, please consider buying me a cup of tea ($1.50) as if we had chatted at a cafe and I shared this with you. [Payment is through PayPal.]


19 thoughts on “Canadian Authors and the Public Lending Rights Program

  1. Thank you Diane! I did not realize they were now accepting ebooks as well. I also have decided to get going on donating a few print copies to libraries across Canada, thanks to your post. Hopefully this distribution will better my chances of getting paid.

    BTW, as a subscriber to your blog, your excellent posts are always appreciated, even if I don’t always comment.
    Madelle Morgan

    • I was a little surprised to see they were accepting eBooks, but I guess this is the wave of the future. Definitely get a few print copies in to libraries. It is worth the effort and time.

      Thank you for your kind words about this blog. And thank you for visiting my website.

  2. Thanks for the complete rundown Diane. I’ve registered all my books throughout the years. I told you I’ve never been paid. They said my books were ‘found’ but not eligible. I wasn’t aware that we had to physically send copies to libraries, maybe that’s why? I thought when we register our books with Library of Archives and have to send them a copy or two that’s when they’re entered into a catalogue?

    Also, I know that they only recently began accepting ebooks too. I wasn’t aware that we had to submit ebook copies of PDF if we’ve already submitted from paperback? If they have ebooks on file then wouldn’t they be sent to libraries? What about past submissions of paperbacks, do you think we need to add ebooks for those books on file that previously didn’t allow ebooks?

    Sorry for all the questions but you seem to have the scoop on PLR.

    • If they were found and ineligible, then there’s a problem. It might–as I said before–be because they may be considered self-help books. I’m not sure. There are fine lines in some areas. I recommend calling them to clarify the problem with ineligibility.

      A library doesn’t buy all its books. Many are donated either by the author, publisher or a kind citizen. But the book must be physically at a library to be included in their catalogue and counted by PLR. The only way to ensure your books are there is to donate them yourself.

      I believe you are confusing PLR with the legal deposit with Library and Archives Canada (LAC). They are two separate bodies. As usual in government, one doesn’t know what the other is doing. When you get an ISBN, it is also filed with LAC and they are the ones requesting the 2 copies for legal deposit to keep in their archives. Those copies don’t go to public libraries and they do not enter the public library catalogues.

      If you already have paper copies registered with PLR, you now have to send PDF print outs for the eBook version. Again, your eBook may be filed with LAC, but it is not with PLR. How to donate eBooks to libraries is a little more complicated than donating paper copies, and I won’t go into it here.

      If you are registering a paper book and it’s eBook version with PLR for the first time, you need only send in one copy of the supporting material, yet you have to record both ISBNs.

      • Thanks so much for going over this Diane. As I thought, I’d have to re-enter my ebooks for previously published paper books. Yes, I’ve got PLR in the past and just shot them an email again regarding the ebook submission and how to get them visible. I have to say they don’t offer much information on their site about how to get our books visible to them and how to go about it. I’ll wait til I hear back from them to decide how to proceed. Thanks so much for your time to answer. 🙂

        • You’re welcome, Debby. I agree; there’s not a lot of information on their site regarding how to get your eBooks or print books visible. We discussed this at our writers’ meeting with regard to donating libraries to different families of libraries. It seems like a hit or miss situation we have little control over.

  3. Glad you did this. I have been in the program for a few years, but only learned of it from the photographer working on one of my books. So I have reblogged, tweeted, post to my Facebook page, and my Google+ page. Thanks! (note the Oxford comma! hehehe)

    • Thank you for sharing this, Edward. It is surprising how many published writers don’t know about the Public Lending Rights program and Access Copyright. I often wonder what other programs are available for authors.

      Yes, the Oxford comma. I am certainly not against it. To me, it’s a style choice. More often than not, I choose not to use it in an effort to reduce the number of punctuation characters.

    • Thanks, Peter.

      Answer: My understanding is that if you are an author, you have to register the anthology for your yourself. There’s no other way the program would get your name and contact information. You would register only for you, not the other writers who contributed. If they wanted to see a payment, they would have to register themselves (with the book) in the program.

      Here’s what I found on the website: “Anthology contributors (no more than 6 contributors):
      As an eligible contributor to an anthology, you may claim a share that represents your specific written contribution.”

      So you would claim the pages in which your story appeared. However, if 7 authors contributed stories, then the book is no longer eligible.

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