Thousands of academics may be entitled to a share, albeit small, of more than £4.8 million in secondary royalties for their written output, which is being held on behalf of scholars, it has emerged.
The situation is somewhat paradoxical, said James McConnachie, non-executive director of the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, who is also an acclaimed non-fiction writer and the editor of The Author.
Universities as institutions know all about the ALCS because they purchase licences from its Copyright Licensing Agency to allow photocopying on their premises – hence the notices setting out how much of any article or book one is allowed to copy.
It is the money generated in this way (and through some forms of broadcasting and recording) that is available for distribution to authors, including many academics. However, the news does not seem to have trickled down to the academic community.
The ALCS pays its signed-up members twice a year what they are owed. The sums involved have amounted to £380 million since the society was established in 1977, and more than £10 million at last September’s distribution alone.
But although about 24,000 of the 87,000 members are academics, many more are missing out by failing to become members. While Mr McConnachie said he believed that the ALCS’ “penetration among non-academic authors is very high”, their scholarly peers just don’t seem to have got the message.
“I got interested in this since my wife is an academic and I taught at the University of Southampton for the Royal Literary Fund,” said Mr McConnachie, “so I asked around about the ALCS – and many academics just said ‘What’s that?’…Many don’t think of themselves as commercial authors, but they are still entitled to secondary royalties.”
As a result of this, Mr McConnachie went on, “the ALCS has £4,819,557.01 held for academic authors. This represents the total of undistributed CLA higher education monies that is credited to potential members.”
These consist of “potential members whose work has been copied under the CLA Higher Education Licence” and “potential members for whom we have some personal information [such as professional email addresses] that suggests that they are academics”.
It is here that Mr McConnachie issues a small caveat that “the £4.8 million will be made up of small amounts for a large number of people – it is important to stress that, otherwise the expectations might be unrealistic”.
But although many are owed only a few pence, the ALCS estimates that close to £3.2 million is being held for slightly more than 25,000 “viable potential academic members” entitled to £100 or more. In very rare cases, there may be as much as £1,000 waiting for them.
All an academic needs to do is to pay the ALCS lifetime membership fee of £36 and provide a list of their publications. They can also use the “search for royalties” facility on the website to check whether there is any money in the account for a particular title.
“The ALCS is a collecting society run by writers for writers, with low administration fees,” noted Mr McConnachie. “If 10,000 academics were to sign up tomorrow, we’d be absolutely thrilled – we exist to distribute money to the people who have a right to it.”