Authors missing out on copyright fortune

May 19, 2000

Academic authors are losing hundreds of thousands of pounds in revenues from the use of their work for teaching and research because the Copyright Licensing Agency cannot manage the complex system of reimbursement, according to a new study.

The report's author, Alan Story, a lecturer in intellectual property law at the University of Kent, said the problem centres on the updated Higher Education Copying Accord agreed in 1998 between the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the Copyright Licensing Agency.

The CLA argued that it would "ensure that authors and publishers are appropriately reimbursed for the use of their intellectual property" with it being in charge of collecting revenues.

Mr Story said his investigation into collection, calculation and disbursement of revenues under the accord shows that "most academic authors receive little more from it than the proverbial book token... the CLA is misleading academics into thinking they are receiving proper compensation for their published work when it is photocopied".

Revenues to the CLA flow from annual blanket licence fees of Pounds 3.25 a year for each full-time equivalent student at every British university. Another major source of revenue is copyright royalty fees paid for material used in course packs. These range from 5p to 10p per page of material per course, per paper copy.

These fees flow from universities and colleges to the CLA, which is supposed to distribute them to the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society, the body responsible for reimbursing authors.

Mr Story's analysis of the CLA's annual review for 1999 shows that the higher education sector channelled Pounds 5 million into the agency. The CLA periodically informs the ALCS how much money is available for distribution. As of December 1999, the ALCS had been given about Pounds 180,000 by the CLA in the first year of the agreement for the photocopying of articles from journals and magazines.

Mr Story said the ALCS had "no idea" what percentage of the Pounds 180,000 came from higher or further education sources, what period it covered or what percentage should have gone to academic authors. He said none of the funds had been distributed to academics as of December 1999. Publishers, by contrast, have been reimbursed.

A spokesman for the CVCP said it agreed fully with Mr Story's analysis: "We are extremely unhappy with the working of the agreement and will be demanding a root-and-branch review of it when it ends in six months."

The CLA and the ALCS, which were given copies of Mr Story's study, declined to comment.

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