Royalties bonanza is still up for grabs

May 10, 2002

Academic authors have failed to claim more than £750,000 of royalties from photocopying.

The money comes from the licence fee universities pay to the Copyright Licensing Agency, the subject of the recent legal dispute pursued by Universities UK.

Since the dispute began in mid-2000, the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society has held up payments to academic authors. With the case now settled, it is preparing to distribute the £2 million that has accumulated.

But the ALCS said that it was also holding £750,000 for authors it was unable to trace and had £1 million outstanding for journals.

Last year, the society collected royalties for 18,000 academic authored copies, but it was able to pass on the money to only half of these. It could not track down the remaining authors.

The society is calling for authors to come forward and collect their money. Royalties range from a few pence to more than £10,000. Distributions manager Owen Atkinson says the average payment is about £250.

He said the ALCS did not charge authors to distribute funds, although they could become members of the society. "People say, 'it must be a con. What's the catch?' But there is no catch."

Dr Atkinson said the ALCS had contacted two authors in Cambridge who both had £4,000 outstanding, but neither had bothered to claim the money. More than half of the UK's vice-chancellors receive payments from the ALCS.

Higher education is the ALCS's biggest sector, but it is difficult to distribute royalties to academics because works tend to have more than one author, and scope for copying is wide.

The ALCS is obliged to hold the money until it is collected.

Dr Atkinson said many academics did not realise they were entitled to 25 per cent of the royalties while a journal was in print and 85 per cent when it was out of print.

Some of the authors the society is chasing may no longer be alive and the monies are owed to their estates. Fifteen per cent of the money has been outstanding for more than five years.

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