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The Public Lending Right in Canada: a Librarian’s Perspective

2011 was the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the Public Lending Right (PLR) in Canada.  The 25th anniversary was cause of much celebration among writer’s groups and especially The Writer’s Union of Canada (TWUC), which fought so hard for establishment of the PLR.  The PLR was seen as a major accomplishment for stabilizing the income of Canadian authors.  Among librarians, the 25th anniversary was mostly ignored.

Margaret Ann Wilkinson (mawilk [at] is Canadian Library Association Copyright Advisory Committee editor for The Copyright Column. These copyright columns are authored or co-authored by members of CLA’s Copyright Advisory Committee and are published after peer-review by the rest of the Committee. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the authors and do not represent the position of the Committee, of CLA or of OLA on any given topic. No column is intended to provide legal advice.

Public-Lending-RightThe PLR is based upon the idea that libraries deprive authors of book sales by circulating books.  According to this theory every library circulation of a book deprives the book’s authors (and publishers) of a sale.  Therefore, according to the theory, authors deserve to receive compensation for these lost sales.  This is the foundation of the PLR.  While Canadian authors may think of the PLR as an actual right that is either part of copyright law or other law, in fact, in Canada it remains a voluntary government program funded from general revenues, based upon library holdings (rather than circulation), that can be cancelled at any time. Indeed, even in Europe, where the PLR is required to be legislated, is does not necessarily form a part of the copyright regime of member states.

Historically, as this column will demonstrate, Canadian librarians have been mostly uncomfortable with the concept of PLR for a number of reasons.

[Editor’s Note: Open Shelf is collaborating with the CLA Copyright Advisory Committee to publish their authoritative and insightful articles regarding copyright issues in Canada. These contributions are longer than typical Open Shelf articles, and contain the appropriate references and footnotes necessary to fully discuss issues regarding copyright. As a result, only the “Introduction” to this article is published here. The full article is available as a PDF via the link below.]

The Public Lending Right in Canada: a Librarian’s Perspective
by Rob Tiessen

Rob Tiessen (tiessen [at] has been a Librarian at the University of Calgary since 1999.  He developed a strong interest in copyright during the 12 years that he was Head of Access Services at Calgary.

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