ALCS and CLA: Behind the acronyms

In this guest blog, Tony Bradman introduces the Copyright Licensing Agency, which collects some two-thirds of the revenue that the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society distributes to its members. Give a Book are pleased to be one of the charities supported by the CLA development fund. 

Membership of the Society of Authors comes with many benefits, among them free membership of another very important organisation – the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, or ALCS for short. (Spoiler alert: more acronyms will be heading your way soon.) You will almost certainly recognise the name from the royalty statements ALCS sends out to writers twice a year, in March and September. In my view, those statements are clear and easy to read. But I’ve been involved with ALCS for a long time, first as a director, and now as chair of the board, so I know what I’m looking at. However, I also know that for some writers they can be a puzzle. That’s because the name of another organisation – the Copyright Licensing Agency, or CLA – appears on them as the source of many of the payments.

Secondary rights

The origins of the CLA lie in the 1970s, after a new technology appeared that meant our work could be reproduced indiscriminately – yes, the photocopier had arrived. But how could any individual writer find out what was being copied in schools, colleges or businesses – or even in such institutions overseas – and charge for that use? It would be utterly impossible, of course. Publishers also had rights in books that were being copied, but they were no more able to monitor copying than writers. The answer was to create a special organisation to manage what were called secondary rights, where a third party re-uses a work after its publication – and ‘re-use’ often means photocopying. (These rights are distinct from primary rights, which are the rights to publish a book in the first place.) The writers set up ALCS, which meant that publishers had to set up their own collective organisation – Publishers’ Licensing Services, or PLS – to represent their interests. Together, ALCS and PLS set up the Copyright Licensing Agency to make sure that photocopying was paid for, the money collected and then efficiently distributed to writers and publishers. The rest, as they say, is history. CLA has been a success and has grown steadily over the years, its income hitting a record level of £87 million in 2019. That helped ALCS to its own record year in 2019 with revenue of £37 million. Two thirds of that comes via CLA, most of the rest flowing from secondary rights royalties for TV and film scriptwriters. It hasn’t always been an easy partnership between ALCS and PLS, but nowadays we get along very well, especially since we agreed to an independent judgement on the sharing of CLA income in 2016.

Blanket licences

It would be easy to imagine that the CLA collects its money like PLR – that is, you register your books, the usage is tracked, and you’re paid accordingly. There are similarities, but it was obvious from the beginning that, unlike library loans, we could never keep track of every photocopying event. Instead the CLA sells blanket licences. These give organisations the right to copy our work within certain limits, usually one chapter, one article from a journal, or 5% of a total work (10% in some cases), whichever is the greater. The blanket licensing system has lots of advantages. It means we can sell one licence to the Department for Education rather than to each school in the country. The same applies to the NHS in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and central government. Universities and Further Education colleges are licensed individually, and so are local authorities and businesses in a wide variety of sectors – from pharmaceutical companies and law fi rms to PR and advertising agencies and many more. But the biggest slice of the pie is provided by those central licences, which means ultimately the money comes from the public purse.

So how do we know who to pay? The CLA asks licensees (schools, government departments) to collect data on what they’ve copied – teachers, for example, are routinely asked to make one extra copy of published content when they photocopy a class set, and to affix a label reporting how many copies they made, before placing the copy in a collection box. The CLA has a team of field officers who visit schools and collect the contents of these boxes. They use tens of thousands of similar pieces of copying data to form a sample of what’s happening in each sector as a whole. They then analyse all the pieces of copying data and match them to a database of published works before verifying the data with independent statisticians. Once all the data is matched to published titles, CLA calculates the royalties per title. All monies due are then divided up between ALCS and PLS according to the Distribution Model agreed in 2016 which sets out the shares to be paid: for example, money for books copied in schools is divided so that ALCS and PLS each receive 42% and the remaining 16% goes to visual artists. The share allocations reflect comparative valuations of each type of work. Money is sent to each organisation along with the relevant data, so that it can be distributed to the writers, publishers and visual artists (illustrators and photographers) who have a right to it. There’s an international dimension too. The CLA has deals with other CMOs (that stands for ‘Collective Management Organisations’) in 38 countries around the world. They collect money for similar uses of our work in their territories, then send it to CLA. Most of these organisations also send data with the money so it can be paid to the writers, publishers and visual artists who have rights to it. Occasionally, payments come without any data, in which case they are divided equally between members.

Technology and the future

It’s worth pointing out that the changes in technology that have affected all our lives in so many areas have also had an impact on the world of secondary rights. These days, CLA’s licences also cover a wide range of digital uses such as digitised articles, online magazines and certain websites, and that is bound to increase. In recent years many people have predicted that physical photocopying will be replaced by scanning and downloads, but it’s proving surprisingly resilient.

The collection of usage data has changed, though, and CLA is currently developing new resources which will collect a much wider range of more specific data. New digital products developed by CLA and made available to licensees give them access to digital versions of journal articles and school textbooks, and these products require users to log in with unique user accounts (as with any other online service), allowing CLA to automatically record all usage. An example of this is the Digital Content Store, a product designed for universities, which is essentially a repository of digitized articles that can be shared with other institutions; it has enabled 8.2 million student downloads over the last five years. Recently, CLA also launched the Education Platform for all licensed schools, which provides access to digital versions of textbooks so that teachers can make limited copies (of 5% or one chapter) and share them with students – either by adding a link to a school’s Virtual Learning Environment or by sending the copy direct to a student’s device.

I hope that will help you to understand ALCS statements more easily. Both ALCS and CLA have excellent websites where you can find out even more about how they work ( and I also hope your future statements will bring you lots of joy!

Tony Bradman is a writer of children’s books and a former chair of the SoA’s Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG). He is currently chair of ALCS and co-chair of CLA.

This article was first published in The Author, the quarterly of the Society of Authors.



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