Helping Literary Translators: PLR and Access Copyright

I started this blog because I was frustrated at the lack of information available for people starting out as literary translators. My blog deals with the situation facing French-to-English translators of Québec fiction, but another blog – intralingo – does a really excellent job of keeping literary translators informed of things we really should know about. Just last week, intralingo had an excellent post on royalties and literary translation. I’m always grateful to read such useful information, but at the same time I’m always a little frustrated that it’s not more widely available. Still, perhaps we should be grateful that the more experienced translators out there are prepared to share what they know and give the rest of us a hand up the ladder. I’m proud to welcome Lisa Carter and her guest post to my blog today. Keep up the great work, Lisa!

Helping Literary Translators: PLR and Access Copyright
by Lisa Carter, intralingo

I feel very fortunate to be a literary translator in Canada for many reasons, but one is related to our wonderful system of ensuring that copyright holders are fairly compensated when their work is loaned out by libraries or copied by schools, businesses and government.

There are two organizations that monitor and pay this money out, the Public Lending Right Program and Access Copyright. Let’s take a look at both and how they can at least be a modest boost to your yearly income.

Public Lending Right Commission (PLRC)

What is public lending right (PLR), anyhow? Public Lending Right International defines it as: “… the right of authors to receive payment for free public use of their works in libraries.”

In essence, if I publish a book that is copyrighted in my name and I register with the PLR program, I will receive compensation for my work being borrowed from a library. Not all countries around the world subscribe to PLR law, but Canada does.

Our Public Lending Right Program is run by the Canada Council for the Arts. Registration is open between 15 February and 1 May. During the year, the Public Lending Right Commission surveys six public libraries across Canada for each official language (English and French) to determine payouts for all of its 17,885 Canadian authors.

Payouts to copyright holders are based on several factors:

1. How often the eligible book is found in those library catalogues;
2. Whether the registrant is an author, illustrator, editor, anthology contributor or translator;
3. Which of four categories the work belongs to (based on year of registration with the program); and
4. The PLR’s total budget for that particular year.

To give you an example, I had six titles registered in 2011. Five of these were in the first category, meaning they were registered between 2007 and 2011, and thus earned $48 per hit in the survey. One book was in the second category (registered between 2002 and 2006) and therefore paid $38.40 per hit. In the libraries surveyed, my books were found between 3 and 7 times out of a possible seven. As a translator, I am entitled to 50% of the share claim, so my payout this year was a very welcome $800 in February.

Access Copyright

Another situation where there is the potential to earn additional income from your copyrighted works as a literary translator is Access Copyright, The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency. According to its website:

Access Copyright was established as a not-for-profit organization in 1988 by a group of authors and publishers with a common and simple objective:

To protect the value of their intellectual property by ensuring fair compensation when their works are copied.

To benefit from this system, you must register as an Access Copyright affiliate before the end of the calendar year to be eligible for royalty distribution the following year.

The revenue Access Copyright receives for its licensing agreements is split between creators and publishers, and depends on the following factors:

1. Whether the material is in-print or out-of-print;
2. What type of work it is, e.g. an education and technical book, scholarly publication, trade book, newspaper or periodical; and
3. Who owns copyright.

Again, I have registered all six of my copyrighted works with Access Copyright and, in 2011, I earned approximately $400 for being a creator affiliate.

While the sum total of $1200 per year will not substantially change my income or lifestyle, I believe it is a welcome help to all of us as creators who love the work we do but are not always compensated highly. Most importantly, however, I appreciate that these programs recognize the existence and worth of our intellectual property.

Knowing that not all countries adhere to public lending right law or have licensing royalty programs makes me even more proud to be a Canadian. I encourage you to register with both the PLRC and Access Copyright to ensure that you, too, are getting your due.

Lisa Carter is a Spanish-to-English literary translator, with five novels and one book of non-fiction to her credit. Her most recent project is a work of women’s fiction slated for publication with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Spring 2013. You can find Lisa on her professional website at, where she blogs about literary translation. You can also follow her on Twitter at @intralingo.