The wonder of ALCS

I've written before about PLR, the system that provides cash to authors when their books are borrowed from UK libraries. But this isn't the only unexpected source of potential income for authors - another fairy godmother of the writing business is ALCS, the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society.

The ALCS is a group that looks for ways to pick up all those little bits and pieces of earning that writers might have missed out on. They also act as a campaigning group for authors' rights - but what we're interested in here is pure cash.

Increasingly, the ALCS is acting as a conduit for other collection vehicles. This time round, for instance, it included money from the Irish PLR for UK authors who registered for that. And it is likely to be a gateway for payments from the dreaded Google Settlement when that is finally sorted out. But the thing that fascinates me most is the bread-and-butter earnings from ALCS. This is typically when a business or school photocopies part of your book.

I am amazed (and delighted) at the honesty of those organizations that go to the trouble of letting the ALCS know about the copying they have done. When I worked for a large organization I would never have thought (of course) of photocopying a copyright work, but if I had done, I have no idea how I would have registered this fact so an appropriate payment could be made. Even now, a lot of people I speak to in the corporate and education world don't know. But obviously someone out there is doing it right. Last time round, ALCS paid out around £18 million.

The statement doesn't detail how much copying done, but the cash pushed through by the Copyright Licensing Agency, which collects the photocopying side, suggests hundreds and quite possibly thousands of pages for my books alone. Don't get me wrong - it's not going to make anyone rich as I suspect it's a fraction of a penny per page - but it's still a nice addition to the income for doing nothing more than letting the ALCS know what you've written.

If you are UK-based writer who hasn't registered, pop over to the ALCS website where there is a nifty little tool that you can enter the title of your work and see if the ALCS owes you anything. It's worth a go. (It says works with a green background may have money waiting, but it looks more duckegg in colour to me.) And if you photocopy material at work, take a look at the Copyright Licensing Agency website to see how to make it legal. You know it makes sense.