Strict copyright laws do not always benefit authors

A stricter, more author-friendly copyright regime does not guarantee higher pay for authors, according to a new study which surveyed the earnings of 25,000 writers. In fact, it found that copyright law could exacerbate risk for authors.

Writers in Germany earned less than those in the UK, despite the fact that that country's copyright regime is more beneficial to authors, according to a study by the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management at Bournemouth Law School.

"There are some real surprises. A legal framework that is ostensibly more author friendly, Germany, does not deliver wealthier authors," said Martin Kretschmer, joint director of the Centre.

In 2004 to 2005 UK authors earned around 50% more than their German counterparts. UK authors earned an average of £12,330, while the Germans earned an average of £8,280. The survey was based on professional authors, meaning those who allocate more than half of their time to writing.

Pay for authors is very far from consistent, though, because much of the money paid overall is earned by a small number of extremely successful writers. That pay imbalance is more pronounced in the UK than in Germany, the study found.

It revealed that the top 10% of authors earn 60% of all the money earned in the UK, but just 41% of that in Germany. The bottom 10% in the UK earn just 8% of the money paid, but they earn 12% in Germany.

"This may reflect a more regulated environment for copyright contracts in Germany. It may also reflect the globalised nature of English language markets," said Kretschmer.

The research was conducted by the Centre on behalf of the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), the UK's collection and authors' rights agency. It asked the Centre to undertake the study of authors' income in two countries with similarly sized publishing industries, but significant differences in their copyright frameworks.

The study also found that copyright law could actually make writing riskier. It found that income was even less evenly distributed when it only took account of income relating to actual use of copyright material. This part of the study excluded income which was paid regardless of the usage of work, such as that from contractual writing or from advances.

The income related to pure usage was even less evenly distributed than that of writing overall. The Gini Coefficient measures income distribution on a scale between zero and one, with distribution becoming more unequal the closer it gets to one.

The score for ALCS payments to professional writers in the UK is 0.78 rather than 0.63 for writing as a whole. In Germany the score for payments to German collecting society VG Wort is 0.67 rather than 0.52 for writing as a whole. "This suggests that copyright law may exacerbate risk," said Kretschmer.

The study also found that, despite hopes of an internet-prompted resurgence in interest in writing, writers have not benefited from the growth of the internet as a medium. "Increased exploitation and use of copyright works through the internet has not translated into increased earnings of writers," said Kretschmer. "The typical earnings of authors have deteriorated since 2000, both in the UK and Germany."