When a system has only been implemented in just over 30 nations since the 1940s and the nations are located in essentially the same region, there must be a particular background and rationale involved. Moreover, if the system has been opposed for years by international professional organizations, one cannot be too careful.
Public lending rights is a case in point. It is a special system of remuneration that allows authors to be paid when their works are lent through public libraries, but the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions states that it “does not favor the principles of a ’lending right,’ which can jeopardize free access to the services of publicly accessible libraries, which is the citizen’s human right.”
In addition to 29 European countries, only members of the Commonwealth — including Australia, Canada and New Zealand — and Israel have legislated and implemented the system.
The National Taiwan Library and National Library of Public Information were selected to conduct a trial implementation from Jan. 1 of a Taiwanese version of a “public lending right” program, under which the government pays NT$3 to authors and publishers each time their work is borrowed, in the hope of encouraging creativity and promoting publication.
The Taiwanese version of public lending rights, which aspires to become the first of its kind in Asia, is well-intended, but the implementation of the trial version is questionable.
Based on a preliminary assessment that the two libraries would only have to pay out about NT$10 million (US$333,890) per year, an upper payout limit has been removed, although other countries have insisted on one to avoid differences in checkout rates resulting in unbalanced payments.
As the government subsidizes the program through its public affairs budget, the program — serving as a policy tool — should aim to achieve a maximize benefit to society regardless of the size of the budget. Based on this idea, remuneration would naturally incentivize the publication of books in the categories that receive the most in remuneration fees.
However, the principle behind the trial — that everything should be subsidized irrespective of category — determines remuneration recipients based on public taste, instead of subsidizing outstanding publications to enhance the public’s taste.
The annual list of top remuneration recipients would likely show a growing distance from the cultural diversity promoted by the ministries of education and culture. It would be difficult to keep the publishing industry from following the list and focusing more on popular categories than less popular ones.
Lastly, a payment of NT$3 per loan, without consideration of a book’s price, goes against the principle of proportionality. Giving the same loan remuneration to all books is unfair to high-quality publications and does nothing over the long term to encourage publishers to invest in outstanding works.
Despite its eager pursuit of “first in Asia” honors, Taiwan should learn from other countries’ 80 years of experience, instead of rushing headlong into a process of trial and error. As the saying goes: “A miss is as good as a mile.”
The first book-lending remuneration system in Asia should be carefully deliberated and cautiously implemented.
Jerry Hsia is a professor at National Taiwan Normal University and director of its Graduate Institute of Performing Arts, as well as a former member of a public library book selection committee subsidized by the Ministry of Education.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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