I love this time of year. March is when we get our free money from the ALCS. Free money? Oh, yes! However, from the many comments I’ve seen on social media, not everyone understands their ALCS statement. Many simply look at how much they’re getting and then file it ready for their tax return. But having a clearer understanding of what you’re receiving the money for may help ensure you claim everything to which you’re entitled.
What is ALCS?
The Authors Licensing and Collecting Society collects money generated by secondary rights from various sources and then distributes it to writers. When you sell an article or a short story to a magazine, you sell a primary right – a right to publish your work, for which you should be paid. But once a piece of your writing has been published, there are legitimate ways in which it can be scanned or photocopied. Organisations and business pay for this legitimate right to copy your work.
Imagine a school teacher reads an article you’ve written about the history of your home town, which has been published in your local county magazine. She decides it would be a useful teaching aid in her next history lesson, and decides to share it with every child in her class. To do this, she needs to photocopy it. This is a secondary use of your originally published article.
Schools, universities and further education establishments are licensed by the Copyright Licensing Agency to photocopy published material, for which they pay a fee. Many other establishments pay for licenses too, such as libraries, local authorities, government agencies and departments, and businesses. Across the country, this adds up to a tidy sum. The Copyright Licensing Agency pays this money to the ALCS, who then distribute it to writers.
I should clarify that being paid by the ALCS doesn’t mean that your article or short story has actually been photocopied. It’s just a payment in recognition of the fact that your published work is available for photocopying.
However, the ALCS also receives money from many other sources, too. In Europe a small levy is charged on the sale of recording and copying equipment (such as all-in-one printer/scanners) bought by individuals. They also collect money from foreign Public Lending Right (PLR) schemes, when books are borrowed from libraries, as well as payments for the reading of works on radio, and the retransmission of works on broadcast television and radio.
Therefore, if you’ve had an article or short story published in a magazine (not a newspaper) in the UK, a book published (bearing an ISBN), or had some of your work broadcast on television or radio, you could be entitled to some money.
There’s a one-off lifetime membership to pay to join the ALCS. However, if you’re a member of a writing union (see Business Directory) you can join for free. Even if you have to pay the membership fee, there’s no money to pay upfront because your fee is simply deducted from your first payment.
And because writers can leave their copyright to beneficiaries in a will, our beneficiaries can also join the ALCS to receive any secondary rights money our works may generate.
The ALCS makes two payouts a year: March and September. The March distribution is the biggest, and pays out monies received for articles, books and scripts. The September distribution shares only money received for books and scripts. So if your work has only been published in magazines you’ll receive one payout in March. But if you’ve had books published or scripts broadcast you could receive a payout in March and September.
Understanding Your Statement
Your ALCS statement can be downloaded directly from their website, when you’ve been notified by email that it’s available. The first page is straightforward, detailing the total amount you’re entitled to, less their commission. The ALCS currently charges a 9.5% commission fee to cover their administration costs in dealing with the collection and distribution of the money. If you’re registered as a self-employed writer you can claim this commission as a business expense against your business income.
The subsequent pages of your statement then breakdown where your money has come from, and this is where confusion can arise. Many headings comprise two parts: a code, followed by a description. The description is self-explanatory. Reproduction of Journals means articles or short stories that have been copied. The code identifies where in the world the money has come from.
For example, you may see the code: CLAUK/2015 Reproduction of Journals. The code CLAUK identifies that the money has come from the CLA (the Copyright Licensing Agency) and is for income received from within the UK. The 2015 Reproduction of Journals clarifies that it is money received in 2015 for the reproduction (either photocopying or electronic scanning) of journals (magazine articles).
Other codes include:
– CLAEU (Copyright Licensing Agency – Europe)
– CLAOS (Copyright Licensing Agency – Overseas)
You can register your work as soon as it has been published, although there is a cut-off date for works to be included in the next March distribution. This is usually the previous 30th November. However, that’s for articles published in the three previous calendar years. What this means is, you have until 30th November 2018 to register any articles or short stories you’ve had published in magazines in 2015, 2016 or 2017. The money for these will be paid in March 2019. So the earliest you will be paid for an article published in December 2017 (which you have until 30th November 2018 to register) is in March 2019. The reason for this delay is because it takes time to collect the money from the various sources and then calculate an individual writer’s entitlement.
On the statements issued in March this year, most of the photocopying income will be from monies received for copying in 2016. Therefore, most of the headings on your statement for photocopied journals will begin the relevant source code (CLAUK, CLAEU or CLAOS) followed by the phrase 2016 Reproduction of Journals. You may see other codes and descriptions depending upon the areas of writing in which you specialise. The ALCS will always explain a code if you’re unsure. Simply drop them an email, or give them a call.
You may also see income from previous years. For example, on my 2017 statement most of my payments were for articles published in 2015. However I also received some money for articles published in 2013. What happened here is that, in 2016, the ALCS received some additional money relating to photocopying undertaken in 2013. (Most of the 2013 income was received in 2014 and distributed in 2015.) I was entitled to some of this money because I’d had articles published in 2013. So when you see income for more than one year on the same statement it means the ALCS received extra funds for a previous year and this is your share of those funds.
Three Year Limit
Another common misunderstanding is that the ALCS is paying out money for the total number of articles or short stories you’ve had published in the last three calendar years. They’re not. They only pay out once for every article or short story you register with them, it’s just that you have a three year window in which to register it. So you have until 30th November 2018 to register an article or short story you had published in 2015. If you’d registered it by 30th November 2016, you will have been paid for it in March 2017. If you didn’t register that 2015-published article until before the 30th November 2017 then it will be paid in the latest distribution, this month. But if you missed that, then you have until 30th November 2018 to register it, for which you will be paid in March 2019.
If you haven’t registered any 2015 articles or short stories by 1st December 2018, then you’re too late. Three years, though, is plenty of time to register your published work. What it does mean, is that writers new to ALCS can claim for the last three years worth of work.
Under each income source is a series of categories in which your journals have been classified. These are quite broad, including Lifestyle, Humanities, Medicine, Computer and Library Services.
The categorisation is determined by the magazine’s ISSN: International Standard Serial Number. In order to register your article or short story you will need the magazine’s ISSN. Some magazines print this on their contact or contents page. (Writing Magazine’s ISSN is usually mentioned under the Editor’s letter and contributor biographies on page 3.) The simplest way to find it is to use the search facility on the ALCS website.
Annual payments vary for many reasons. Firstly, the number of articles and short stories you’ve had published may differ between years. We all have good years and bad years. Secondly, the amount of money ALCS receives from its many different funding sources all over the world varies from year to year. Even the type of article you write can affect your payment. One year I received a lot of money for General Science articles. I wasn’t aware I’d been published in any scientific journals until I discovered that some dog magazines fell under that classification.
Every writer welcomes their ALCS payment. It might feel like free money, but we’re entitled to claim it. So take a closer look at it this year. Hopefully, you’ll have a better understanding of where your money has come from.
And if you don’t understand something on your statement then get in touch with the ALCS and ask. They’re an extremely helpful organisation.
Members of the following unions can join ALCS for free:
– Society of Authors
– Writers’ Guild of Great Britain
– National Union of Journalists
– British Association of Journalists
– Chartered institute of Journalists
Membership queries: firstname.lastname@example.org
Distribution (Statement) queries: email@example.com
Authors Licensing & Collecting Society
86 Fetter Lane
Tel: 020 7264 5700