PLS’ creation and our first 40 years
PLS has served the publishing industry for more than 40 years. We were incorporated as Publishers Licensing Society in 1981 by three publishing trade associations—the Publishers Association, Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers and Professional Publishers Association.
Our mission then, as now, was to ensure that publishers received fair payment for the secondary use of extracts of their copyright material. In the late 1970s the growing use of photocopiers had made it easier for schools, universities and other institutions to reproduce material, and our founding associations saw the need for a collective licensing scheme that secured adequate compensation for publishers.
Two years after we were created, PLS worked with the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society —our partner overseeing collective licensing on behalf of authors—to create a body to issue and manage licences: the Copyright Licensing Agency We made our first distributions to publishers from licence revenues in 1987.
PLS grew steadily over the 1990s, acquiring our first dedicated staff, improved our communications with our mandating publishers and becoming more visible on the international stage. All the while our annual distributions grew—from £260,000 in our first round in 1987 to more than £10m by 2000.
The second half of PLS’ existence has been dominated by digital transformation—both in the way publishers produced their content, the methods used to copy it and the way we operated. Cheques and paper statements have been replaced by electronic payments and online portals, giving publishers swift and easy access to their collective licensing revenue and data.
PLS now looks very different to the Society that was founded in 1981. We have an extensive and highly professional team, infrastructure and governance and, since 2013, a new directing member—the Independent Publishers Guild We have launched new services including Access to Research and PLS Permissions,
and in 2017 we marked our expanding role by changing our name from Publishers’ Licensing Society to Publishers’ Licensing Services.
PLS currently distributes revenue of nearly £40m a year, and a record 4,000 publishers now trust us to handle their collective licensing. Since 1981 we have distributed more than half a billion pounds—money that goes straight to publishers’ bottom lines. The industry we work in has been transformed, and PLS has moved with the times. But we remain directed by publishers, for publishers, responsive to their needs and conscious of our responsibility. Collective licensing is a success story of which everyone in publishing should be proud, and PLS is delighted to be at the heart of it.
You can read much more about the creation and growth of PLS in a special history that was compiled to celebrate our 40th anniversary in 2021.