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PLS Conference 2023


July 5th, 2023 marked the first ever all-day conference run by Publishers' Licensing Services (PLS). Attended by nearly 200 delegates from across the publishing industry, the success of this year’s conference means that PLS Conferences looks set to become a staple in the industry calendar.

Throughout the day, 10 exhibitors made up a hub for networking. Exhibitors included: Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP); Book Industry Study Group (BISG); Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA); EDItEUR; Independent Publishers Guild (IPG); International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI); NLA Media; Publishers Association; Professional Publishers Association (PPA).  


Sarah opening speech

Chief Executive, Sarah Faulder, opened the Conference with a brief overview of the work of PLS during the year, including the distribution to publishers of almost £42m to their bottom lines. There followed a series of workshops by PLS, CLA and NLA. For PLS these included an Introduction to Collective Licensing by Publisher Relations Executive, Francesca Wallis, a Guide to Practical Permissions by PLS’s Head of Rights and Permissions, Amy Ellis, and a session led by Clare Hodder of RightsZone explaining how to optimise rights and permissions strategies to become more profitable and efficient. CLA’s Head of Rightsholder Relations, James Bennett, updated publishers on Education Licensing, Business and Government Licensing and International Licensing. Throughout the morning both PLS and NLA offered one-to-one account service surgeries.

There followed five plenary panel sessions showcasing a vast and diverse range of activity across the entire publishing industry.


Sustainability panel

The Sustainability Panel was chaired by PLS Chair, Rosie Glazebrook, with panellists Helen Griggs, Global Director Environment, Procurement & Supply at Cambridge University Press & Assessment; Courtney Ward, Sustainable Production Manager at Penguin Random House and Stuart Debar, Founder of SRL Publishing Some of the tips from the panel were to focus on what you can control, be prepared to be uncomfortable and, if you don’t know where to start, to ask for help from other publishers. A key take away was the fact that you can be both sustainable and profitable as a publisher, albeit a little less profitable.  


Rights panel

On the Raising the Profile of Rights panel, Amy Ellis was joined by rights experts Kris Kliemann, Chair of BISG Rights Committee; Rebecca Folland, Group Rights Director at Hachette UK; Katy Conover, Library Manager at Hearst UK; and Rebecca Cook, Associate Director, Copyright, Reprints and Permissions at Wiley. Issues discussed included the value of rights to the industry not only in terms of profitability but also in terms of leveraging further exposure of content and authors. Key challenges noted included extending rights training beyond traditional rights roles and a lack ofcollaboration and knowledge sharing.


James Bennett then chaired the CLA Customer Panel: The User Perspective of Licensing, with Alex Fenlon, Head of Copyright and Licensing, University of Birmingham, Kate Vasili, Copyright Officer at Middlesex University and Steve Bowman Medical School Librarian and Technology-Enhanced-Learning Lead at Sussex Health Knowledge and Libraries. Amongst the issues addressed by the HE panellists were copyright negotiation and maintenance in higher education, the practicalities of creating accessible texts and the impact of student loan changes. The audience was given a glimpse of the University of Birmingham’s Strategy 2030 to show what a modern research intensive university will look like. Bowman looked at the workings of the NHS licence with the benefit of his previous experience in HE and he also addressed the impact of Open Access on the CLA NHS and HE Licences.


CEO panel

The trade association CEOs then gave their insights into their respective sectors of the publishing industry on a panel chaired by Sarah Faulder. She was joined by Publishers Association's Dan Conway, Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers’ Wayne Sime, Independent Publishers Guild’s Bridget Shine and Professional Publishers Association’s Sajeeda Merali. They gave a generally positive report on sales and the health of the industry. Each had been very preoccupied with working with their members to address the threats to copyright posed by Artificial Intelligence and to tackle climate change, listing a number of initiatives.  All agreed that sustainability remained a priority and that sector collaboration is absolutely critical.  Dan Conway noted that the competition authority's forecast changes would make sharing best practice easier. All were encouraging new talent in a variety of ways ranging from mentoring, training and, in the case of the PPA, a new under 30’s advisory board.


Policy panel

PLS’ Policy and Communications Manager, Will Crook, chaired a panel on recent policy developments in Westminster, featuring Saskia Perriard-Abdoh of the British Copyright Council and Dan Guthrie of the Alliance for IP. The panel discussed the creative industries’ united response to the government’s previous decision to introduce a wide copyright exception for text and data mining, as well as how recent roundtable meetings between rightsholders and AI firms, intended to create a voluntary code of practice for the use of copyright protected material in AI, had shown big differences between the two groups and that some AI firms did not believe they had to obtain licences to copy content.


Keynote speaker

The Conference concluded with Dominic Young’s keynote speech looking at what AI Means to Publishers, leaving attendees with much to discuss as the post-conference drinks went on. Young spoke on the ethical and practical implications of AI for publishing and the other creative industries, pointing out that even the vocabulary around data mining devalues the craft and inherent worth of published works. We’re now in a position where creative industries must insist: “you can’t copy our stuff without permission […] permission is a good thing". In terms of policy and best practice efforts should be made to manage permissions effectively in a way which respects the rights holders, especially when AI cannot unlearn what it's learnt.


You can view recordings of the afternoon's panels here: