Senior Journalist

November 23, 2021 (Updated )

You might have heard the term ‘ALCS’ being brandished around in journalist circles – often accompanied by murmurs about “free money” for stories you’ve already written and been paid for. It might sound too good to be true – but we’re here to tell you that it’s absolutely real and really does work.

Founded in 1977 by a group of journalists and writers, ALCS is the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society – a membership-run organisation that seeks to pay writers a fee for any written work that has been used or copied by a secondary publication. It might sound uncommon, but it happens more often than you think.

We’ll run through how it works in a bit – but the good news is you don’t need to understand the mechanics. ALCS is run by well-established writers who understand the industry, and the non-profit organisation works on your behalf to track down when your work is used or copied outside of its original setting and pass the fee onto you.

The only two main caveats are that you have written the piece as a freelancer to claim, and your work must have been published in a magazine or journal that has a valid ISSN – but pretty much every printed magazine will have one.

'I Spent An Hour Uploading My Work And Was Rewarded With £500'

“I saw ALCS mentioned in the ‘No.1 Freelance Media Women Facebook Group‘ and stumbling across the post made my lockdown once I reaped the rewards!

I still don’t understand how or why I am owed the money but with freelance rates so low, this supplementary money makes a world of a difference. I spent an hour uploading all of my work and was rewarded with around £500.

“Boringly, it went straight on bills but this year’s payout is timed nicely with my holiday… As a new freelancer with not a huge load of magazine bylines, I was thrilled with the amount I received.”

Rachel Hagan

Reuse And Copying Is More Common Than You Think

For many of us commissioned to write a piece, we are agreeing for it to be published in a specific title. This might be in the form of a printed article, online copy, book, or script. Sometimes, we may even offer ‘second rights’ to another title, a certain number of weeks after the original has been published – and see our work published once again to suit another readership. But, in both of these cases we have agreed the specific titles and fee.

While we might be paid for those commissions, what we don’t always think about is that our work is now available in the public domain – and can be replicated or reused throughout the world. While we’d like to think anyone copying our work would be professional enough to ask permission, this isn’t always the case.

This is where ALCS comes in. Their work “involves situations where a third party uses a work that’s already been distributed to the public – such as when schools photocopy books they own, or libraries lend books, or overseas TV companies retransmit UK TV signals.”

You might not even realise your work has been used again, and it’s a much more common occurrence than you think, especially in our global, online world. This year alone, ALCS say they’ve paid out £36.8 million to writers. The good news is there’s no need for additional invoice chasing either – they’ll do all the chasing for you, to see where your work has ended up and how it’s been used. Essentially, if you write for money you should strongly consider becoming a member of ALCS.

ALCS say that “members often proclaim that we give them “free money”. While this sounds like a dream come true, it’s not accurate.” Rather, the organisation points out, “the money we pay out is money you are owed as a writer for uses of your works – uses are things like photocopying and scanning and digital reuse. It’s money that you can’t keep track of but we can. However, you have to be a member to get paid! Sign up to ALCS and keep your account up to date with your latest works – that way, when our distribution dates come around, you’ll have done everything you need to ensure you receive what you are owed.”


How Does ALCS Actually Work?

ALCS collects royalties due to UK works from around the world, and then matches the money received with writers. For a one-off fee of £36, you get lifetime membership to this society – meaning if you regularly write for work, you can always put in a claim without any more fees.

Once registered, you can add any articles, books and scripts you have written to your online account. This is applicable for writers, editors, translators, adaptors and tonnes of other jobs within the writing industry. If you write for magazines or journals – in either print or online – you can claim for articles dating back up to three years.

The easiest way to ensure you don’t miss a payment, is to keep track of your commissions as normal and then add them to your online ALCS account on a monthly basis. Each article you submit, if authorised, will be counted as a claim. They’ll then track down if it’s been used and if you’re due cash – they take a small percentage of the total fee due for their service (currently 9.5%) but it’s money you’d have never have seen otherwise.

'I Use My Payouts To Treat Myself, I See It As A Nice Bonus'

“I first registered on ALCS around 2007 after some journalist I know urged me to. Then I published a book in 2009 and registered that on ALCS. That, plus a bit of feature writing for magazines, meant a payout of £400 to £500 a year.

“I don’t write much now and it’s mostly online, which ALCS can’t pay for, but my book still earns me around £150 a year. I teach basic business skills to freelance journalist once or twice a year, mainly for the NUJ, and I always tell them to register – it’s free money!

“I use my payouts to treat myself (mostly tickets for tennis championships), so I see it as a nice bonus on top of what I invoice for.”

Louise Bolotin, Freelance Sub-Editor

The fee paid for secondary use is the same whether the article appeared in print or online, and you can only claim once per article. Freelancers can claim for every article they write, unless the publication has specifically changed their licensing agreement from the Publishers’ Licensing Services (PLS) to the Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) – the latter of which will not pay ALCS for secondary rights. A full list of excluded publishers are available.

As well as journalists, ALCS pays authors and those who have made a visual contribution to a book, magazine or journal can also claim. Book manuscripts are considered regardless of when they were published (there is no time limit, as there is with articles). The book could have been published in any country, as long as it carries an ISBN. Chapters, essays, short stories or poems that have been published in an anthology, with an ISBN, also count. Additionally, if you have been credited in written contribution to a TV or radio work, produced in the UK, you can also qualify.

The most important thing to remember is to register all the work you have produced through your online account. It’s the guaranteed way to receive any extra income due for that work.

Where Do The ALCS Fees Come From?

ALCS claims payments from people who have reused your work without permission. To get technical – if this includes the photocopying, scanning and digital reuse of electronic and online publications, the income is from licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA), originally set up by ALCS. and the Publishers’ Licensing Services (PLS) to license reproduction rights on behalf of its member organisations. The purpose of the CLA, especially, is to ensure all writers are paid fairly when their works are reused.

The second main source of income is from the overseas Public Lending Right (PLR) schemes, which are generally able to pay authors when libraries lend out their books. Smaller sources come from small literary rights – when extracts are read overseas on radio or TV or through the rental of audiobooks – or when works are adapted into scripts.

Journo Resources

When Are ALCS Payments Made?

When you sign-up to ALCS, you’ll also register your bank account details – making the process easy and efficient when it comes to receiving payments. Fees are paid out in March and September each year.

This bi-annual approach gives the ALCS team time to apply for and verify the fees owed to their 113,000 members, and then process each payment due to appear in your bank account.

Most fees – particularly for work that appears in magazines and journals – are paid in March. For this reason, you are asked to submit your claims for processing, at the latest, by November 30 each year.

The only deductions that will be made, is if you are a tax resident outside of the UK – if this is the case, UK withholding tax is deducted. However, this isn’t a straight calculation of 20% of your payment. Rather, it depends on which countries that ALCS collected royalties from.

Find out more details about the scheme and register for ALCS

Karen Edwards
Karen Edwards

Karen Edwards is the senior journalist at Journo Resources.

She focuses on practical, advice-led pieces on various sectors across the industry – feel free to get in touch with her if you have suggestions on what we should cover!

Outside of Journo Resources, Karen writes for print titles such as High Life by British Airways, Grazia and Metro, alongside digital platforms, including IndyVoices and Telegraph Travel.