Monday, May 2, 2016

Will Australia's Book Industry Burn? I'm Not So Sure.

So, I'm going to talk with you about an issue here in Australia that has been brought back into the spotlight this week and it concerns possible changes to parallel import restrictions and copyright as they apply to the Australian publishing industry. Some argue that the changes will destroy the industry here.

It's a little more complicated than that.

A body here in Australia - The Productivity Commission - tabled a report recommending a relaxation of parallel import restrictions and a change to the length of time a copyright can be held by an individual writer. The Federal government noted in its response to the report that 'the removal of PIRs will ‘make local booksellers more competitive with international suppliers, promote lower prices for consumers and ensure the timely availability of titles’.

Also highlighted in the reform proposals was a relaxation of the time frame intellectual property right of an author could be asserted - meaning that, after 15 years, an author loses the intellectual right to their published work. It follows that, a previously published work - without the protection of its authors copyright - could then be taken up by anyone and the author can do nothing about it.

There are two distinct issues here.

I have a problem with the parallel import protections as they stand currently. I am an Australian author, writing Australian stories but I happen to have a Canadian publisher. Now, presently it is not easy (though not impossible) for me to bring my titles into Australia for sale in Australian bookstores. The costs are considerable.

(Comfortable in the club - author Tom Keneally. Image credit: Australian Financial Review/Paul Jones).

The way I see it, the current parallel import restrictions limit new and emerging Australian voices from having their stories published and distributed widely at the expense of more widely known authors and more established publishing houses here in Australia. As it stands now, parallel import restrictions favor the few at the expense of the many - which is why you see the likes of Peter Carey, Tom Keneally, Richard Flanagan and Mem Fox being so vocal in their opposition to these changes. Parallel Import Restrictions amount to a protection racket.

A relaxation of these parallel import restrictions would make it easier for Australian voices to be heard - not only here but overseas. They can pursue publishing agreements with global publishing houses and import their titles for sale here in Australia more economically than they can currently.

(Federal treasure Scott Morrison. Image credit - Sydney Morning Herald. photography: Tim Bauer).

Now, the copyright changes that are being touted are another matter entirely. It is frightening to me that our intellectual property rights are being placed on a chopping block by legislators who have no appreciation of the creative process of writing and the amount of dedication it requires for a writer to will a story into being. In 2012 article for the Sydney Morning Herald, Federal treasurer Scott Morrison remarked “I don’t read international fiction. I just don’t relate to it. I’m interested in our stories.” Scott Morrison has no insight - and therefore no right to contribute to the debate on copyright.

That my intellectual property right on my titles can be deemed null and void after 15 years is nothing short of horrifying. I have bled for my work. Toiled in isolation. Wrought Australian stories about Australian people into being and to be told that, after 15 years, those stories are no longer mine...

Parallel Import Restrictions and Intellectual Property Rights are a vexed issue when thrown in together. They have the potential to pit authors against authors in an industry that is already struggling just to be viable. Already there is a split in the in the industry on the way forward at time when unity and a common position needs to be adopted. A conversation about these issues separately needs to occur.

The Federal government intends to implement changes to these laws in August, 2016.


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