I’m taking a moment away from the usual brand of shenanigans and tomfoolery that plagues the pages of this blog to talk about a threat to the Australian publishing industry and Australian authors. This is a long post, but if you’re a reader of Australian fiction, you should seriously read on. There will be cake at the end.*
You may be aware that the Australian Federal Government is looking to change existing copyright laws in a way that will be deeply damaging to the Australian book industry, particularly to creators (like yours truly) and publishers.
The Turnbull Government has stated its intention to remove the Parallel Importation Rules (PIRs) that currently exist to protect Australian territorial copyright. These rules were put in place to ensure that if an Australian publisher holds the rights to a book – whether from a local or overseas author – then they have the exclusive ability to publish that title in Australia.
Under these rules, an individual reader can still order a book from anywhere in the world, because yay Freedom of Choice. But commercial quantities can’t be imported into Australia without the permission of the Australian publisher. Similar laws exist in the US and the UK. This system has created a viable Australian publishing industry, and allowed Australian authors to do important things like Pay Their Mortgage and, you know, Not Starve to Death. Removing Parallel Importation Rules will allow overseas editions or remainder copies (editions that failed to sell in their own markets) to flood the Aus market, with substantially reduced royalties being paid to authors, and with sales revenues going to overseas wholesalers and publishers, rather than Australian publishers. The Federal Government hopes that removing PIRs will mean cheaper books for readers, but they have little evidence to suggest the move will actually result in market-wide lower prices. However, it will have a huge impact in reducing the size of the Australian publishing industry, and thus the number of books published in Australia.
With me so far? It gets worse.
The recent Productivity Commission draft report into Intellectual Property Arrangements (released in late April 2016 and prepared at the instigation of former treasurer Joe Hockey, who remember, JUST GOT FIRED BY HIS OWN PARTY) endorses the removal of PIRs, but it also goes further into the hellish depths of stupid. The report proposes substantially reducing an author’s term of copyright, and increasing the amount of copyright material that can be used by others without payment or permission.
Basically, the government is looking to limit copyright ownership of any literary work to extend only as far as fifteen years. After that, your work isn’t yours anymore and people can reproduce and sell it with impunity. Doesn’t matter who you are. Doesn’t matter what you created. People can just steal your shit. Hey, Mr Marcus Zusak, you know that Book Thief novel you wrote back in 2005? Well, we hope you enjoyed making money from it, because as of 2020, it doesn’t belong to you. Dear Mr Tim Winton, you thought you owned your masterpiece Cloudstreet, right? Do we have news for you! Yeah yeah, you fucking wrote it. But take a seat Mr Smarty Art man. All ur books R belong 2 us.
No, Jay. It sounds like fucking madness. Now what can I do about this?
I’m glad you asked.
First up, you should TALK ABOUT IT. Spread the word on your social media channels. Raise the debate. Have a look at the campaign website: http://bookscreateaustralia.com.au/, and arm yourself with knowledge. Understand the fragility of the Australian publishing industry and what the long term ramifications will be if our government adopts a doctrine no other country/economy in the Western world is stupid enough to espouse.
Then, you should sign the petition: https://www.change.org/p/scott-morrison-save-australian-literature-stop-parallel-importation-of-books. If you can spare it, donate some money to the cause.
And finally, when that big old Federal Election rolls around in a couple of months, think long and hard about who and WHAT you’re voting for.
That’s it. Thanks for reading.
*The Cake was a lie.