Imagine you have written and published a book, and you are starting to make a living from the royalties from this book, a goal you have been working towards for years. Now, imagine you’ve been told that not only will books published overseas take priority over Australian content, but that in fifteen years, you and all other Australian authors will lose not only their copyright, but right to royalties because the government deems fifteen years enough to make a living from your hard work, and that fair use, that is, someone’s right to use your words, your work in any way that they see fit – is more important than you and your family being able to live.
This is the reality that will face any Australian author if the government decides to repeal Parallel Import Restrictions, (PIRs) as recommended by the Productivity Commission. It would mean greater risk to Australian publishers, and greater risk at taking on Australian voices and authors – there would be no incentive for Australian authors to be promoted because the claims are, imported, foreign stories would make books cheaper and more accessible; when in fact, books in Australia are cheaper already.
Books Create is a driving force in trying to prevent this from happening, and have presented some facts about the book industry in Australia:
- With 7,000 new titles published annually, this creates $2 billion in revenue;
- When a publisher invests directly in an Australian author for non-educational purposes, this results in $120 million per annum, including promotion;
- 1,000 businesses engage in the publishing industry, employing over 4,000 people. These jobs could be at risk if PIRs are introduced, and this should be a concern to those who say we need to create more jobs;
- Book sellers and printers, and other book-related jobs employ a further 20,000 people;
- Australia has the 14th largest publishing industry in the world – just because we do not make the top ten should not mean our stories don’t get published;
- 300,000 Australians visit 100 literary festivals per year – this suggests that the desire for Australian authors and stories is high;
- Australia has the largest English-language independent bookseller market – again, more jobs that could potentially be lost;
- Average author income is $13,000 a year – not enough to live on;
- Unlike other industries, the publishing industry does not use government subsidies, nor is it protected by government tariffs; and
- EBooks only take up 20% of the market.
The arguments for these measures are purely economic, and based on the benefit of the many – being able to use an author’s work in any way someone desires, rather than someone being able to support themselves and not having to rely on other people or giving up on their dream and taking a job they don’t enjoy, or even taking their chances with an overseas publisher who may strip away the very essence of an Australian voice. It does not take into account the cultural implications either – where Australians – any Australians – white, Indigenous, immigrant or refugee – have their voices silenced in favour of foreign voices. I do not like the idea of not being able to read my favourite Pantera Press authors, or not being able to see if I can find an Indigenous story to read, or even just reading any book by any Australian author, even if it is set in a fantasy world or another time and place. It is still an Australian voice that deserves to be heard.
The fair use issue could be resolved by allowing educational institutions to use books for educational purposes. Fair use should not mean a free for all, where anyone can use and plagiarise an author’s work in any way they see fit. Fair use should mean that people can use the work for educational purposes but that the author must also have a say in any alterations or adaptations, especially if done during their life time. To take advantage of the hard work someone else has put into something and say “Sorry, I get to use your work any way I see fit to make money off and you can’t do anything about it,” is wrong. As an aspiring author, I have spent many years working on my writing. My fear with an open, free-for-all attitude to fair use and undermining copyright is not people studying the texts or wishing to be inspired by them or approaching me to make a film; it is the people who would try and profit off my hard work, or the hard work of any author via plagiarism and the original creator being unable to do anything to defend their work and livelihood.
On the issue of reducing copyright from seventy years after an author’s death to fifteen to twenty five years after publication, would you be happy to go up to someone who has built a house, is taking care of it, raising a family, and say to them: “You have had this house for fifteen years, your time is up. Another family needs this house, you need to move out?” No, because we recognise a house is a necessity. Similarly, the income an author receives from their books and backlists are necessary for them to live their lives without worrying if they can afford to eat that week.
There are many more issues that are involved with this and can be found at the Books Create website, or by doing a Google search of the issues and seeing what comes up from the Australian Society of Authors, or the Australian Publishing Association, or even the following blog posts by Alison Green, CEO of Pantera Press. We need to protect Australian stories and voices, and this cannot be done if we let the government silence us in the name of economics and fair use.
Below are some websites and links that expand on these ideas and help to explain them:
Books Create Australia: http://bookscreateaustralia.com.au #bookscreate
Australian Society of Authors: https://www.asauthors.org