UK authors, illustrators protest mooted copyright changes
In the UK, over 2600 authors and illustrators have signed an open letter to protest the government’s reconsideration of copyright and trade laws, reports Publishing Perspectives.
The letter comes after publishing industry organisations launched the Save our Books campaign in June, protesting the mooted changes to copyright laws which they claim would lead to a flood of cheap copies of UK books coming back into the home market.
Signatories to the letter, which was published as an open letter to the editor in the Sunday Times, include Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, Philip Pullman, Maggie O’Farrell and Bernardine Evaristo.
‘The Intellectual Property Office is currently consulting on the UK’s future exhaustion regime,’ the letter reads. ‘If they decide to introduce an international exhaustion framework, authors will be unable to limit foreign editions of their books being sold into the UK—undercutting their domestic sales.’
In a statement, Publishers Association CEO Stephen Lotinga said the letter ‘is a clear and urgent call from authors to avoid an outcome that weakens our copyright laws’.
‘Britain is a world leader in publishing and currently exports more books than any other country in the world,’ said Lotinga. ‘The wrong outcome would jeopardize the whole books industry and vandalize the UK’s cultural landscape. It would mean fewer books, by fewer authors, for fewer readers.’
Prior to Brexit, the UK fell under the EU’s copyright agreement, meaning books could be sold freely in Europe but not reimported to the domestic market. The Intellectual Property Office has since launched a consultation ‘which considers a weakening of copyright rules crucial for exporting books around the world and ensuring that UK authors benefit financially from the sales’. Author royalties on export sales are much lower than in the UK market, so if authors can’t prevent their copies from around the world being sold back into the UK, export sales risk eroding domestic sales.
Link to the rest at Books+Publishing
Save Our Books campaign launches – June 2021
From the Publishers Association:
An alliance of organisations has launched the Save Our Books campaign in the face of a potentially devastating change to the UK’s copyright laws which could result in fewer books, by fewer authors, for fewer readers.
Save Our Books is a joint campaign from the Publishers Association, the Society of Authors, the Association of Authors’ Agents and the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society.
The government is reconsidering the UK’s approach to copyright and trade following Brexit. The Intellectual Property Office launched a consultation today (Monday 7th June 2021) which considers a weakening of copyright rules crucial for exporting books around the world and ensuring UK authors benefit financially from those sales.
Changing the way these rules, known as ‘copyright exhaustion’, work would present serious dangers for the health of the books industry, including:
- Significantly impacting authors’ livelihoods. Author royalties on export sales are much lower than what authors can earn from UK sales of books published for the UK market. If authors cannot prevent their copies from around the world being sold back into the UK, then an export sale risks eroding the corresponding domestic sale. Approximately two-thirds of authors’ incomes could be at risk on the sale of a book in this scenario. This would threaten the sustainability and diversity of UK authorship.
- Destroying creative export markets. The potential loss of up to 25% of the UK publishing industry’s revenue – almost £1bn – which would harm investment and could lead to publishing job losses.
- Damaging the already suffering British high street and further supporting online retail giants.
For the continued success of the publishing industry, the UK must ensure authors and publishers have control over the resale of their global products. The government must avoid an ‘international exhaustion framework’ and find a solution that allows UK authors and publishers to ensure different markets can access versions of a book best suited to their needs.
Link to the rest at Publishers Association
A bit more explanation in the event some visitors to TPV aren’t certain what this is all about.
- In the US (and many other countries), the author of a book (or creator of a painting, etc.) may, under copyright law, prevent anyone from making, printing, selling, etc., the book without the author’s permission.
- If the author publishes a printed book, either directly or through a publisher, and offers it for sale, the author receives some or all of the price a reader pays to purchase the book. This is the “First Sale” of the book.
- Under US law, after the First Sale of the physical book, the purchaser can do whatever he/she wants with that physical copy, including reselling it as a used book, to anyone else without any obligation to make any further royalty payment to the author.
- The term, “copyright exhaustion” is used to describe this limited right to control/be compensated for the first sale of the book. Under copyright law author has no further control over or right to receive payment from future sales of that copy of the book. This doesn’t mean that someone who purchases a physical book can make copies of the book to resell or anything like that. The author’s copyright is “exhausted” only for that particular copy of the book.
- Thus, when a used bookstore resells a physical book that has been sold or given to the store, neither the author or the publisher receives any additional payment for this “second sale”.
(Note: Ebooks are licensed, not sold. The license agreement could effectively control this sort of problem for ebooks without all the issues involved with printed books. Most ebook, software, etc., licenses prohibit transfer, resale, etc.)
Based upon the two articles PG has read concerning the problem described in the OP, the problem seems to be that, if proposed changes are made in British copyright law, new physical British books sold to buyers other countries (European) could then be sent back to Britain as new books and sold without the author receiving the much higher royalties he/she would normally receive from the sale of a new physical book in Britain.
As a hypothetical example, a shipload of new books could be sent across the English Channel to France to a French buyer (generating a much smaller export royalty for the author), then sent right back to Britain and sold as new books (boxes never opened, in exactly the same condition they were when they left the printer) without the author receiving the much higher royalties that would have resulted if the publisher had sold the books to British book distributors and British bookstores before the round-trip to France and back.
(PG notes that the previous paragraph definitely qualifies as a run-on sentence for which one of PG’s beloved elementary school teachers, Mrs. Lascelles, would have lowered PG’s grade.)