COPYRIGHT LAW REVIEW
Mr PETER DRAPER
(Tamworth) [2.05 p.m.]: Following a request from the Council of Australian Governments, the Productivity Commission is currently reviewing Australia's copyright laws. This review has the Australian book industry rightfully fearful because if the draft recommendations are accepted, they have the potential to irreparably damage the market. The Australian Publishers Association, plus many high-profile Australian authors, illustrators, printers, educators and unions all hold grave concerns about the cultural and economic impact on Australia's authors and our book publishing and distribution industry should Australian copyright be surrendered.
Currently Australian authors and publishers operate under rules that restrict the parallel importation of books. The 30/90-day rule was a key amendment to the Copyright Act in 1991. It clearly defined an Australian copyright territory separate from the United States, Commonwealth and other territories into which English-language books are sold. At the same time, the 30/90-day rule established conditions for parallel importation, which guarantees Australian readers timely access to books. Under the "use-it-or-lose-it" principle, a book has to be published in Australia by the local publisher within 30 days of its release, in English, anywhere overseas, or a bookseller can freely import any other legal edition of that book. Similarly, once a book has been published in Australia, a publisher must supply a copy to a bookseller within 90 days of a request otherwise that publisher loses the exclusive copyright until the book is back in stock.
As a result, we are selling great books at home, and exporting our writers in unprecedented numbers. We have an excellent retail environment with a strong independent sector, complemented by a competitive printing industry that generates significant numbers of skilled jobs. There has never been a better time to be a writer or publisher in Australia, but all of that is under threat. Should copyright be deregulated, local publishing and printing would contract and hundreds of jobs in editing, illustration, design, marketing, distribution and printing would be lost. The cost of locally produced books would increase, while dumping overseas editions into Australia would see local publishers no longer able to take the same risks in fostering new Australian talent. It would compromise the motivation to sell rights of Australian authors overseas, and would lead to the erosion of our cultural uniqueness.
Australian children's books would be undercut and replaced by American editions, with references to "sidewalks", "diapers" and "Mom", while market power would be concentrated within the large chain booksellers and discount department stores, creating a blockbuster-only market in which the diversity of books available would be significantly reduced. We cannot afford to sacrifice the benefits that have accrued through copyright. Australians buy around 130 million books each year, with retail sales of between $1.7 billion and $2 billion a year. Over 300,000 different titles are sold in Australia each year, including over 14,000 new titles published locally, comprising 8,000 non-fiction, 1,200 fiction, 1,700 children's books, plus almost 3,000 educational, school and academic titles. Local books account for 60 per cent of the total numbers sold in Australia each year and publishers employ over 5,000 people. Export is active and successful, with over $220 million a year in export and foreign rights sales, and Australian authors enjoy territorial copyright in the same way that their peers do in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.
The Productivity Commission's interim report undermines the two major arguments put forward by Bob Carr and other vested interest groups in lobbying for change. Firstly, the commission admits it is unclear whether book prices are higher here than overseas. The price differentials fluctuate and the trend even reverses at times when exchange rates reverse. It also acknowledges that there are often many substitutes to titles published in Australia, and the market for any one title is not closed. Also, the commission rejects the argument put forward by Mr Carr and others about social impacts of cheaper books on literacy rates.
Having rejected the arguments and having conceded that both territorial copyright and the 30-day rule are too important to remove immediately, the interim report then makes recommendations that it acknowledges are short on back-up evidence. These recommendations are bizarre and unworkable, and they betray a profound lack of understanding about the publishing industry. All over the world the value of copyright is being strengthened. Witness its extension from life-plus-50 years to life-plus-70 years, as well as the strong territorial copyright regimes of the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. However, in Australia, a government agency is proposing to gut copyright to a mere 12 months, to export skilled knowledge economy jobs overseas, and to prevent our exports in this industry. Currently we have the best mix of book retailers in the world, with the right balance between chains and independents.
Having spent over 16 years of my life in Australian book publishing, and as somebody who highly values the local publishing industry, I strongly urge the New South Wales Government, through the Council of Australian Governments, to ensure that Australian readers and the local book industry are not sold down the drain through ill-conceived changes to copyright legislation. Bob Carr has been wrong on many things in the past, but I think that he is the most wrong on this thing. Please protect this industry.