In his short keynote speech at the 2016 International Publishers Congress in London, Hachette CEO Arnaud Nourry opened on an optimistic note.
“Books have proven, again, their staying power in the face of the social, economic and technological transformations that have affected the world since books were invented 560 years ago,” he said, adding that publishers are the only media industry “to have successfully ridden the first digital wave.”
But Nourry also acknowledged “serious clouds on the horizon,” and “threats that will have to be dealt with.” First and foremost among those threats: what Nourry called the European Commission’s “senseless attack” on copyright.
“Vast exceptions to copyright law for libraries, for education, for fair use—think of the devastating consequences they would have on European publishers if they were allowed to pass,” Nourry said. “It is as if the Commission had made it a priority to weaken the only European cultural industry that has achieved worldwide leadership.”
Nourry assailed tech industries that are “building audiences or e-retailing capacity by using our catalogs and front lists as loss-making, free products.” And he suggested that Google was the “player the most likely to pose a clear and present danger to our industry,” because of its effort to scan library books.
“If the European Commission caves in to the demands of their proxies, what’s to stop them from defining themselves as a library and making all those books available for free on a non-profit basis?” He asked. “They could claim their profit derives from advertising, not from charging browsers an access fee. And who’s to stop them if the European Commission, no less, has given them its blessing?”
Notably, In 2009, a French court sided with publisher La Martinière, finding that Google's scanning had violated French copyright law, and in 2012 publishers in France settled with Google. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Google has prevailed, as the courts have found that their scanning is protected by fair use. A suit filed by the Authors Guild in 2005 is now on its last appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Nourry concluded that “defeating the European Commission’s plans must be the number one priority for the IPA,” recalling that the IPA as an institution was founded to enforce international copyright laws. “Copyright protection,” he stressed, “is the IPA’s core mission.”
Nourry then turned his attention to “freedom to publish,” and questioned the IPA’s decision to admit China as a member last year, noting “some disturbing developments” in recent months.
Nourry specifically called out IPA president Richard Charkin for his support of China’s membership.
“Richard, I hope you knew what you were doing when you supported the Publishers Association of China’s application to become members of the IPA in Frankfurt last year. It was a generous and optimistic initiative,” he said. “I just hope we’ll still be comfortable with it in the months and years to come.”
In a short Q&A period, there was a tense moment, as a member of the Chinese delegation chided Nourry for his comments.
Nourry responded that China’s IPA membership "was great news, because we all within the IPA share the same values, the freedom to publish and the freedom to express opinions, and I take it as a great sign that China wanted to be a member of the IPA."
The 31st International Publishers Congress runs from April 9-12 at the Olympia in London, preceding the London Book Fair, which kicks off on Tuesday, April 12.