Australia’s long fight over opening the book market to parallel imports may be finally coming to an end, but not one for which publishers and authors had hoped.
Monday, the Australian Productivity Commission, which oversees copyright in that country, issued a report supporting the government’s plans to overhaul laws governing commercial protection of creative work. The report states that “Australia’s copyright arrangements are skewed too far in favor of copyright owners to the detriment of consumers and intermediate users.” Among the key proposals supporting the government is the intention to end restrictions on parallel book imports before the end of 2017.
That change would open up the book market to direct competition from U.S. and U.K. publishers, allowing retailers to source and sell books from abroad. In addition, the report states that copyright protections on the creative work itself may be far too long, suggesting that protections be limited to as little as five years. It also advocated moving toward implementing “fair use” provisions similar to those in place in the United States.
Currently, under the Parallel Import Rules, booksellers cannot sell an imported title if an Australian publisher offers the same title on sale within 14 days of the international pub date.
Hundreds of authors, publishers, printers and others associated with Australia’s creative industries had expressed views opposing the news proposals. Predictably, yesterday’s news drew a flurry of negative comment.
Robert Gorman, publisher of Allen and Unwin said, “Local publishers directly invest A$120 million in Australian writers and the promotion of Australian stories each year. The Commission's recommendations would jeopardize that investment and risk returning Australian writing to the days when London and New York publishers decided what Australians read.”
Author Richard Flanagan was perhaps most colorful when he said, “The Productivity Commission is like a deranged hairdresser insisting their client wears a mullet wig.”
Most industry members believe the change to parallel imports will ultimately be to the exclusive benefit of online retailers with vast resources and access to broad international catalogs.
The Australian publishing industry is valued at approximately A$1.5 billion a year, publishes 10,000 titles and employs 20,000 people.