"We don't understand the consequences of AI with regards to copyright," Brazil's Karine Gonçalves Pansa, president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), said, when asked to name the most important issues facing publishing publishing right now. "We can say, very easily, that our content is being used, without permission, and without license, by AI."

The book business's complicated relationship with new artificial intelligence tools—especially large language models—has been front and center at this year's London Book Fair. That was certainly the case at a Tuesday panel, "Exploring the Ever-Evolving World of Publishing: Global Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities," that brought together the heads of the IPA, Federation of European Publishers (FEP), Association of American Publishers (AAP), African Publishers Network (APN), to discuss the biggest issues facing the publishing today.

Italy's Ricardo Franco Levi, president of the FEP, said that he believe that Europe is leading the way in terms of combating some of the most troubling issues surrounding AI and copyright. In newly adopting the AI Act, on March 13, Levi said, Europe is ensuring that "all AI users and producers will have to respect the European Copyright Directive"—a sweeping and controversial copyright reform bill passed in 2019—"wherever they train AI, so European copyright rules will be in place for everyone. And secondly, they must make transparent the sources on which they are training the AI. I do believe," Franco added, "that they will set the standard for the world business in publishing."

How exactly this new law will be enforced, Levi conceded, "will be in question."

Also in question, argued incoming AAP board chair Youngsuk “YS” Chi, is how "those involved in the publishing industry, from authors to agents and publishers to editors and all the way to the readers, stay relevant—that we don't get bulldozed over by firms have something shiny that hasn't been tested for its ethical values as well as its economic values." That means, Chi explained, continuing to fiercely champion "a framework that protects creativity through copyright, but also innovation."

Publishing, Chi noted, brings something to the table that new AI models, social media, and the internet writ large do not: trust. "Those of us involved in publishing add trust to the material that people access, and there is no value being granted for that by those who simply want volume and not quality." He continued: "For centuries, the issue has been about being able to get access to be able to read. Suddenly, we have enormous amounts of access. And during that process, we've forgotten that the things that we wanted to access were trusted. So we think that everything we get is also trustworthy—until we get burned."

For centuries, the issue has been about being able to get access to be able to read. Suddenly, we have enormous amounts of access. And during that process, we've forgotten that the things that we wanted to access were trusted.

Speaking to the idea of trust, Gonçalves Pansa implicitly contrasted book publishers with the tech companies producing these new AI tools. "As publishers, sometimes we don't trust ourselves, so we don't talk about ourselves, and we need to value the content that we do," she said. "We need to believe that the content that we curate is valuable. It is important to the public that we're delivering the book." She added: "We need to give more credit to our profession and the things that we deliver to the public."

APN president Lawrence Njagi—who joined the group late, remotely from Kenya, after struggling with internet access—agreed that trust is a major concern for the business today, specifically as access to publishing technology becomes more widespread. "We have no problem with self-published authors," he said. "Our biggest challenge, especially in Africa, is a question of quality, a question of accuracy." As such, "we are approaching AI with gloves on our hands," he said. "The fact of the matter is, we cannot trust the quality of the material. And maybe the question we should be asking ourselves as publishers is, how can we come in to assist."

Publishers, Levi noted, are "rightly, now, I would say, in the defensive" about new technologies, but stressed that, despite the challenges, "we must look forward" and embrace innovation. But also, he added, "let us not forget for every one of us here that there is another important issue, and it is freedom to publish."

Globally, the issue remains significant, Levi explained, citing, as an example, Belarus, where "publishers are forbidden to publish in the national language," and only allowed to publish in Russian. In Venezuela, panel moderator Ed Nawotka, senior international and bookselling editor at Publishers Weekly, noted, censorship of a subtler sort is taking place: companies, he said, "cannot get ahold of ink or paper" because, as Gonçalves Pansa explained, a series of taxes have made them "too expensive to buy." She added: "Copyright and freedom to publish are the most important thing. They are the base of publishing content."

In closing, Chi asked the audience to "think about the fact that we talk about publishing as if we are some kind of a uniform entity. Even within our own publishing community, there are three distinct segments," he reminded listeners—educational, professional, and trade publishing—"that behave extremely differently." Still, he said, "there is one passion, and that is what the Latin word publicare means...to make it public. We all believe it, but we disseminate for different audiences, in different ways, through different means. So please, go out there and tell the world: publishing is not monotonous."