November 08, 2016
Australia’s publishing industry produces some 7,000 titles a year, generates $2 billion in revenue, invests $120 million in Australian literature and employs 20,000 people across the industry. Upon the release of the Productivity Commission’s draft report into intellectual property arrangements, droves of my constituents in Wills—many of them authors, illustrators and industry stakeholders—contacted my office to voice concern over the commission’s recommendation to lift Australia’s parallel importation rules for books.
While the publishing industry does not rely on tariffs or subsidies, the rules around parallel importation, sometimes referred to as territorial copyright, provides a shield against the flood of cheap books produced overseas from drowning Australia’s local publishing operations. The existing territorial copyright rules contained in the Copyright Act 1968 provide that Australian retailers can only buy bulk copies of books from the publisher that holds the Australian rights to the title. However, if a title is not made available by a domestic publisher within 90 days of its publication overseas, it can be freely imported from an overseas publisher to service any consumer demand. Consumers and booksellers are free to purchase small quantities of books from overseas at any point. The restrictions only apply to commercial importation of books.
With these protections in place, the Australian publishing industry has become a strong contributor to our economy and has enabled the publication of acclaimed Australian literature which may have been overlooked in an otherwise overcrowded global market. The dismantling of Australia’s territorial copyright rules would certainly reduce the practice of Australian publishing houses purchasing international rights. The profits generated by that side of the publishing business is often invested in titles written by Australian authors. The lack of such revenue would certainly jeopardise the ongoing opportunity for Australian publishers to invest in local titles.
I think the most compelling argument here is that a removal of parallel importation rules would put Australia out of step with the rest of the world. Surely our authors, Australian authors, deserve the same level of copyright benefits enjoyed by their counterparts in the United States and the United Kingdom—protections that ensure that an author in Australia can muster a living for themselves by retaining the capability to licence their creative endeavours in both Australia and throughout the world. It is important that we are able to tell Australian stories. It is important that we have a fair go for our Aussie authors and illustrators.