The UK’s thriving book industry is at risk of collapse if “disgraceful” post-Brexit changes to copyright rules, being considered by the government, go ahead.
An Independent investigation has found that proposals to tear up a Europe-wide regime could lead to the market being flooded by cheap imports, damaging the livelihoods of up-and-coming talent and cramping innovation.
The new system of ‘international exhaustion’ could cut as much as 64 per cent of revenue from books, with authors and illustrators potentially losing income totalling £506 million annually and job losses running into the tens of thousands.
Boris Johnson should understand the danger
Any Human Heart author William Boyd said that Boris Johnson “of all people” – as a published author – should understand the danger.
“The fact that the government of Great Britain – a nation whose artistic glory is its literature – may seek to undermine the conventions that guard copyright is both utterly disgraceful and almost beyond credence,” he said.
“This attempt to deny, or subvert, or water down these hard-fought-for rights of intellectual property must be adamantly opposed. It will be a covert licence for piracy and theft. Shame on any politician who advocates the opposite.”
Launching a consultation – due to conclude on Tuesday – into the replacement of the copyright system used by the UK under the EU, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said Brexit allowed the UK to devise a new regime as a “stand-alone sovereign nation”.
International exhaustion scheme
An international exhaustion scheme – similar to that operated by countries such as New Zealand – would allow the sale in British shops of identical books imported from overseas, potentially cutting prices for consumers, said Mr Kwarteng’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in a paper setting out the four options on the table.
At present, authors are able to sell territorial rights for their works, allowing different publishers to make them available in different parts of the world at prices tailored to local markets.
Ditching the copyright protection that allows publishers to sell books exclusively in the UK would allow internet-based retailers to flood the market with stock bought in bulk from countries such as India, where a large English-language readership buys books at a third of the price paid in Britain.
Stephen Lotinga, the chief executive of the Publishers’ Association, branded the proposals “deeply alarming”.
He told The Independent that they would force many UK publishers out of business and threaten the emergence of future Hilary Mantels and JK Rowlings as cash-strapped companies lose the ability to take a risk on developing new talent.
“This country is fortunate to have many of the world’s greatest literary talents producing books that entertain and inform readers across the globe,” said Mr Lotinga. “These measures would inevitably mean fewer books, produced by fewer authors, for fewer readers.
“The entire model rests on being able to invest in new voices. In the English-speaking market globally, we are largely competing with books from the US, and the British industry punches well above our weight.
“We are very concerned that this proposal would see the English-language business gravitate more towards the States, making it more difficult for writers from the UK to reach audiences.”