Fifield clarifies govt stance on life of copyright; PIR petition signatories ‘surge’
Communications and Arts Minister Mitch Fifield has released a statement clarifying that the federal government does not intend to reduce the life of copyright to 15 to 25 years after creation, following claims to this effect made by a number of prominent authors over the past week.
In the statement ‘Conjecture on copyright changes unfounded’, published on 24 May, Fifield said the claim regarding changes to the life of copyright is based on a finding rather than a recommendation in the Productivity Commission’s draft report into intellectual property arrangements. Fifield also clarified that the Productivity Commission’s final report, expected in August, ‘will be a report to government, not by government’, and that ‘it is important to note the Productivity Commission is an independent agency’.
The draft report also noted that Australia has no unilateral capacity to change copyright terms as it is a signatory to trade agreements that require the life of copyright be 70 years after the death of the author.
Authors including Richard Flanagan, Tom Keneally, Jackie French and Peter Frankopan have commented on the Productivity Commission’s findings on the reduction of the life of copyright in speeches and articles, and have also criticised the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to remove PIRs and introduce a Fair Use arrangement. The government has previously stated its support for removing PIRs.
Fifield’s statement comes after a group of book industry bodies launched the Books Create campaign at the ABIA awards ceremony in Sydney on 19 May. The campaign is advocating against three key points: ‘significantly reducing term of copyright’ from death plus 70 years to 15 to 25 years after publication; removing territorial copyright and lifting parallel import restrictions; and the move to a US-style Fair Use arrangement.
The Books Create campaign said Fifield’s clarification was an ‘outright rejection’ of the ‘recommendation to reduce the term of an author’s copyright to 15-25 years from creation’, and ‘calls into question why the Draft Report strayed so far beyond Australian law and international trade agreements’. ‘It also calls into question other recommendations in the report about US-style fair use and territorial copyright–which together underpin the economic model of the Australian book publishing industry,’ they said.
The Books Create campaign, which has the backing of the Australian Literary Agents’ Association, Australian Publishers Association (APA), Printing Industries Association of Australia and the Australian Society of Authors (ASA), is hosting a Change.org petition asking federal treasurer Scott Morrison to ‘save Australian literature’ by not repealing PIRs.
PIR debate continues
The ASA said ‘a surge followed in the wake of the launch’ of the Books Create campaign, with the number of signatories to the Change.org petition jumping from 5500 late last week to more than 9200.
Publishers have continued to make public statements against the commission’s recommendation to repeal PIRs. Scribe publisher Henry Rosenbloom is the latest to argue for the benefits of the existing PIR arrangements in a blog post on the Scribe website.
An APA document on the Books Create website quotes from a survey commissioned by the APA in March 2016 that ‘indicate[s] support by a large percentage of consumers for keeping PIRs in place’, with only 30% in favour of removing PIRs. The survey of 755 Australians found that ‘cost of living is the major national issue but angst about book prices is a very small factor, except for educational books’. It also found high public sentiment in favour of authors ‘especially when told how little the average Australian author earns’.
Industry groups including the APA, ASA and the Copyright Agency condemned the Productivity Commission’s draft report when it was released in late April. The commission is inviting submission on the draft report by 3 June. The final report is expected to be presented to the government in August.
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