mark_seymour3In today’s Age former head Hunter & Collector, Mark Seymour, has written a scathing indictment of the commercially driven lobby to remove Australian literary copyright, a lobby being fronted by ex-NSW Premier Bob Carr. Just to remind ourselves, this group of mega-chains, including Dymocks (Carr is a board member), Woolworths, Coles, K-Mart, Big W and Target, is slyly called: the Coalition for Cheaper Books. (See the Tim Winton post on this.)

Seymour knows whereof he speaks – he draws the parallel with the music industry which Carr & Co keep citing. In 1996 John Howard pushed through deregulation of the music industry and removed local copyright. As Seymour notes, ‘the Australian music industry is in deep trouble. It has halved in size in the past five to seven years’ and the fall in CD prices is ‘a result of digital downloading and copying — it has nothing to do with the removal of import regulations’. Meanwhile, clever US and Britain have kept their copyright laws in place. What do they know that we still refuse to?

Seymour: ‘Like the publishing industry, the music industry is a complex chain of commercial interests all inextricably linked by small margins. Carr’s glib observations about how the Australian music industry has flourished despite reform are — to use his language — “absolute rubbish”.

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‘The truth is the Productivity Commission’s drive for market reform in bookselling has been hijacked by the coalition of giant retailers. If the giant retailers are allowed to import books as soon as they become available from overseas then they will simply demand discounts for the same titles from local publishers or buy overseas. And there will be no legal compulsion to pass the savings on to the consumer.’

JC wept. We blew up our music industry, hurray! Now, let’s blow up our book industry! And, crazily, with our governments – Liberal or Labor –  it’s not even about commercial rationality, it’s the ideology: “the free market”. A free market which, let’s be absolutely clear, does NOT include the US and Britain. In music or books.

To quote Tim Winton: ‘The single most important factor in decolonising Australian letters has been the advent and gradual acceptance of ANZ rights…territorial copyright. It’s not unique to Australia – every American and British writer enjoys it in their home country and after generations of sacrifice and struggle, Australians now have it it too.’

And so we – our elected representatives – want to give it away. Hey Big Inc., Big International, yoohoo! Over here – I’m the one lying down with my jeans hitched up. Come and get me.

Stupid country. Or what?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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