Between Two Worlds: Australian Publishing on the Horns of an Import Dilemma
This article looks at the consequences of the 1991 amendment to the Australian Copyright Act, which meant that, for the copyright owner or authorised distributor to attain the right to control imports, it had to make the book available in Australia within 30 days of first publication overseas; and, to retain that right, it had to notify the retailer within 7 days of receiving an order whether it could be fulfilled within 90 days, and then in fact do so (http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/num_act/caa1991213. Accessed 28 June 2008). The article discusses the background to that change, what has happened since and what arguments are marshalled by those in favour of the status quo (restrictions that must be qualified for), and those in favour of a completely open market. The arguments used say much about the current preoccupations of those in Australian publishing. The debate around whether booksellers should be free to import copies of a new book from any supplier willing to sell them boils down to four issues: the availability in Australia of books published overseas; the price of books in Australia; the preservation of Australian publishing; and the protection of the rights of copyright holders. Those in favour of the open market believe that it would improve the first two without diminishing the latter two; those who support the status quo, that changing would bring no substantial benefits, and hurt both publishing and the rights of copyright holders. In summary, the reasons for maintaining the status quo are that things work fine as they are; that Australian literature (authors, bookshops, publishers) would suffer if things changed; and that the publisher is entitled to protect its investment through territorial control of copyright. The reasons for going to a completely open market are that only an open market can determine market price; that booksellers are unfairly disadvantaged competing against online sellers, on whom parallel importing restrictions are effectively not imposed; that copyright holders lose their rights when they sell something, and shouldn’t get a secondary chance to protect their investment; there is already a de facto open market, which unfairly restricts those who obey the law; there is a narrow window of opportunity for selling a book, which the current restrictions don’t serve; and the current situation is a poor compromise that doesn’t achieve the benefits of the open market.
KeywordsAustralia Bookselling Copyright Parallel importing Publishing
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