Novelist Joanna Trollope has warned that Theresa May's government will "fatally undermine the whole UK publishing industry" if it fails to protect in law the UK position on exhaustion rights ahead of a major Brexit vote next week.
Trollope joined fellow authors Linda Grant and Joanne Harris to urge the government to ensure the UK’s reputation as a world leader in culture and creativity is preserved after Brexit.
The authors were speaking out in support of calls from the Society of Authors (SoA), published in a new briefing, that politicians must protect free movement, copyright and trade while warning the sector is "not to be used as a bargaining chip in future negotiations".
A Brexit briefing just published by the SoA, entitled "No Bargaining Chip", shared key areas of concern relating to copyright, free movement, access to funding, trade and exhaustion of intellectual property rights.
The SoA, like the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society and the All Party Writers Group, urged the government adopt a ‘national exhaustion’ of rights framework after exiting the EU and called on the Government to "axe the reading tax at the earliest available opportunity".
In respect to the importance of copyright and exhaustion of rights, Trollope said it was "crucial" the UK's high standards on creative copyright are maintained after Brexit and "not diluted as part of future trade deals or used as some kind of bargaining chip".
"We need to enshrine our own gold standards, as well as obliging publishers to provide authors with accounting information, into UK law well before we leave," she continued. "We also need the Government to protect in law the UK position on the exhaustion of rights. Failure to do this could fatally undermine the whole UK publishing industry."
Chocolat author and SoA committee member Joanne Harris stressed there was no place for complacency when it comes to securing the UK creative industries' current and future status on the world stage.
"The British are world leaders when it comes to creativity. And the EU is the publishing industry's most important market for physical books, currently accounting for 36% of all our book exports. But we can't afford to be complacent," said Harris. "We can't just assume that our creative industries will have the same importance if we lose our easy access to European markets. We need to be able to trade easily with Europe and the rest of the world. We need customs arrangements in place that allow us to move goods swiftly and efficiently. Otherwise we risk becoming increasingly marginalised, with disastrous results for the publishing industry, and the creative arts as a whole."
The SoA said it is "vital" that the UK's current copyright standards are "not watered down or used as bargaining chips as part of future trade negotiations", arguing "such a move would be highly detrimental to the success of our creative industries".
It stressed the importance of maintaining access to European markets after Brexit with "a smooth customs arrangement for goods".
And, with respect to freedom of movement, it has demanded "adequate exemptions" be made for writers and other workers in the creative industries "where salary level is not an appropriate measure of skill or wider contribution to the UK’s social and economic life", recommending a visa system for freelancers as part of this.
Grant, whose most recent book The Dark Circle was shortlisted for the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, emphasised the importance of free movement for the cultural sector in particular.
She said: "The free movement of ideas and of individuals are essential for the creative life. We need to travel for research and to reach new audiences. The cultural sector in the UK benefits similarly from our ability to attract European writers. We need to preserve our close ties with Europe, and scrapping free movement for workers in the cultural sector will cause huge damage to the industry."
Although SoA recently welcomed some of the proposals contained within Theresa May's withdrawal agreement and political declaration on the future framework between the UK and the EU, particularly around customs and intellectual property, it has also expressed unease that the ensuing political chaos had heightened risks of a no-deal Brexit. While other trade bodies have called the political uncertainty "unacceptable for businesses of all kinds, including publishers", SoA said "most of our central concerns relate to issues that will only be addressed in future negotiations with the EU or in domestic legislation".The government's Department for International Trade (DIT) yesterday (5th December) launched a "Brexit Deal Explained" website. On its landing pages, alongside a range of 60-second videos explaining the proposed Brexit Deal, it wrote: "However you voted, now is the time to come together. It is time to get on with it."
Last month the Prime Minister was issued legal advice that her backstop plan could leave the UK unable to "lawfully exit" without EU agreement. The documents were published this week following a vote in the Commons which found the government in contempt of parliament.