'Devastating' copyright changes could put 64% of publisher revenue at risk

'Devastating' copyright changes could put 64% of publisher revenue at risk

Changes to current copyright laws could put up to 64% of publisher book revenue at risk, according to research by the Publishers Association (PA).

The PA says a post-Brexit move towards an international exhaustion regime being consulted on by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) would “spell disaster” for the UK industry with a projected loss of up to £2.2bn per year. It warns many small and medium sized businesses would be unlikely to survive and widespread job losses would be “inevitable”.

Authors and illustrators would also be hit, with up to £506m per year of their incomes at risk, making those professions unattainable for many, the PA says. There would also be a knock on effect for other creative industries, while big retail chains could reap the benefits, to the disadvantage of UK high street stores.

The warning comes as an IPO consultation on a change to the UK intellectual property framework, with international exhaustion as one of the proposed outcomes, concludes today.

Last week, organisations behind the Save Our Books campaign, including the PA, gave a last push for people to have their say on the changes, which would allow cheaper imported books to potentially flood the UK market. The consultation closes today (31st August) at 11.45 p.m.

Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association, said: “These figures are deeply alarming. If the government decides to change our copyright laws, then it could be devastating for the UK’s book industry.

“This country is fortunate to have many of the world’s greatest literary talents producing books that entertain and inform readers across the globe. These measures would inevitably mean fewer books, produced by fewer authors, for fewer readers. We are urging the government to make the right choice and Save Our Books.”

The research came via a PA survey of members carried out in July, which included responses from from nine of the UK's top 10 consumer publishers. A mix of trade, academic and education publishers took part, equating to around 60% of the UK book market.

Booker winner Hilary Mantel has also thrown her weight behind the campaign, saying: “Along with my fellow authors, I am deeply concerned by the threat of a weakening of our present copyright and intellectual property regime. Most writers live and earn precariously, even with the protections now in place. During the last year or so, many have found themselves embattled, as pandemic restrictions have stripped away their ancillary sources of income. Their original creative work, however humbly rewarded, underlies a major industry and feeds our cultural life as a nation. This is not the time to strip away protection to their livelihood.

“Adoption of a regime of international exhaustion is likely to trigger a chain of unintended consequences. The loss of revenue will make publishers more risk-averse and close down access for new work. That will cramp the innovation that feeds our film and TV industries. It will hurt retailing and further concentrate profit for a few online players. The selling and making of books and the protection of the rights that underlie the trade is a delicate and complex business, but it is a very precious one, important for our standing as a nation.

“I would urge those involved in the consultation to move with great caution and listen to the advice of those who care not just about their own future but about the future of all our writers and readers.”