International Publishers Association president Michiel Kolman has spoken out on censorship in Russia in a speech delivered at the opening of the Moscow International Book Fair, today (6th September).
In a wide-ranging address, Kolman tackled the issue of freedom of speech, which he described as a “pillar” of the IPA.
“It is the IPA’s duty to challenge censorship whenever it occurs – as we did recently in China, when Beijing asked for the removal of a selection of online academic publications by Cambridge University Press,” he noted.
But there was another example in Russia, Kolman said, “where the IPA has been debating the problematic anti-gay propaganda law, which is compelling publishers to censor texts to avoid criminal liability.”
The 2013 "anti-gay propaganda law" made it an offence to distribute "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" among minors, with a stated purpose to protect children from being exposed to the idea that homosexuality is a norm in society.
Kolman said: “The law poses many questions beyond the immediate issue it seeks to address - questions about freedom of expression, commercial sensitivities, the sacred bond of trust between authors and publishers. We believe this law needs to be reviewed, because its good intentions to protect minors may in reality be doing more harm than good."
The IPA president praised Russia’s “resolute” steps to tackle a book piracy “epidemic", with 25%-30% of Russia’s overall book market counterfeit, including schoolbooks, according to the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs. “We’re encouraged that the State is starting to take the matter seriously and mounting a legal response,” said Kolman, noting: "As a side note, some of the problem may be addressed by the removal of the high 18% VAT levy currently imposed on e-books in Russia, which would bring them into line with the zero rate applied to print books.”
He warned: “Without consistently applied proactive countermeasures and communications campaigns to sensitise a Russian population that’s largely unconcerned about this crime – then the problem will get steadily worse.”
Kolman also addressed the issue of pirate networks, including Sci-Hub, which he called “a source of global concern.” While Sci-Hub’s withdrawal from Russia this week had been welcomed by many in the scientific community, he said, “further proactive action is needed to properly address the question.”
The Moscow International Book Fair runs until 10th September.