Trade campaign warns of 'potentially devastating' change to UK copyright laws

Trade campaign warns of 'potentially devastating' change to UK copyright laws

An alliance of organisations including the Publishers Association and Society of Authors has launched a new campaign warning of a “potentially devastating” change to the UK’s copyright laws.

The Save Our Books campaign, also backed by the Association of Authors’ Agents and the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society, says government plans to reconsider the UK’s approach to copyright and trade following Brexit could lead to fewer books and fewer authors.

The Intellectual Property Office launched a consultation on 7th June which considers a weakening of copyright rules used for exporting books around the world. Changing the way these rules, known as copyright exhaustion, work would present “serious dangers for the health of the books industry”, the campaign argues.

It says that, because author royalties on export sales are much lower than in the UK market, if authors cannot prevent their copies from around the world being sold back into the UK, an export sale risks eroding the corresponding domestic sale. Approximately two-thirds of author incomes could be at risk on the sale of a book in this scenario, the campaign claims.

The change could also lead to the potential loss of up to 25% of the UK publishing industry’s revenue – almost £1bn – which would harm investment and could lead to publishing job losses. The high street could also be damaged while online retail giants strengthen their grip, it warns.

Stephen Lotinga, c.e.o. of the Publishers Association, said: “This is a critical moment and the biggest threat to our industry post-Brexit. The strength of the UK’s copyright laws is key to ensuring authors and publishers are paid for their work. Weakening these laws would be devastating to authors’ income and the wider UK book industry, resulting in fewer books, by fewer authors, for fewer readers. It’s vital that everyone who values this country’s literary future calls on the government to Save Our Books.”

The campaign calls for the UK to ensure authors and publishers have control over the resale of their global products by avoiding an international exhaustion framework. People are being encouraged to visit the campaign website to learn more and write a letter to their MP.  

Nicola Solomon, c.e.o of the Society of Authors, said: “An influx of cheap books will mean fewer authors from fewer backgrounds writing fewer books. That will affect opportunities for established and midlist authors as well as prospects for new and aspiring writers: in a word, less diversity across all genres and writing professions – from non-fiction to fiction and translation to illustration.

“The pandemic has been doubly hard for the increasing number of authors who rely on secondary sources of income from festivals, events and school visits to make a living. Publishing and writing are huge UK success stories but, any attempt by the government now to level down copyright standards will only mean that fewer people are able to write professionally.

“We need more authors, from more diverse backgrounds writing more books for ever wider audiences. That will only happen if authors are able to make a decent living from their work, supported by world-leading copyright standards.”

Isobel Dixon, president of the Association of Authors’ Agents, said international exhaustion had to be avoided. She said: "It would be eviscerating, seriously impacting not just the incomes of publishers, agents and the authors who are at the creative centre of it all, but also limiting choice, quality and diversity. A potential flood of cheaper editions back into the UK would make publishers more risk-averse, publishing jobs would be lost, and online retail would be the key winner. The livelihoods of authors, already under pressure, would be further undermined, making writing careers more precarious. Less choice and fewer voices means the consumer and society as a whole loses out, in a price-is-all scenario. It’s imperative that the government does not precipitate such damage by turning to a system of international exhaustion.”