13 July 2021
The future of the UK's copyright regime is under threat.
In a consultation launched on 7 June, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has proposed four alternatives for the post-Brexit future of ‘copyright exhaustion’. One of the options could lead to a £1 billion loss in revenue for the UK book trade. The longer-term impact would mean fewer books, by fewer and less diverse authors, reaching fewer readers.
As the Government considers the range of options, we need to make sure they do not set a direction that could be very damaging for authors and the UK books industry. We need your help to stop it from happening.
What has the IPO proposed?
Of the four Government proposals, the one that has caused concern suggests the UK adopt ‘international rights exhaustion’.
Copyright exhaustion prescribes when a copyright holder’s control over distribution of a book comes to an end. At present we operate under EU law, which holds that when a customer buys a book, the book’s copyright owner is not able to prevent that book being resold to someone else in the EU. They can, however, control distribution outside the EU. This is important because books are routinely sold at different prices in different territories.
If we adopted an international right exhaustion framework, that book’s copyright owner would not be able to prevent that book being resold anywhere else in the world.
In simple terms, this means that lower cost books sold to export markets could then be re-imported into the UK and sold more cheaply than UK copies. This parallel trading would put our export book trade in direct competition with our domestic book trade, and lead to a reduction in the size of the UK book trade by as much as 25% – while bolstering online retail giants able to source books from all corners of the globe.
It would also devastate author incomes at a time when our Authors in the Health Crisis surveys have shown that more than half of authors have seen their incomes hit since the start of the financial year.
The impacts for the industry would be devastating. As Benedicte Page wrote in The Bookseller, ‘The prospect of Amazon empowered legally to sell English-language books intended for a local market in India or China to UK book-buyers at low, low prices should make booksellers wince, as well as publishers.’
Save Our Books
Last month, the Society of Authors (SoA), the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), the Association of Authors’ Agents (AAA) and the Publishers Association (PA) launched Save our Books, a joint campaign to ensure that the Government considers these proposals, with a full understanding of the impact of each option on authors and the UK books industry.
What can you do?
The Government has proposed four alternative directions. As far as we are aware they do not have a preferred direction.
This means that between now and the end of August, when the consultation ends, we need to impress on them the impact that international rights exhaustion would have on the books industry and on your livelihoods.
We are calling on all SoA members to:
Most important, share the campaign (saveourbooks.org.uk) with your networks to help educate writers, illustrators, literary translators, readers, publishers and agents on the impact an international exhaustion regime could have on the books they create, read and love.
With your help, we can protect the future of the UK book industry.