I am feeling somewhat serious today, and so I point you to Richard Flanagan's closing speech at the recent Sydney Writer's Festival:
At the moment, Australian writers and readers are being asked to take a fall in order that a few rich people get richer.
… This dullest and dreariest of phrases – territorial copyright – is the drab motley thrown over a measure which will do untold damage to Australian culture. I cannot begin to convey to you the destructive stupidity of what is being proposed, nor the intense sadness and great anger that so many Australian writers feel about this proposal.
…Writers and books that matter will become like an endangered species with no habitat left to support them. The fate of most of them in the large chain and discount mega store culture will be that of marsupials in new outer suburbs, dicing with death on freeways, not knowing until that short moment of blinding light dazzle that this is no longer their home.
I highly recommend reading the full text of the speech, but for the edification of those non-Australians who read this blog, there is a proposal afoot to remove Australia's territorial copyright laws, and allow the parallel importation of books. Proponents argue it will result in cheaper books for the public.
Now, I'm all for cheaper books,1 but the arguments for parallel importation are specious, as Richard Flanagan summarises (emphasis mine):
Of course, as the Coalition for Cheaper Books – or, as we might more accurately call it, the Coalition for Bigger Business – would point out, that's not the whole story.
What is being proposed doesn't exist in Europe or the USA. And even if US and British publishers are allowed to dump books on our market, Australian publishers will not be allowed to do the same in theirs.
In the one country in the world where the change was introduced, New Zealand, publishing has, according to the New Zealand Publishers Association, suffered, and books are now more expensive.
If it were a reciprocal arrangement — if Australian publishers were granted access to the North American buying public at the same time as the North American publishers are granted access to the Australian buying public, for example — then the story might be different. But as it stands, the current proposal isn't "opening the market": it's turning Australia into a giant remainders bin for foreign publishers.
I don't know about you, but I get plenty of foreign culture on my TV and movie screens and book shelves as it is. I don't want those to be my only options.
- Let's just say I don't know any published writers who got into this gig for the money 😕 [↩]