Remember that Australian government committee report suggesting Australia should relax restrictions on parallel importation, implement a US-style “fair use” exception, and drastically shorten copyright terms? We already covered an Australian government official insisting the government wasn’t interested in shortening copyright terms. Now Publishing Perspectives has an interview with Australian book industry insider Andrea Hanke which suggests that things will remain business-as-usual in Australia, regardless of the content of the report.
Hanke sees the parallel importation restrictions as being the most significant part of the discussion, given that long copyright terms are effectively locked in by treaty. She explains:
The government remains firm in its commitment to repeal parallel importation restrictions (PIRs) but the Arts Minister Mitch Fifield recently said they don’t have a specific timeframe for their removal and want to consult with the industry on “transitional arrangements.”
The Labor party, which is in opposition (and you’re probably aware that we’ve got an election coming up in July), has indicated that they’re unlikely to repeal PIRs.
She notes that the current Australian government “has a free-market agenda and believes that territorial restrictions are a barrier to lower prices.” She also points out that this is not the first time PIRs have been a bone of contention; a government commission previously recommended removing them in 2009 but at that time the government decided to keep them.
Henke adds that the Australian book industry by and large believes parallel import restrictions are a good thing, and will point to ways that an open market has harmed the New Zealand publishing industry. Even Australian bookstore groups, such as the Australian Booksellers Association, are campaigning against PIR repeal.
So, will the recommendations from this report meet the same fate as similar recommendations from prior reports? It seems likely. When moneyed interests have a vested interest in making sure things stay the way they are, things usually do stay the way they are.
That said, I do have a bone to pick with this paragraph. Porter Anderson writes:
The fundamental bone of contention arises in the Productivity Commission’s overview material that reads, “Australia’s IP (intellectual property) system is out of kilter, favoring rights-holders over users and does not align with how people use IP in the modern era.” Most proponents of copyright will be quick to point out that rights-holders are, yes, precisely the parties that should be favored by copyright protections.
Actually, they’re not. The entire purpose of modern copyright—at least as set forth in the US Constitution; I can’t speak for Australia per se but if theirs is based on the same principles that inspired the US version it should be similar—is to benefit the general public, not rights-holders—except insofar as the general public interest can be advanced by providing some benefits to rights-holders. If it comes down to a conflict between the interests of rights-holders and the interests of the general public, it’s the general public that is supposed to win out. Every time someone claims that “rights-holders are […] precisely the parties that should be favored by copyright protections,” I cringe.
It remains to be seen whether Australia will loosen copyright and importation restrictions. Meanwhile, when I spot-checked a few Kindle titles on Amazon.com.au vs. Amazon.com, I found the Australian prices for e-books were more or less equivalent to or cheaper than the US prices when I ran a currency conversion. (In some cases, such as Alliance of Equals, the only version of the book available on the Australian site was the Audible audiobook, which seems strange—but then, anyone who really wants the e-book in Australia can order it direct from Baen.) So perhaps this is mainly a matter of concern to printed-book sellers down there after all.