13 December 2012
“It does concern me that there appears to be a mixing, and therefore a confusing, of two separate issues. One is copyright, and the other is any potential loss of sovereignty by NZ as a result of the talks.
“This confusion has seen people who would traditionally support authors’ rights joining with very strange bedfellows, such as the large, heavily lawyered, US internet companies and lobby groups that want digital material to be available free.
“Our view is that it is important to be clear what we are arguing about. While the potential for NZ law to become subject to challenge and be over-ridden by the courts in other countries is indeed of concern, our need to protect creators from the self-serving interests of those who simply want free access to the work of writers and publishers will ensure we continue to fight.
“Sam’s presentation below, edited for space reasons, is a must-read for all members.”
Getting ideas around: copyright and creativity in New Zealand books
The Frankfurt Book Fair, attended by about 180,000 publishers, was particularly exciting this year for two reasons. First, New Zealand was Guest of Honour, so Germany was full of our poets and historians, novelists and artists. The 2012 fair was exciting to me for a second reason: at Auckland University Press we got to sell a lot of rights to great New Zealand writing. This year we sold the great Polynesian poet Albert Wendt’s new poetry collection into Ukrainian. We sold the University of Auckland psychology professor Michael Corballis’ Pieces of Mind to publishers in Australia, the UK, Serbia, Greece and Korea. And we sold 5000 copies of our new guide to New Zealand’s birds to Yale University Press in the US and we are currently working together on an app for tablets and smartphones.
Selling rights makes money for us and our authors and it gets the ideas in our books into the hands of many, many more readers. It is a great example of how the free trade in ideas benefits both creators and consumers. Buying and selling rights, which is what the Frankfurt Book Fair is all about, is based on three really simple principles.
First, locals know best. The Greeks will find more readers in Greece for Michael Corballis than I can (they know Greek after all). But Yale University Press will also find more birders in North America than I ever could because they know the right price, the right cover, the right media and bookstores for selling the book in that market.
Second, give the people what they want. Buying and selling rights has always been about getting ideas to people in new formats – paperback rights in the 1930s, audio books in the 1990s, ebooks in the 2000s, apps in 2012.
Third, copyright and contract. To make a book you assemble a whole of rights – an author’s words, an artist’s illustrations, excerpts from other authors’ works – then you sell those combined rights as a book. Trading rights at Frankfurt works because, by owning all the rights in a book, you can then sell off rights bit by bit through simple contracts – ebook rights to a US publisher, a library licence to a UK aggregator, electronic rights to an app developer in South Africa. Copyright and contract make such deals doable.
By heading over to Frankfurt and drawing on those basic principles, the New Zealand publishing sector has transformed itself into a key exporter of creative work. We have packagers like PQ Blackwell taking Nelson Mandela’s authorised biography to the world. We have books like Mister Pip and Whale Rider that have been published in multiple editions, translated into multiple languages and turned into movies. And we have a major educational export industry that creates literacy products in print and electronic formats and sells them to schools around the world. Selling international rights has helped turn New Zealand publishing into a $250million creative industry that employs 1000 people and drives our culture and creativity.
So what do we need from free trade agreements like the TPP so that we can keep finding new readers and growing our creative industries? We don’t need tariff walls, we don’t need subsidies, we don’t need special protections. We love the free trade in ideas. We just need three simple things that enable that trade to happen.
First, respect the locals. Elsewhere in the world, local publishers buy exclusive rights in their territory and fashion books for their local readers. Unfortunately New Zealand publishers cannot operate on the world stage, buying rights for our local market, because in 1998 the copyright law was amended to allow retailers to import books and other copyright goods from anywhere they want. That law has undermined the New Zealand publishing industry. Across the ditch, dynamic, independent Australian publishing companies like Scribe, Text, and Allen and Unwin buy local rights to major authors – Jodi Picoult or Lionel Shriver, or Daniel Pink – and craft them for local readers. In New Zealand we can’t buy rights – there’s no exclusive territory to buy for – so we have a much less vibrant independent publishing sector as a result. That hurts our culture and our creativity.
Free trade in ideas is rooted in respect for territorial copyright, and that should be embodied in the TPP.
Second, respect innovation. Over the last few years, publishers have teamed up with technology companies to create a rapidly growing market for ebooks. I’ve spent the last year at Auckland University Press digitising our backlist.
But, sometimes you think why bother. I worked on a book by the great Cambridge mathematician Tim Gowers called the Princeton Companion to Mathematics. The book took five years to produce, it brought together mathematicians from across the globe, and it sold from the start in print and ebook formats. Look it up and you’ll see you can get free shipping from Amazon.com, but why bother paying for this book at all when you can download a PDF for free from ebook2000 or freebookspot or ebookbrowse?
As a publisher, we depend on government and ISPs doing what we do every day – respecting creativity and innovation enough to effectively stop such piracy. If the internet industry and publishers and government can’t stop my books being available for free on the internet, both creativity and innovation will suffer a big blow.
Free trade is trade, not a lolly scramble. We need the TPP to respect copyright and contract in the digital age.
Finally, respect creators. You’ll find a lot of people who claim to speak for creators and who will tell you that copyright is broken: that Disney-laws have given new rights to the dead, that the world is full of orphan works, that real creators just want their work to be freely available. I just published the biggest book I have ever taken on – a 1200 page anthology of New Zealand literature. To make this book we had to get permission from 180 live and dead authors in New Zealand and overseas. I learnt a few things. We couldn’t find any of these orphan works that are meant to be out there in their thousands. We couldn’t find any authors using creative commons licenses or willing to give their work away for free. In fact we found a lot of creative authors and their estates who wanted to control their copyright and get paid for their work. So I challenge all those organisations who deride dead authors, who think copyright should last for only a few years, who think creativity should be free. Real respect for creators means giving copyright owners at least the same control over their property as cow cockies or capitalists.
We publishers love the free trade in ideas. Trading rights at the Frankfurt Book Fair finds new readers around the globe and helps pay our authors. To support that free trade, we don’t need much – we just need respect for local territorial markets; we need respect for intellectual property in a digital age; and we need a respect for the creators that gives them the same rights as dairy farmers. It’s not too much to ask and I wish you well making it happen.