Fighting for Author Rights Down Under

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Many of you may not be aware but there’s a battle brewing down under – pitching Aussie publishers and authors against the chain booksellers and the government – all in the name of cheaper books. Now as a reader I am all for cheaper books, particularly in Australia where book prices are (in my opinion) ridiculously high (typically about $45 for hardbacks; $25 for paperbacks).

Recently the Australian government asked the productivity commission to evaluate the current restrictions on the parallel importation of books into Australia. Basically this law protects publishers and authors who hold the Australian rights to a particular book from competition by suppliers of foreign editions of that book. On July 14th the productivity commission released its report. The recommendation? Screw territorial copyright for Australian authors and publishers. Although the commission backed away from full abolition of parallel importation restrictions they recommended that territorial copyright last only 12 months from date of first publication. I’ll spare you all the boring legal details, suffice to say that if this recommendation is accepted and the copyright laws in Australia are amended it could have significant ramifications for the Australian publishing industry as well as Australian authors.

Many of my fellow mystery and thriller writers in Australia have warned that they may lose their Australian publishers all together, see a significant decline in income and feel that it will be even harder for Australian writers to get published…all so that the big chain book stores can import cheaper books (even with no guarantee that they will actually drop book prices to consumers as a result). Sounds a little like madness…and it is yet another reminder of how precarious our author rights can be. It’s hard enough to get published, even harder still to make a living at it – and without full copyright protection, even harder to hold on to the slim opportunities we have…

So this is Monday’s rant – and a reminder for us all to support the Aussie writers down under who are facing this very real threat to their livelihoods. If you want to learn more here’s a link to a great website: It also provides perspectives from authors such as Tom Keneally and thriller writer Michael Rowbotham.

And one question – How do you think places like Australia should go about trying to balance the demands for lower book prices (and they get no argument from me on this) and the desire to maintain a thriving local publishing and writing industry?