Tuesday, September 22, 2009

PIR commentary by Natalie Hicks in the Age

There's an excellent and thoughtful article in today's Age by Natalie Hickey (an intellectual property partner at Mallesons Stephens Jacques). It's a reply to Guy Rundle's article in the Sunday Age, which, to crudely summarize, said we may as well get rid of the Parallel Import restrictions because the digital future is here. It is interesting how digital is has recently become a much larger part of the PIR debate. And we do need to look at digital territorial copyrights and how the information playing field is tipping towards the US due to the weight of its market size.

Natalie begins with a nice reminder of the physicality as virtue of the book - who will inscribed a digital book as a present that will come as a reminder everytime the book is opened. So books won't disappear even some functions are replaced. So PIR restrictions do matter.

She describes the fear among writers of globalization, meaning writers need to write for a global market - homogenously; and that there will be a loss of editorial staff here. (Of course a significant part of the importance of the the PIRs to the Australian publishing industry is about the right of publishers to create an Australian edition of an overseas book. Australian writers are threatened, the argument runs, by booksellers buying overseas editions (on which authors receive a lower royalty) and by the threat of remainder copies of their own books being sold here, replacing the local edition on which they'd receive a royalty. Natalie sees the PIRs as a plank in Australia's protection against globalization of the publishing industry.

I very much liked her comment: "Maintaining our cultural voice is central to the retention of an Australian identity." And that's something I believe we should address as the rate of digital globalization speeds up. How do we assist Australian publishers and writers "to predict and adapt to digital environments" in a way that maintains (or even enhances) our cultural voice.? What is the governments legal role in this? What policy should the government have? Should it create a digital territorial copyright? Is it acceptable that we can't access Australian works on say a digital audio platform where those with a US IP address can? Is there a role for the government in digitizing out-of-print Australian works, along the lines of Google Books?

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