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A complicated post-Brexit battle over the weakening of copyright rules on the exporting of books from the UK has reared its head in the UK.  It has prompted the Publishers Association and Society of Authors to launch a campaign that warns of dire outcomes for revenues across the publishing sector should the current copyright framework be altered.

Save Our Books (SoB) is a joint campaign from the Publishers Association, the Society of Authors, the Association of Authors’ Agents and the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society.  It notes that the government is reconsidering the UK’s approach to copyright and trade following Brexit.  “The Intellectual Property Office has launched a consultation which considers a weakening of copyright rules crucial for exporting books around the world and ensuring UK authors benefit financially from those sales.”

The way the rules work is known as “copyright exhaustion” and the SoB argues that changing the way they work would present serious dangers for the health of the books industry, including significantly impacting authors’ livelihoods. “Author royalties on export sales are much lower than what authors can earn from UK sales of books published for the UK market,” it says.  “If authors cannot prevent their copies from around the world being sold back into the UK, then an export sale risks eroding the corresponding domestic sale. Approximately two-thirds of authors’ incomes could be at risk on the sale of a book in this scenario. This would threaten the sustainability and diversity of UK authorship.”

Stephen Lotinga, Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, said:

“This is a critical moment and the biggest threat to our industry post-Brexit. The strength of the UK’s copyright laws is key to ensuring authors and publishers are paid for their work. Weakening these laws would be devastating to authors’ income and the wider UK book industry, resulting in fewer books, by fewer authors, for fewer readers. It’s vital that everyone who values this country’s literary future calls on the government to Save Our Books.”

The group says the proposals would destroy creative export markets. The proposals could mean a potential loss of up to 25% of the UK publishing industry’s revenue – almost £1bn – which would harm investment and could lead to publishing job losses.  Furthermore, the proposed changes would “[damage] the already suffering British high street and further supporting online retail giants”.

In conclusion, the SoB argues that “for the continued success of the publishing industry, the UK must ensure authors and publishers have control over the resale of their global products. The government must avoid an ‘international exhaustion framework’ and find a solution that allows UK authors and publishers to ensure different markets can access versions of a book best suited to their needs”.