The efforts by President Trump to silence his critics – whether they be journalists or book publishers – were alluded to by the president-elect of the International Publishers Association Hugo Setzer when he addressed publishers on the eve of the Sharjah International Book Fair.

“We are facing more restrictions to freedom to publish all around the world,” he said.  “No country is immune to the potential risk of censorship, even countries which have always been considered beacons of freedom, like the US.  Censorship and self-censorship undermine the possibility of publishers to contribute to society with the publication of valuable insights, entertaining stories, scientific information and more. Freedom to publish is essential to maintaining not only a healthy business environment where publishers and authors can thrive, but also to a stable democracy.”

He echoed comments made the previous day by the current president of the IPA, Michiel Kolman, on the threat to copyright posed by big technology companies, and if anything, he went further than his colleague.  “Big tech has seized the initiative and to some extent been able to push us against the ropes,” he said.  “Shiny and new, they preach the Google gospel. A future where everyone has “access to everything, whenever and wherever they want”. And while that may be all well and good, they also pretend it should be for free, because they make money using a different business model.

“All over the world, they have been successful in presenting an image of publishers as defending illegitimate privileges and exploiting consumers through an outdated thing called “copyright”. With very deep pockets, with which they have been able to sponsor academics to back their views, they are pushing an agenda across the globe that offers free information for everyone, in many cases in the form of broad copyright exceptions.”

To work on the dual challenges of freedom to publish and copyright requires cooperation at an international level, he said, and this need for cooperation, this need to build bridges, was a theme of his address.  In a poetic touch, he used the word ‘Algebra’ by way of illustration.  “It is the same word in both Arabic, my native Spanish and the language I am using now, English.  I understand that the original Arabic comes from Al Jabr meaning ‘reunion of broken parts’.  Our industry is made of many parts that, while not broken, are distinct and potentially isolated.  Our publishing industries often function along national or even regional lines, reflecting the cultural differences of each place and showing off the creative diversity of our planet…

“Yet parts of our industry need to be united and the place to start is at the local level through a publishers’ association. Here in the Emirates, your publishers’ association is one of the youngest within the IPA membership, but it has built bridges not just between different publishers here but also with policy makers, helping them to understand the publishing industry and how policy changes can either positively or negatively affect the industry or key policy objectives such as educational outcomes. This has been possible thanks to the efforts of Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, founder and current president of the Emirates Publishers Association and who I am very glad will be joining me next year as IPA’s vice-president.”

He concluded by noting the support for international cooperation the IPA is showing in educational publishing and said that it was an honor to speak in the presence of His Hussain Ibrahim Al Hammadi, the Minister of Education in the United Arab Emirates.

“I can only encourage His Excellency to listen to the work of educational publishers, who provide such expertise in successfully translating a curriculum into tools that teachers can use to create smarter generations for the future.”