Big tech continues to pose a threat to copyright, according to Elsevier’s Michiel Kolman, the outgoing president of the International Publishers Association (IPA), who steps down at the end of this year. Delivering the keynote address at the Publishers Conference ahead of the Sharjah International Book Fair, which opened on Wednesday, 31 October, he said: “What the IPA sees on a global scale are companies who use the cover of technological change to promote legislative change and the expropriation of authors’ and publishers’ rights through exceptions and limitations. We see this in Latin America, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and Europe. We must not be caught asleep at the wheel. Many livelihoods are at stake and your professional associations are essential in ensuring that our industry, while beautifully diverse and spread across the planet, can combat these threats in a coordinated way.”
He also spoke about the other pillar of the IPA’s work: freedom to publish. Speaking to an audience of international publishers he said: “The beauty of our industry is the ability to take the thoughts of many authors and bring them first to the page and then to readers. To enable those thoughts to be shared, discussed and challenged. This is how science, literature and art has flourished over history. It is also how society has progressed. How we continue to learn to understand each other better. In many countries however, the freedom to publish is severely challenged. And while repressive regimes continue to use force to prevent inconvenient works being read, something more insidious is growing: self-censorship. In an internet age when anyone can publish anything, the risk is that we choose not to out of fear. Publishers have a responsibility to promote the freedom to publish and support those in countries who are less free.”
Reviewing his two years as president, he noted the growth of streaming services like Netflix and the inexorable march of social media which means readers are now “inundated with alternative options for their spare time”. He noted that research in Germany estimated that some six million readers were lost over time – a figure he described as shocking – and revealed that he had taken steps to resist the temptations of Netflix himself by joining a book group.
He also flagged up the IPA’s Sustainable Development Goals Book Club, a joint initiative with the United Nations. There are17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), covering six official UN languages – one children’s book per language per SDG. “Our industry knows that we cannot keep our heads in the sand. There are so many book published around the world which link to the Sustainable Development Goals. Let’s make it easier for children, our future, to learn about the importance of the SDGs in their own language. Arabic is one of those languages and I’m sure publishers here will be able to help us reach our objective.”
He finished by acknowledging that the future of the IPA lies with incoming president Hugo Setzer of Mexico and vice-president Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi of Sharjah, founder and leader of the Emirates Publishers Association, who will become the first Arabic woman to lead the IPA when Setzer’s term finishes at the end of 2020.