This is a word from our Editor's Desk about a looming threat to Australian literature.
We're going to talk about a thing. At first glance it is a very boring thing, but bear with us please, it needs talking about.
The incumbent coalition Government have indicated that, should they win the looming Federal election, they intend to remove parallel importation restrictions (PIRs), part of the Australia Copyright Act which prohibits booksellers importing (often cheaper) overseas editions of local publications.
There’s a good chance that at this point your eyes have already glazed over, but keep going! Think of it as a fun and important quest!
How important? It depends on who you ask, and why. According to advice given to the government, abolition of PIRs will lead to greater competition for Australian publishers and cheaper books for readers. There are academics who point out this is not Australia’s first flirtation with cutting these laws, and it’s time we just went ahead and did it.
According to nearly everyone else, the laws seem to have little purpose other than to seize the dreams of literary Australia and put them down to further a political agenda, Pistol and Boo-style.
If you ask Australian publishers, publicists or agents, the laws will devalue local publishing, reduce profits and therefore investment in Australian authors. Fewer Australian authors and books will be published, jobs will be lost, and authors will starve in a post-apocalyptic Mad-Max-style antipodean wasteland where the few surviving publishers worship Jonathan Franzen as an Immortan-Jo Style warlord.
Authors aren’t much more cheerful. At the recent Australian Book Industry Awards, some of our most lauded and distinguished authors lined up to slam the proposed laws, often in quite salty language. Take Richard Flanagan, award-winning author of The Narrow Road to The Deep North, who railed against a government he says he wants to destroy Australian literature. His speech is well worth reading in full, but the gist is below:
Fuck them. This is a government that has no respect for us and no respect for what we do. This is a government that despises books and views with hostility the civilisation they represent. Perhaps it hopes in a growing silence that it might prosper. Certainly, it cares only about one thing: power.
Current laws ensure that an author owns their copyright until several decades after they die. Authors have never had much in the way of job certainty, but they have always been able to rely on their backlist to pay a bill or two as they shuffle towards the epilogue. That may all be about to change.
Magda Szubanski, first time author and ABIA winner of best biography and book of the year for Reckoning: A Memoir, has gone on the record saying that without copyright protection she will never write another book. She may even leave the country, and we will have lost one of our most promising new authors, as well as best-loved comics.
A sense of gloom surrounds the proposed laws, the fear that Szubanski’s mic-drop will be a bellwether, that without some kind of protection, Australian culture will wither and die.
Of course, this may all be hyperbole. Writers have a way of being dramatic, and of reacting to any threat to their already modest incomes with all the restraint and subtlety of American foreign policy circa 2002.
Critics of the critics of PIR reform argue that publishers are manipulating their authors into fighting against their own interests, sending them into do battle against much-needed changes to the law that will ultimately sell them more books and bring them more readers.
Writers Bloc is a non-political platform for emerging writers. We don’t support, or deride any political party in particular. We do however love books.
It’s worth taking some time, ahead of the coming election, to educate yourself about what could be a terminal turning point in Australian letters. If you are an emerging or aspiring writer, if you think that this country deserves a strong literary culture, then this is something worth thinking about
Oh. And there’s a petition you could sign if that's something you felt like doing. We’re just going to leave this here.
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Liam Pieper is the former Editor of Writers Bloc. His 2014 memoir, The Feel-Good Hit of The Year, was shortlisted for the National Biography Award and a Ned Kelly award. His most recent book is The Toymaker, which was long-listed for best debut fiction by the Indie Book Awards and won the Fellowship of Australian Writers Christina Stead Fiction Award. @liampieper