SCBWI at the Productivity Commission Hearing in Brisbane
written by Sam Sochacka, Children’s Literature Advocate, Aspiring Children’s Author, ESL Educator
The children’s and young adult literature industry was well represented at the Brisbane hearing of the Productivity Commission’s Intellectual Property Arrangements Inquiry. 9 out of the 11 authors who presented were representing the children’s and YA literature industry. Morris Gleitzman, Sheryl Gwyther, Michael Gerard Bauer, Angela Sunde, Candice Lemon-Scott, Christine Bongers, Melanie Hill, Caroline Magerl, Dimity Powell, Pamela & Peter Rushby, and Sam Sochacka attended the hearing on Monday, June 20, 2016. Morris, Sheryl, Michael, Angela, Candice, Christine, and Melanie all made presentations to the Commission.
Two crucial points were made by the Commissioners as speakers made their presentations. The term of copyright will not be reduced to 15 – 25 years, nor was it a recommendation of the Commissioners. This figure came from a finding that they made; that creators derive the most financial benefit in the 15 – 25 years after their works are created. Creators will retain copyright for the current term of death plus 70 years. This is great news!
There was further confusion as to whether or not the Commissioners had recommended that parallel import restrictions be lifted. It had been reported in the media that this was the case, however the Commissioners explained that their terms of reference instruct them to investigate the transitional issues associated with lifting the parallel import restrictions. Therefore it was not a recommendation, but a decision that the Government looks set to enforce. The Government had asked the Commissioners for advice on how it would work, not an opinion on whether or not the parallel import restrictions should be lifted. This is not such great news. At all.
Key points that were made, often repeatedly, included the need for Australian kids to access Australian stories with Australian locations, language, spelling, cultural references etc.. Morris Gleitzman spoke on behalf of children as consumers of books and pointed out that for young people, the relationship with story – a young character discovers a much larger problem than they have ever encountered before, is key, and that this must be provided in an Australian context. Through reading children need to do research, they develop interpersonal skills, they learn to enlist help, and develop the capacity to empathise. Reading develops problem solving skills, personal development and growth. The central character’s journey in story mirrors the educational and social progress that young people need to make. Stories reflect what is happening in the culture and environment of young people.
When parallel import restrictions are lifted, Australian children will suffer as they will not have access to as many, by quite a margin, Australian stories as they do now. Morris also expressed concern about where the next generation of writers will come from if publishing houses will not have the capacity to invest in new writers, something that will occur if publishers need to compete with foreign editions of foreign, and Australian, works. He explained that Australian publishing houses will not be able to compete with foreign edition remainders as they would be sold at a much lower prices than the Australian editions. He concluded by saying that, “Australian children need Australian stories”.
Sheryl Gwyther spoke on behalf of the 1200 members of SCBWI. Sheryl spoke to two main issues, making the following points:
- ‘Fair use’ exception to copyright – fears these proposed arrangements will go beyond fair, especially in schools. Disadvantages original creators. Destroys the principle what we own what we create. Authors and illustrators fear that grants will be the only thing left.
- Parallel importation – will not enable publishers to take on new authors, let alone support their current ones. Dumping of foreign published Australian author’s books into Australia will flood the market with cheaper, foreign editions and publications. Books will have been altered with spelling, expressions, places, ideas, and thoughts. Australian consumers expect to be able to buy books with Australian culture, idioms, experiences, values, ideas, and landscapes. Australian children need to be able to connect with Australian stories.
Michael Gerard Bauer spoke about his book, “Don’t Call Me Ishmael”. He pointed out that if parallel import restrictions are lifted, his Australian publisher would be competing with foreign publications. He asked the Commissioners if international publishers should be able to capitalise on the hard work of Australian editors/publishers and undermine them in our own market. He stated that there would be fewer Australian writers with the removal of PIR and that fewer Australian writers would mean fewer Australian books for consumers looking for Australian content. He said that Australians must see their language, culture in texts that they read. On school visits, Michael finds that students often have UK/US versions with all Australian’isms taken out.
As a senior literacy teacher, Angela Sunde said that the removal of PIR would detrimentally affect child literacy. Angela pointed out that children’s share of the printed market in the world is 35%, but 50% in Australia. And that Dymocks had a 30% increase in children’s book sales since 2010. She explained that this was due to strong local content, which supports curriculum in identity, helping children to develop a strong sense of self. Australian content and spelling in books is crucial for Australian Children. Angela stated that Australian kids need books that reflect their culture, and language. Strong content will be lost with removals of PIR. There will be fewer books published here.
As a bookseller, Candice Lemon-Scott spoke of how bookshops will be affected by the lifting of PIR. She made the following points:
- Can’t derive enough income from writing to support her family. She took a second job is as a book trader. A sole trader.
- As an independent bookseller it’s hard to compete with department stores.
- Australia has the largest independent bookshop industry in the English speaking world. 900+ independent bookstores. 1.1 billion contributed to the economy.
- Under PIR changes she won’t be able to compete with department stores, won’t be able to return unsold stock.
- Small business sector would lose again: jobs.
- A bookshop forms more than part of the retail sector. It forms part of the fabric of society. Where people can come and get personal book recommendations. Where authors can come and promote their new works.
Christine Bongers spoke of dissent and dismay at the removal of territorial copyright. She said that her novels are quintessentially Australian. And that the only way that Australian authors can make a living is by selling territorial rights to their books overseas. Government subsidies are not a viable option as government funding can be withdrawn at the drop of a hat.
Melanie Hill spoke about the change in copyright laws and said that we would become a country that imports, instead of exporting, innovation when PIR are lifted. She pointed out that the most important determinate in education is literacy, and that Australian children will suffer when copyright laws are changed, and PIR are lifted.
Christine Bongers read an impassioned statement from Isobelle Carmody who was unable to attend the hearing due to illness.
Thank you, and congratulations, to all those who put their case forward to the Commissioners. It was great to see such strong representation of the children’s and YA literature industry at the hearing.