Thursday, July 23, 2009

Exclusive Australian Rights in an Open Market

I know some publishers fear that it will not be possible to buy exclusive Australian rights to overseas titles under Australia's version of an 'open market'.

Therefore, abolition of the PIRs would in fact mean that territorial copyright would no longer exist in Australia. Territorial copyright relies on exclusivity.

A version of this way of thinking crops up all the time in the way some commentators refer to the abolition of the PIRs as meaning that Australia 'will become a market for competing editions'. This is the favorite way Jason Steger, literary editor of The Age, for example, expresses the meaning of the reforms.

They are all very wrong.

Firstly, Australia is a natural territory, just like the US, Britain and Canada. Trading exclusive rights is possible because of geographic, population and market dynamic features that naturally secure and enforce those rights. This means that Australia will not be an 'open territory' in the way that Hong Kong, Singapore, Continental Europe, the Middle East and Africa are.

Secondly, once exclusive Australian rights have been secured, NO OTHER PUBLISHER'S EDITION CAN COME HERE, other than by direct importation by a bookseller from an overseas wholesaler. That's the way things are now, and they won't change.

Australia will not be a market, therefore, 'for competing editions', meaning a market where US and UK publishers fight it out.

Some Australian publishers believe US and UK publishers/agents will only want to sell them non-exclusive rights.

This may initially be the case, but it certainly won't last. Six weeks max. Faced with insistent demand from British and Australian publishers wanting to pay good money for exclusive Australian rights, it will quickly dissipate. Willing buyers breed sellers.

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