Federal arts minister Mitch Fifield has squashed any prospect of changes to copyright law in the wake of a draft Productivity Commission report that suggested cutting intellectual property from the current international standard of 70 years after the death of the author to 15-20 years after the work was published.
The idea had alarmed Australian writers who feared they’d lose copyright control during their lifetime. A growing campaign to fight any changes climaxed in Booker Prize-winning author Richard Flanagan railing against the Turnbull government in his keynote address at the Australian Book Industry Awards on Thursday night.
The Tasmanian, hailed as “the finest Australian novelist of his generation” by The Economist, said the governments’ record “drips with a contempt for writers and writing”.
When his wartime novel The Narrow Road To The Deep North, was named joint winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for fiction in 2014, Flanagan, donated his half of the $80,000 prize to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.
“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,” Flanagan said.
Today, Senator Fifield said changing copyright “is not something the government has considered, proposed or intends to do”.
He said the Commission’s final report is expected in August.
“It will be a report to government, not by government. Once received, the Government will prepare a full response,” Fifield said
“The Productivity Commission notes in its draft report that Australia is a party to a range of free trade agreements and has no unilateral capacity to alter copyright terms and that to even attempt to do so would require international negotiations and the reversal of international standards.”
But the arts minister’s statement did not contain any response to another key criticism in the Flanagan speech – dumping parallel importation restrictions (PIRs), which prevent booksellers from selling overseas editions of a book an Australian publisher has acquired exclusive rights to.
Abolishing PIR is another key recommendation of the Productivity Commission review and the Turnbull government has already indicated it backs the proposal, which the local publishing industry opposes.
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