International Publishing Report: Frankfurt and Kiev, 2011

Frankfurt, October 10-15, 2011

For the last five or six years the Frankfurt Book Fair has been an opportunity for me to meet with other publishing organizations involved with scholarly publishing to discuss international publishing issues and bring each other up to date on the various efforts, underway and planned, to address them. This year there were three major areas of concern in virtually all of the meetings I attended: the new Canadian copyright bill, C-11; the upcoming meeting of the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO); and digital piracy.

I think most Canadian publishers agree that Canadian copyright law is overdue for revision, and C-11 is identical to C-32, the copyright bill introduced in 2010 that died last spring when the Canadian government changed hands. The new government has fast-tracked the bill and seems determined to push it through, and it has at least one provision that scholarly publishers both in and outside Canada find very worrying. If it becomes law without significant revision it would create a very broad "educational use" exception to the exclusive rights of copyright owners. The exception would apply not just to works published in Canada, but to all works, regardless of the country of origin. Canadian publishers and their associations are working hard to have the bill amended.

SCCR is the WIPO agency that manages all copyright-related treaties. The effect of a copyright treaty is to require all WIPO member-states (currently the US is one of 184) to bring their national copyright law into conformity with the terms of the treaty. This is a slow process. It can take 5-10 years for a treaty to be developed and passed by the WIPO General Assembly, and it can take as much as another 10 years after that for the terms of the treaty to be adapted to national legislation. However, since a WIPO treaty has the power to shape or reshape national law, how the treaty gets drafted and the details of its provisions become very important.

On the SCCR's immediate agenda is the question of whether or not to have a treaty requiring member states to enact a copyright exception for the print-disabled, but two other copyright exceptions are in the hopper to follow it: an exception for libraries, and for education. The debates about an exception for the print-disabled are being seen as a preview of debates to come about the other two, and have become intensely political and polarized, generally along North/South lines. The International Publishers Association has been very active in these discussions. The SCCR is meeting now, and I should have a report in the next few days about the results of the meeting, and next steps.

Internet piracy continues to be a major concern for publishers worldwide. An international coalition of publishers has been formed to take legal action against one very active piracy website whose servers are located in a country with laws that make such action relatively straightforward. More information will be available about that action soon.

Private legal action, as important as it is, can't be the entire solution; government action is also required. Members of the IPA Copyright Committee report that often the public obstacle to fighting piracy isn't weak law, but lack of government enforcement. The Committee has started to develop a toolkit that IPA Members can use to make the case for actively combating piracy with government officials and law enforcement agencies in their own countries.

Kiev, October 17-18, 2011

WIPO, IPA, the State Intellectual Property Service of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian Publishers and Booksellers Association sponsored a two-day seminar in Kiev, "The Role of the Copyright System in Promoting the Publishing Industry." There were 16 speakers in 19 sessions over two days speaking to an audience of about 50. All registrants and most speakers were from Kiev, but there were also speakers from Ireland, the U.K., Switzerland, Russia, Kazakhstan, and the U.S. (me). I did two sessions: "Flexibilities in the Copyright System: Limitations, Exceptions, and Public Interest Considerations," and "Digital Challenges in Higher Education." There were simultaneous translations into Russian and English.

In meetings like this it's always difficult to know what's getting through and what's getting lost in translation, but there did seem to be good interest in the tension between exclusive rights and public interest. In the course of two trips to the USSR in the late '80s I learned that printing, distribution, and pricing were directly controlled by the state and there was virtually no relationship between the price of a book and the cost of producing it. Books were intentionally priced very cheaply, which was certainly a good thing for the reading public, but it has led to a culture today in which there is deep public resistance to what we would think of as normal cost-recovery pricing.

And that, in turn, is one major reason why Russia and the former Soviet Union states are hosts to so many internet piracy websites: first of all, piracy meets a strong local demand. This is a serious problem for publishers in Russian, which is still the dominant publishing language in the Ukraine (books published in Ukrainian, we were told, only account for about 8% of the market). I think the curiosity about the tension between the rights of copyright owners and a public interest—here, specifically, in cheap books—reflects this historical legacy.

In any case it was a warm and lively meeting, although I do have to say a couple of the liveliest exchanges took place in Russian, which I don't understand, and had our translators laughing so hard they couldn't keep up. Having a robust sense of humor is definitely a plus in international relations, but it's not without its drawbacks.

Peter Givler
Executive Director, AAUP