Territorial Copyright - Media Backgrounder

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26th October 2009, 01:53pm - Views: 1222

Media Backgrounder

Australian territorial copyright for books

The UK, the US and Canada all have rules governing territorial copyright for books. Only New

Zealand has surrendered its territorial copyright. Australia’s rules require rights-holders to publish

here within 30 days of publication anywhere else in the world to achieve exclusive territorial copyright.

A Productivity Commission report released on 14 July recommended abolishing territorial copyright on

the grounds that in some segments of the market there may be (from time to time) opportunities in

the future to import cheaper books. However at the same time, the PC data showed Australian books

to be cheaper than the UK and only slightly dearer than the US, once the 10-year average exchange

rates are taken into account. In addition, two reports on New Zealand showed that since territorial

copyright was abolished there in 1998, book prices had either increased or stayed the same.

This meant the case for change based on price was so weak that today not a single stakeholder in

Australia, not even the booksellers, supports the PC’s recommendation to abolish territorial copyright.

Significantly, the PC recommendation is overwhelmingly opposed by the industry (printers, publishers,

agents, the union, the authors and now all booksellers), the ALP Working Party established by ALP

National Conference and all of the State Premiers/Chief Ministers.

The current rules allow for speed to market, entrepreneurship and a more certain income stream.

They enable risks to be taken on new and emerging authors and give consumers more diverse titles

on retail shelves.

Even the PC agreed with this description of the current situation. This is a

successful industry policy that has created a strong and sustainable domestic book industry

characterised by diversity and growth.

Australian publishing — A brief history

The Australian publishing industry was dominated by overseas publishing houses until the 1960s, with


of all books sold here being imports — mostly from the UK. With the growth of confidence in

Australian culture in the 1960s and 1970s, new independent Australian publishers were created and

the local offices of international publishers began publishing more titles by Australian writers.

Since the introduction in 1991 of the 30/90-day rule, the industry has flourished and become a

significant success story. Australia’s book culture is considered one of the most diverse and vibrant in

the world, with 64% of all books sold in Australia now originated here and a turnover larger than the

domestic film and recorded music industries combined. 

What is the 30/90-day rule?

Like every publishing industry in the world, Australian publishing ultimately relies on copyright. The

30/90-day rule was a key amendment to the Copyright Act which clearly defined and consolidated an

Australian copyright territory separate to the US, Commonwealth and other copyright territories into

which English-language books are usually sold.

Under the 30/90-day rule’s innovative ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ principle, a book must be published in

Australia by the local publisher/copyright holder within 30 days of its release, in English, anywhere

overseas — otherwise a bookseller is free to import any other legal edition of that book in perpetuity.

Similarly, once a book has been published in Australia, a publisher must be able to supply a copy to a

People Feature Australian Public Affairs 2 image


bookseller within 90 days of a request, or else that publisher loses the exclusive local copyright until

the book is back in stock locally.

All public libraries are exempt, individuals can buy over the internet or through a bookseller, and about

40% of imported books are not covered by the 30-day rule and are therefore open market titles.

What has Australian territorial copyright delivered?

Retail sales total between $1.7-2 billion per annum;

Australians buy just under 130 million books each year;

Over 300,000 different titles are sold in Australia each year;

There are over 14,000 new titles published in Australia each year including 8,000 non-fiction,

1,200 fiction, 1,700 children’s books and almost 3,000 educational, school and academic titles;

Australian-originated books account for about 60% of the total books sold in Australia each year;

Approximately 10,000 people are employed directly in book production, many of them part-time or

casual, and book printing is a major regional industry in Victoria and SA;

Export is active and successful with well over $220 million per annum in export and foreign rights

sales around the world;

Australian authors enjoy territorial copyright in the same way that their peers in the US, UK and

Canada do; and

Australian readers have the best mix of book retailers — chains and independents — in the world.

Current position

The group originally pushing to abolish territorial copyright — Woolworths, Wesfarmers and Dymocks

has now swung behind a proposal by the Australian Booksellers Association to reduce to seven

days the time allowed for an Australian publisher to bring a book to market after its overseas

publication and achieve exclusive territorial copyright (SMH 20 10 09).

The Productivity Commission considered reducing the 30-day rule but rejected the idea because

abolishing Australian territorial copyright would have no tangible benefits for consumers on price and

it considered that speed-to-market issues had been solved by the 1991 amendments.

Reducing the 30-day rule to 7-days would do major damage to the book industry. Book publishing is a

complex business, with a number of processes (editing, pre-press, printing, distribution, retail)

requiring close co-operation across different sectors. Some of these processes are beyond

publishers’ control and depend on the goodwill of third parties. Achieving Australian publication within

such a short time of overseas publication would create major new risks for publishers.

Any hiccup at all in any of the processes leading to publication would mean that publishers lose

territorial copyright and waste their investment. Publishers (especially small to medium ones) would

naturally reduce risk and concentrate on blockbusters, where simultaneous publication can be

achieved because of international co-operation enforced by the original overseas publisher.

Booksellers —

with some major exceptions — say a 7-day rule will reduce the drift of consumers to

the internet. They are dead wrong. One reason consumers go to the internet is diversity of choice. A

7-day rule will mean a smaller range of books in Australian bookstores, which in turn means more

consumers will be driven to the internet. So everybody loses from a reduction of the 30-day rule:

consumers, retailers, printers, publishers and authors.

A reduction in the 30-day rule sees not a single Australian winner. Only a handful of packers in

warehouses in America and Asia will benefit from it.

Thirty days is not just reasonable —

it’s fast.

Because of the 30-day rule, Australia has the fastest speed to market for books in the world. Many

titles are now published in Australia months ahead of the US or UK.

More Information: If you would like more detailed information, please contact José Borghino,

Australian Publishers Association, on (02) 9281 9788 or 0413 998 033, or email:


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