Britain's best-loved storytellers turned their fire on the People's Revolutionary Council of Newport yesterday – otherwise known as the Intellectual Property Office. The IPO wants to use the power of the state to rob authors of the right to see any royalties from sales into education.
Just like that. And no, this is not a joke. The government is currently hosting a consultation on measures thrown into the 'Google Review' – the study ordered by No 10 and nominally led by former newspaper editor Ian Hargreaves – but which was largely written by IPO bureaucrats. The consultation process has become a vehicle for all kinds of ideas which weren't in the review, but which appear to be part of a mission to obliterate copyright where possible, or collectivise it where it can't actually be obliterated.
One of these is an "education exemption". The IPO proposes abolishing the current system of licensing educational material, and replacing it with one in which no compensation is returned. As Don Foster MP said in a recent Parliamentary debate:
It means in effect that an author could write a textbook, one copy could be printed and thereafter multiple copies could be made in schools throughout the land for children in those schools to use, with no reward going to the author and therefore not a cat in hell’s chance of that author ever bothering to write again.
Commenting at a seminar at Westminster hosted by the Publishers Association, Free Ride author Robert Levine said he could see one situation in which that might be fair:
Yeah, if it's a school where the janitor doesn't get paid, where the teachers don't get paid, and where the school pays no rent – fine, you can use my book. But if they're getting paid, I as an author, want to be paid too.
The IPO was called "out of control" by MPs in the debate.
Last night's panel included the two successful authors, Julia Donaldson, who wrote The Gruffalo – and is the author of one in 10 books sold into primary schools, an extraordinary number – and best-selling crime author Val McDermid. Both were good value.
McDermid said that one of her readers had scanned all 19 of her books, and then sold them as a bundle on eBay for £4.99, popping up every six weeks. She commented:
I'm pretty sure if I went to my local supermarket, stole 19 bottles of wine and sold them outside, I wouldn't be walking free today.
The book business has no intention of making the same mistakes as the music business – such as suing members of the public – and it is welcoming digital markets rather than fighting them.
A bigger problem for the book industry than piracy – although that hardly helps – may be its business partners. Levine raised the prospect of a book industry where pricing and promotion, and perhaps even investment, were controlled by Amazon.
At least Del Monte tries not to bruise the bananas. ®