A short note on parallel importation

Yesterday, in a SMH op-ed piece, Allan Fells and Fred Brenchley weigh into the debate over parallel importation in the Australian book trade. And here’s Peter Carey’s opposing voice. I have a certain empathy for those who want to maintain the existing restrictions, but can’t help but think that we need to move beyond territorial copyright. Won’t get into the details here (no time today). But in a world of digital downloads, regional restrictions seem so last century. As James Bradley suggests on his blog:

Yet as the experience of the music industry has demonstrated, once the physical object evaporates it becomes almost impossible to continue to control reproduction. So as the print culture of the past, and its dependence on both the modes of reading that go with it and the physical object fades, isn’t it possible the debate of parallel importation may begin to look like one of those skirmishes fought on the edge of a larger conflagration?

The challenge is how to preserve the things of cultural value that the old restrictions enabled. For the moment, if you’re looking for reasons why we don’t have Amazon’s Kindle down under, then this is one of them.

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2 comments so far

  1. James Bradley on

    Thanks for the mention, and although I haven’t read your book yet, I’m planning to.
    But I should point out that although I think the PI debate is one that will seem less pressing as we move to a situation in which the physical object is less important, I don’t think that means we should give in away the fight to prevent the dismantling of the current restrictions on PI. The brutal fact is that if we open our markets books probably won’t get any cheaper but diversity will almost certainly suffer, and it will be disastrous for local publishing.
    I think two points are probably worth making in this context. The first is that for all that the new information culture seems post-national, it isn’t. If anything life as a writer on the wrong side of the world is getting harder, and that has serious implications for anyone who thinks it’s important we have a culture that sustains Australian views and perspectives. As local print outlets such as newspapers and magazines continue to fold and fail, the economies that have sustained Australian writers are winding up as well, and that means we’re very rapidly going to be in a situation in which it’s basically impossible for Australian writers to make a living from their writing. Destroying the local industry in pursuit of probably illusory saving in the price of books is only going to make that situation worse.
    The second is that I think what we need to do is come to see the debate over PI in the context of a longer process of transition away from physical reproduction. If we can do that, we can start thinking about how we sustain and develop Australian perspectives in a digital world. I don’t know what those mechanisms or strategies might be, but cutting the legs out from under the local industry before we even begin doesn’t strike me as a great way to start.

  2. Charlie on

    I think people forget that the publishers are first and foremost profit making companies. Any role they play as guardians of Australia’s literary culture comes second to that. Protecting their profits doesn’t do anything to improve Australia’s book culture which I think is nearly dead at the moment.


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