Forgive the acerbic tone to this post, but I can’t let Professor Allan Fels’ latest comment go regarding his desire to scrap Territorial Copyright laws for Australian authors.
This is part of what he said last night on ABC TV‘s 7:30 Report about our present copyright protection: “There’s also a claim that it’s good for culture, that is, it’s good for culture that Australian book readers should pay more for books. I don’t understand that.”
An open letter to Professor Allan Fels, Bob Carr and all….
Well, let me enlighten you, Professor Fels with my Culture for DUMMIES.
Heinemann’s Australian dictionary says culture means, ‘ a development or improvement of the intellect or behaviour; the distinctive practices and beliefs of a society.’ Well, that’s pretty straightforward, don’t you think, Professor Fels?
Let’s put it in context of Australian children’s picture books and novels. After all, that’s the area that will be directly hit by yours and Bob Carr’s, Dymocks Bookstores, and the discount retailers Woolworths and Coles’s bid to destroy Australian Territorial Copyright on books.
If the Parallel Importation Restrictions are abolished or watered-down (as desired by you and your fellow free-marketeers) future Australian books risk losing their Australian content, voices and experiences.
In the world of children’s books – and maybe you have no experience in this area – the risk is even greater. Australian children must grow up having access to books from their own country. Books that hold mirror images of their own experiences not those of children living in Manhattan, Texas or Manchester. Books that echo with Australian voices, multi-cultural and all; stories connecting with our own place in the world.
If PIRs are abolished and Australian authored books are published overseas they WILL BE CHANGED to suit American or British tastes. Then they will be exported back into this country with American spelling, language and terms – gone will be Wagga Wagga, Mum, footpath, rugby union, gum tree, Indooroopilly, possum and a host of other words.
But even worse than losing our own language is the threat to Australian content in books. Aussie children understand Aussie humour – North American and British children don’t quite get it. Okay, I mustn’t generalise, so let’s just say that publishers (the gatekeepers) in the US and the UK don’t ‘get’ Australian humour … just ask popular Australian children’s author, Morris Gleitzman about his experiences.
And what can Australian authors do when a large American publishing firm says we’ll publish your book, but we’ll need to make a few changes. If we refuse the changes we do not get published.
We’ve seen this happen already where Australian books are picked up by US publishing firms. Even picture books are not immune – they become bland, superficial facsimiles of their Aussie twins.
So, Professor Fels, please open your eyes and your mind; life isn’t meant to be all about making more money. And don’t try to pull the wool over Aussie eyes – people who want to buy a book in this country are not bound by the price at the bookshop. We all have access to free libraries across this wide land so no child needs to go without a book because of what it costs. (And let me remind you, the Productivity Commission says there’s no guarantee books would be any cheaper if the restrictions are lifted).
I’m just an ordinary Australian children’s writer trying to make a living in my beloved country – following my passion for storytelling set on this land, that uses the language and experiences of its peoples.
Like my fellow authors I live with rejections, rewrites and edits on work that might take many years to complete. I don’t complain if I’m lucky to earn 10% of the RRP on a proportion of a few thousand published copies.
I just move on to writing the next one with the thrill of knowing many children read my stories and enjoy them; and the knowledge that I’m part of a noble profession working to ensure our Australian culture in its written form will survive and thrive, long after you’ve become a tiny, full-stop dot in the book of Australian history.