Government pauses plans to change UK copyright exhaustion framework

Martin Reed

Martin Reed

Martin leads the SoA's Communications team. He oversees our strategic communications and campaign-based activities, including PR, social media, events and partnerships.
Society of Authors responds to announcement #SaveOurBooks

On Tuesday 18 January 2022, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) announced that it will, for now, not proceed with changes to the UK’s current laws on copyright exhaustion.

In 2021, the Society of Authors campaigned alongside publishers, agents and booksellers in the Save Our Books campaign, raising awareness across the publishing industry of the dangers posed by alternatives to the current system.

The exhaustion regime allows UK rightsholders to price appropriately for international markets and stops the unauthorised importing of international copies of books into the UK, undercutting the domestic market. This copyright protection is crucial for UK authors selling their works abroad.

The IPO’s proposals could have led to the removal of this copyright border, meaning authors would not be able to stop cheaper copies of their works from around the world being sold in the UK. This would have eroded domestic sales where the majority of UK author income comes from.

In light of the difficulties authors have faced throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, this would be disastrous.

The IPO has paused not halted its plans, saying it ‘remains committed to exploring the opportunities which might come from a change to the regime’.

Commenting on the IPO announcement, SoA chief executive Nicola Solomon said:

We were pleased to see that the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has made the right choice to hold back on reengineering and weakening the UK copyright regime – and it has been inspiring to see how much authors, publishers, booksellers and agents can achieve when they campaign together. However, there is an open-endedness to today’s announcement that is disappointing.

A strong copyright framework works to everyone’s benefit – for the creators and the industries that take their work to market, and for the public who consume it. In publishing, this is critical, not least because of how precarious the business of being an author can be.

The IPO says there is ‘not enough data available to understand the economic impact of any of the alternatives’, but as Monday’s Nielsen stats show, we have an industry packed full of data that demonstrates the economic benefits of the UK’s current copyright regime.

We hope that if and when the Government revisits this issue in future, they will look even more closely at the evidence available.

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