First person — contracts, trends and author concerns across Europe

View of Madrid skyline from the roof of the Circulo de Bellas Artes (photo © Ambre Morvan)
View of Madrid skyline from the roof of the Circulo de Bellas Artes (photo © Ambre Morvan)
Ambre Morvan

Ambre Morvan

Ambre joined the SoA on October 2021. She advises members on publishing contracts and issues. She also works on the SoA’s public policy.
SoA advisor Ambre Morvan reflects on three days in Madrid at the European Writers’ Council 2022 AGM

From 10-12 June this year, I attended the European Writers’ Council (EWC) AGM in Madrid alongside 40 other delegates from 21 countries. Inside the walls of the beautiful Circulo de Bellas Artes, copyright and authors’ interests were at the heart of every conversation.

Burning issues

One of the main events of the weekend was the annual Burning Issues Forum, a place where EWC members can share challenges their authors are facing and share concerns about trends in good — and bad — practice. We were able to ask questions, share experiences, and compare points of similarity or difference across Europe to consider possible solutions.

We had opportunities to spark discussions on a broad range of subjects including the difficult relationship between public administration and copyright in Spain, the potential harm to creators of a new e-lending law in Germany, and the need for the book sector to be more diverse and inclusive of authors and publishing professionals of all genders.

In a paper entitled ‘How can authors earn a living in the 21st century marketplace?’ I presented a topic touching on issues around unfair contract terms, the inequality of bargaining power and the impact of Brexit on authors.

The forum led to enriching and thought-provoking discussions. While it isn’t surprising that many countries are facing the same challenges, it was fascinating to hear how each country is assessing and addressing the situation, what their governments might be proposing, which solutions are being considered by the authors’ organisations, what is being done as a result — and to draw a comparison with the situation elsewhere, including here in the UK.

The forum ended with a presentation of the #FreeAllWords project, a ‘fee and translation’ fund to ‘give voice to authors from Belarus and Ukraine’. The project will be coordinated by the EWC, with the help of the European Council of Literary Translators Associations (CEATL). At the SoA we are passionate about the development of projects like this as we continue our work to protect free speech and to create an environment where all are afforded an equal voice.

International cooperation

EWC AGM name badge (photo © Ambre Morvan)

This was my first time attending an EWC conference and I was thrilled to be there as a representative of the SoA. For three days, conversations were focused on copyright and authors’ rights (which is heaven for a publishing contracts and public policy advisor like me!). Being able to attend in person was important as meeting people face-to-face helped with having spontaneous conversations and enabled me to ask more questions than in an online event. It was truly fascinating to learn how the copyright system works and what the publishing practices are in other countries, and I would have loved to have more time. This all gave me useful insights that I can use in my day-to-day job.

What I loved most was seeing that, although we all come from different countries, with different legal frameworks and issues, we were all animated by a spirit of international cooperation and we were all working towards the same goals: advocating for authors’ rights, for a fairer industry, and for a better future for authors.

Why is the SoA’s work with the EWC important?

As a trade union, advocating for, promoting and protecting authors’ rights, it is essential that we work with international partners, like the EWC and the International Authors Forum.

The EWC successfully created a space where more than 40 authors’ organisations from 31 countries across Europe could work together for effective campaigning and change. This gives authors a collective voice at a European level, a voice which is strong and heard by policy makers. For instance, organisations worked together to push for the adoption of creator sections in the Digital Single Market Directive.

Being a member of such an organisation is also an asset in that it helps us create networks. Although our advisory team specialises in UK law and publishing practices, I believe it is valuable to have overseas contacts so we can direct our members to sister organisations for individual advice when needed, as it is not uncommon these days for authors to work with publishers and organisations based outside the UK.

The SoA does an incredible and relentless job of promoting the interests of authors through campaigning and lobbying. By discussing with other countries, we can feed from them; we can learn what is achievable and what is not (why do some countries have model book contract? Is it realistic to have transparency and remuneration provisions in the law?) to inform and strengthen our lobbying.

We need to be aware of what is going on at a regional and international level and understand the upcoming challenges the industry will face to ensure that we will be able to promptly respond and defend authors’ rights in a global marketplace. Although copyright is territorial, book sales aren’t. The UK remains one of the biggest markets in Europe and therefore our input is still valued and relevant at a broader level, and our knowledge of practices in other national countries (read ‘markets’) informs how we can best help our members.

The EWC is a federation of 46 authors organisations from 31 countries across Europe. Together, EWC members represent more than 160,000 authors. The EWC’s website can be found here.

1 September 2020

The Society of Authors joins calls alongside writer unions across Europe to denounce the ongoing violence and repression in Belarus.
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