Thank you to those of you who contacted me about copyright exhaustion and book publishing. I appreciate your concerns on this issue.
As you will know, at present the UK continues to unilaterally apply the European Economic Area (EEA) exhaustion regime that the UK was part of as a member of the European Union. Under this current arrangement, once a good that is protected by copyright – such as a book – is put on the market anywhere in the UK or the EEA, the copyright is considered “exhausted” and the good can be sold on in the UK without infringing copyright.
As you highlight however, on 7 June 2021, the Government published a consultation on potential changes to copyright exhaustion in the UK. One of the options the consultation sets out is an international exhaustion regime. Under this, copyright is considered exhausted when a good is placed on the market anywhere in the world, meaning a copyright protected good that had been placed on the market in any country could then be resold in the UK without infringing copyright.
I understand that UK authors, literary agents, publishers and others in the sector and beyond are particularly concerned about the potential impact of an international copyright exhaustion regime on the UK book industry. I know the Save Our Books campaign has warned that the wrong choice on copyright could significantly impact authors’ livelihoods, damage creative export markets and undermine high street retailers to the benefit of online tech giants.
The Government’s consultation sets out several other choices besides an international exhaustion regime and it states that it does not yet have a preferred option. The consultation also notes that under an international regime, “rights holders would have less control over the distribution of their goods”, meaning “intellectual property rights may be considered to be weaker and people may be less likely to innovate or create”. In addition, it identifies print and publishing as one of several sectors that are particularly affected by rights issues.
The consultation is open until 31 August 2021. I hope the Government will give proper consideration to the concerns of those working in the book trade and publishing industry when making any decision. I can assure you I will continue to monitor this issue, keeping in mind the important considerations you highlight.
Thank you once again for contacting me.