Brexit Watch: Authors Join Calls for the UK’s Creative Industries’ Protection

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‘The UK government must ensure that the national policy framework is favorable toward writers and other creative practitioners,’ says the Society of Authors in its new policy statement on Brexit.

From the cover of the newly released Society of Authors statement on Brexit and publishing

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Our Reputation as World Leaders’
The UK’s Publishers Association (PA) has been tireless in its efforts both to address the potential ramifications of Brexit and to place book publishing in the community of the creative industries that may experience profound effects in the wake of the anticipated separation from Europe.

Much of the effort is an appeal to the UK government for attention and protection. “In order for us to maintain our world-leading publishing sector,” the association writes in its introductory materials on the issue, “we ask for the government’s support in maintaining the environment within which UK publishers can create, export and digitize their works.”

What’s underway, not surprisingly, is a nationwide jostling by the various corporate sectors for the awareness and provisions of a government under severe political pressure. As Michael Holden is reporting for Reuters, the British interior minister Sajid Javid has said that the announced December 11 parliamentary vote on the Theresa May administration’s deal will go forward, “rejecting media speculation that the government might not go ahead with the vote because they could lose it.”

Today (December 5), the Society of Authors in London has provided the news media with commentary from three key UK authors on the matter, in a statement of solidarity with the industry and the art of the book business.

The society has issued its own eight-page Brexit white paper, Brexit Briefing: ‘No Bargaining Chip’ (PDF).

“The UK government must ensure that the national policy framework is favorable toward writers and other creative practitioners.”Society of Authors statement

In it, the trade union, representing 10,500 writers, scriptwriters, illustrators, and literary translators, sets out its own concerns, writing, “We welcome some of the proposals contained within the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on the future framework between the UK and the EU, particularly around customs and intellectual property.

“However, most of our key concerns relate to issues that will be addressed only in future negotiations with the EU or in domestic legislation.”

In working through its considerations in several stages—copyright, exhaustion of rights, trade, European Union funding, freedom of movement, temporary work, and VAT on ebooks—the society takes as its over-arching principle this statement: “It is vital that our reputation as world leaders in culture and creativity is preserved and strengthened after Brexit. To achieve this, the UK government must ensure that the national policy framework is favorable toward writers and other creative practitioners.”

The line on copyright is particularly persuasive: “There are many countries across the world that do not have the same high copyright standards as the UK,” the society writes. ” It is vital that our current copyright standards are not watered down or used as bargaining chips as part of future trade negotiations. Such a move would be highly detrimental to the success of our creative industries.

“We welcome the international trade secretary’s recent commitment on the floor of the House of Commons to ‘ensure that copyrights are protected.'”

The phrase “no bargaining chip” is also found in the author Joanna Trollope’s statement, included in the white paper. Trollope writes:

Joanna Trollope

“In the UK, there is currently one of the highest standards in the world on creative copyright.

“It is crucial that this is maintained after Brexit, and not diluted as part of future trade deals or used as some kind of bargaining chip.

“We need to enshrine our own gold standards, as well as obliging publishers to provide authors with accounting information, into UK law well before we leave. We also need the government to protect in law the UK position on the exhaustion of rights.

“Failure to do this could fatally undermine the whole UK publishing industry.”

From author Joanne Harris comes a statement on trade with the European Union–for so long a linchpin of Britain’s book exports–which account for more than half of the industry’s revenues. Harris writes:

Joanne Harris

“The British are world leaders when it comes to creativity. And the EU is the publishing industry’s most important market for physical books, currently accounting for 36 percent of all our book exports.

“But we can’t afford to be complacent. We can’t just assume that our creative industries will have the same importance if we lose our easy access to European markets.

“We need to be able to trade easily with Europe and the rest of the world. We need customs arrangements in place that allow us to move goods swiftly and efficiently.

“Otherwise we risk becoming increasingly marginalized, with disastrous results for the publishing industry, and the creative arts as a whole.”

And the society also has a quote from author Linda Grant, addressing the question of freedom of movement, which of course is a particularly vexed area of Brexit discussions and anti-immigration sentiment. Grant writes:

Linda Grant

“The free movement of ideas and of individuals are essential for the creative life.

“We need to travel for research and to reach new audiences.

“The cultural sector in the UK benefits similarly from our ability to attract European writers.

“We need to preserve our close ties with Europe, and scrapping free movement for workers in the cultural sector will cause huge damage to the industry.”

Overall, the society says in its media messaging this morning, “UK writers and other creative professionals have an unparalleled impact on our cultural life at home and our influence abroad. They play a pivotal role in the success of the creative industries, which generate over £100 billion per year (US$128 billion) for the UK economy and have considerable cultural influence both here and overseas.”

Making the Case for Publishing’s Needs

For more on the surrounding industry’s positions on the issues–for the most part tracking well along with those of the Society of Authors–the Publishers Association’s workup is instructive.

The PA’s material, like that of the society, is succinct in what it sees as the publishing’s industry’s bottom-line needs in the Brexitian context, and sorts them into 10 consecutive points divided into three groups this way:

Encourage the world’s best new creative, education and academic works

1. Maintain access to global talent and ideas

2. Support and improve our gold standard copyright framework

3. Commit to free speech and freedom to publish

4. Maintain a sustainable approach to open access policy for research

Support the global reach of UK publishing

5. Ensure quality control through national exhaustion for intellectual property

6. Maximize our ability to export to all markets

7. Lead the way on rights enforcement

Lead the world in the digital age

8. Enable cross-border data flows

9. Zero rate VAT on e-publications

10. Ensure fair online markets

More is available in the association’s PDF, “A Blueprint for UK Publishing,” which can be downloaded here.


More from Publishing Perspectives on Brexit is here. And more on the UK market in general is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He is also co-owner and editor with Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet, the newsletter for trade and indie authors. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, at London's The Bookseller. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.

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