The publishing industry has been thrown into a spin following the Productivity Commission's recent recommendations that parallel import restrictions (PIR) be completely removed.
Currently, the PIRs contained in the Copyright Act 1968 prevent booksellers importing books into Australia that have been published lawfully in another country. PIRs apply to books first published in Australia, or books first published in a country signatory to the Berne Convention, which are then published by the copyright owner in Australia within 30 days. Once published in Australia within the 30-day limit, the copyright owner must also maintain capacity to supply the book for 90 days.
As a result, PIRs effectively protect Australian publishers from price competition from overseas publishers for books falling within their scope.
Advocates of PIRs believe PIRs have cultural benefits, arguing that they promote a larger local publishing industry and generate more opportunities for Australian authors.
The commission, however, argues in its report that PIRs are a poor way of targeting cultural benefits. "The higher prices benefit all protected titles, whatever their cultural merit, and indirectly benefit the broader range of books as well. And much of the assistance provided by PIRs does not promote Australian-authored works," it argued.
In recommending that PIRs be removed (after a three-year adaptation period) the commission argued that they place upward pressure on book prices which are borne mainly by consumers. "Reform of the current arrangements is necessary to place downward pressure on book prices [and] remove constraints to the commercial activities of booksellers and overcome the poor targeting of assistance to the cultural externalities," it stated.
Though the recommendation, if accepted by the Government, would effectively remove a layer of IP regulation, Middletons senior associate Troy Gurnett said he believes removing PIRs won't necessarily lead to less work for IP lawyers, and could create other concerns for clients. "While many may contend that the repeal of [PIRs] will result in less copyright litigation for legal firms and less work for enforcement authorities such as customs, it will most likely pave the way for easier access to Australian consumers by black market operators," he said.