Parallel importation of books: how it works, what it means, and a round-up of the literature

What’s the hottest topic in Australian cultural policy right now?

Parallel importation of books, of course.

The controversy stems from a decision by the government’s economic reform agency, the marvellously named Productivity Commission, to review the issue of territorial copyrights as they apply to literature in Australia. Territorial copyrights are a component of Australia’s intellectual property system, governed by our various copyright laws including Section 112A of the Copyright Act of 1968.

Today I take a close look at this report and examine what it recommends. Amazingly, we’ll discover that the very same Commission which recommends removing one sort of trade barrier for publishing also recommends introducing a new form of protection to replace it.

There’s been an avalanche of anguish from authors and publishers on this issue, and a smaller but smugger outbreak of schadenfraude by neo-liberals, book chains and others who enjoy watching skivvy-wearing writers squirm. But if you delve into the Commission’s report, you can quickly find the issues as stake.

So, are you ready? Then let’s begin.

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