Why are authors in an uproar over the Productivity Commission’s intellectual property report?

Authors oppose the proposal to allow parallel imports – a recommendation in the Productivity Commission’s report on intellectual property law in Australia.

At the 2016 Australia Book Industry Awards (ABIA), Magda Szubanski received the gold ABIA Book of the Year and Biography Book of the Year for her first literary work, Reckoning: A Memoir.

Taking top honours at ABIA is an incredible achievement for this newcomer to the Australian literary scene, but Ms. Szubanski is threatening to put away her pen and paper, never write another book and even leave the country.

The reason behind Ms. Szubanski's ire lies with a recommendation on parallel import laws put forth by the Productivity Commission in its draft report on intellectual property law in Australia.

What are parallel imports?

Goods that are protected by trade mark are generally manufactured, packaged and sold for an in a specific region. A book, for example, can be trade marked in Australia and the US, but different versions of it will be sold in each country.

The staggering price difference in different countries motivates parallel imports.

According to the International Trademark Association (INTA), parallel imports are goods that are legally produced in accordance with IP law for one market but brought into a different market to be sold. This generally violates the rights of whoever owns that particular intellectual property.

A motivating factor behind parallel imports is the sometimes staggering price difference between the same products in different countries. A hardcover version of Ms. Szubanski's memoir in Australia, for example, has a listed price of $49.99. A paperback option is set to be available in October for $32.99, according to Booktopia. A hardcover edition is not available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble stores in the US, but both retailers offer a paperback copy with a listed price of USD$16.95, approximately AUD$23.56.

Recommendations to allow parallel imports

Noting that restrictions on parallel imports are causing Australians to pay more for certain goods than consumers in other countries, the Productivity Commission has recommended that the Trade Marks Act 1995 be amended to allow parallel imports in respect of Australian trade marks. For books specifically, the Commission has called for these recommendations to be put in place by the end of 2017.

Many authors, however, are not pleased with these suggestions. 

In her speech at the ABIA ceremony, Ms. Szubanski expressed her outrage at the proposed changes.

"My message is really simple: if this comes in, I will not write another book and I will really start thinking about leaving the country," she said, as reported by the Guardian.

Other speakers echoed Ms. Szubanski's sentiments, including nonfiction winner Tim Winton and ABIA presenter Tom Keneally.