ARTS POLICY - COPYRIGHT
Copyright Agency Limited [CAL] distributed $23.5m. in the financial year
2000-01. This sum should have been enough to keep all Australian authors
in frugal comfort. It doesnít. Indeed, one danger from CALís
boasting about its $23.5m. pay-out is that politicians and the public
may conclude that writers no longer need grants from the Literature Fund
of the Australia Council.
handful of Australian writers have ever lived off royalties from the
sale of books. The usual contract brings ten per cent of the shop price.
Sales of 5,000 are considered high. If the cover price is $40, gross
earnings for at least a yearís fulltime effort will be $20,000, minus
costs of creation.
though the mean for an annual CAL cheque is only $300 or so dollars,
that amount is a weekís income for many fulltime authors.
1960s, the prime threat to authorsí incomes has not been from pirated
editions but photocopied pages, principally for use in classrooms once
it became easy to run off thirty or 300 copies of a poem or a chapter.
The volume in the library from which the copies were made was the only
one that earned royalties. During the 1970s, Judith Wrightís royalties
were more than halved by the photocopier. CAL estimates that over a
billion pages are now copied each year.
among authors that copyright payments would redress this loss of income
has not been met. CAL paid book authors only $616, 167. So where did the
other $23m. end up?
newsletter went some way to an answer but was coy about three concerns:
one, the imbalance between receipts to authors and to their publishers;
two, the percentage passed overseas; and three, CALís own take.
first point, the raw figures show that authors got 8 per cent and book
publishers 48 per cent. The assumption is that publishers will pass on a
share to their authors. The arguments that CAL advances to support its
faith that such transfers take place are nothing if not inventive.
Authors are supposed to prefer this round-about method for tax
minimisation, or for its administrative ease. This explanation sits
uneasily with CALís promise to develop methods for tracking those
looked-for allocations. The inquiry is a belated attempt to deflect
authorsí complaints that not all publishers are splitting their
the $10m. pay-out to book publishers has not increased average royalty
rates or advances. Nor has it put books back into print. On the
contrary, if a publisher can get a government cheque in the mail from
mass photocopying, why incur the costs of reproduction and distribution?
CAL sends $4. 3m., 19 per cent of its total payout, to collecting
societies abroad. Those overseas agencies collect one-tenth of that
amount on behalf of Australians. Hence, CAL spends as much calculating
the debt to foreigners as it receives from equivalent agencies abroad.
Is this another case of Australia playing the good trader while Europe
and the US reap the benefits?
CALís September newsletter did not break down its own revenues. CAL
stresses that it is a not-for-profit organisation. What its public
relations material does not highlight is that, like all administrators,
it extracts a fee of $4m. from its members. For instance, these expenses
include overseas trips to negotiate with foreign collecting agencies.
CAL begins to looks like another make-work scheme for lawyers, none of whom would work there for the average authorís income. To add insult to injury, the Agency was wont to invite authors to seminars at $60 a pop to hear why we are not getting ripped off.
CAL will point out that its bureaucratic rent is essential to
calculating, collecting and distributing the pay-outs. That is true
under the complicated system that applies. It is not in the interest of
CAL, or of copyright lawyers in private practice, to simplify those
payments are allocated at a fraction of a cent for every page of each
individualís work that gets copied, according to a sample, but with
plenty of exemptions for libraries and education. One alternative would
be to exact a smaller fee on every photocopied page before pooling that
sum to fund writers and publishers.
copyright law treats the expression of ideas as an individual
possession, writing is part of a greater conversation. None of us
invents ideas or their expression out of nothing. To treat creativity as
property, like sheep or bricks, reinforces the mentality that
impoverishes writers by devaluing memory and imagination.