Jo Revill on the London Book Fair

You wouldn’t normally imagine that words spoken about copyright could be beautiful, would you? Rather, it is usually assumed that conversations on copyright will be dry, legalistic and impenetrable to outsiders.

At the London Book Fair, I was thrilled to hear writers, publishers and academics speak of the central importance of copyright to our world, a world in which creative endeavour, the imparting and sharing of knowledge and protection for writers has been possible because of the coming together of a set of principles and laws which have stood the test of time.

‘Copyright is a slow dance, it’s meant to take time,’ said Isobel Dixon, poet, literary agent and commentator.

‘We have to protect a system and we have to start educating people around it.’ Like others on the platform – and off it – she was talking about the ‘insidious’ ways in which ideas like ‘all content should be free’ are spread, and a sense that the concept of public interest can be hijacked by companies and others to become a veiled attack on rights. ‘It’s about hijacking the public interest, but we ARE the public interest. Authors serve the public interest and copyright serves authors.’

The panel heard from Dan Conway, CEO of the Publishers Association who talked about the global efforts to support copyright. There was a phrase I hadn’t heard before – ‘astroturf movement’,  imitating a grassroots campaign but not actually the real thing.  The phrase describes campaigns backed by technology companies and others, seemingly about freedom of information but containing anti-publisher, anti-creator sentiment aimed at diminishing the set of principles that have supported us all for so long.

We heard about attacks on authors’ rights from different countries, such as a group of schools in Canada who refused to pay the copyright fees, the challenge of working in countries where there are still no protection for writers, and extraordinary work in the US by campaigners and lawyers to defend authors’ rights.

As we sat in Kensington Olympia, surrounded by the hubbub of meetings, coffee stalls, deals being done and rights being sold, it was encouraging to see a proper discussion about the future of the idea that lies at the heart of our work, and enables millions to be paid for what they’ve striven to create. And, of course, flows down to their families on their death, years after that creation.

Despite the blockbuster deals and record year for publishing in the UK, it’s already so hard for many authors or illustrators to make a liveable income. We know that the money reaching our members is often a relatively small amount. However, it is a form of recognition for them, as well as financial reward. If copyright was eroded by false ideas, how would any of them realistically be able to continue their work without remuneration? The world would be so diminished.

For me, the take-home message from the London Book Fair is that there needs to be a collective endeavour from the whole of the creative community to explain why rights matter. We cannot sit back and take for granted that they are immune from attack.

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