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Stacks of paperback books

Photo by jvoves, 2009, via Flickr Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

By Eisha Farrukh

“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons.” – Malala Yousafzai

The twenty-third of April commemorates an eventful day for world literature. On this date in 1616, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega both died, leaving their final mark on the world. Since then, other notable authors such as Vladimir Nabokov, Maurice Druon, Manuel Mejía Vallejo, Josep Pla and Halldór K. Laxness were either born or passed away on the same date. As a tribute to the contribution of such creative greats to the social and cultural progress of humanity, UNESCO created World Book and Copyright Day.

Since it was first celebrated in 1996, the day has become an occasion to cultivate vital conversations about the role books play in the educational, cultural and economic life of our societies. Involving the three major sectors of the book industry – publishers, booksellers and libraries – World Book and Copyright Day promotes the power of reading, particularly among young people. There are 175 million adolescents in the world who are unable to read; two out of three of these are girls or young women. World Book and Copyright Day is an opportunity to draw attention to the fight against illiteracy.

The day also raises awareness of the important protections afforded to authors by copyright. Copyright laws have been under assault in the digital world. Contributors to Copyright future copyright freedom, edited by Brian Fitzgerald and Benedict Atkinson, address the dilemma writers, publishers and others with an interest in creative expression face: how to encourage the creation and dissemination of new work while protecting the interests of copyright holders? Key thinkers including Michael Kirby and Lawrence Lessig grapple with the future of copyright regulation in Australia.

Cover of Copyright Future Copyright Freedom=

Lessig sums up the benefits of copyright: “Copyright limits freedom, the freedom to unreservedly copy other people’s work, or compete with the original creator of creative work, in order to inspire more free speech.” Using books as an example, Lessig explains copyright law and its application:

Think about this point in the context of a book. Many uses of a book are simply unregulated by the law. To read a book is not a fair use of the book. It is a free use of the book, because to read a book is not to produce a copy. To give someone a book is not a fair use of the book, it is a free use of the book, because again, to give someone a book is not to produce a copy. To sell a book under the American copyright scheme is specifically exempted from the reach of the copyright owner because to sell a book is not to produce a copy. To sleep on a book is in no jurisdiction anywhere in the world a copyright relevant use of the book, because to sleep on a book is not to produce a copy. These unregulated uses are balanced by a set of important regulated uses, regulated so as to create the incentives necessary for authors to create great new works. To publish a book you need permission from the copyright owner because that monopoly right is deemed essential to create the incentive in some authors to create great new works. And then in the American tradition, there is a slim sliver of exemptions from copyright law called fair use: uses which would have otherwise been regulated by the law, but which the law says are to remain free to encourage creativity or critique to build upon older work.

Lessig argues for a fundamental reconsideration of copyright and for the need to focus “the regulation of copyright law in those areas where it can do some good.” Seen this way, copyright is not simply about protecting the interests of individual creators. By making it feasible for authors to produce new work, copyright safeguards our writing culture.

We encourage you to immerse yourself in literature this 23 April in celebration of books and knowledge – the true embodiment of human creativity.

Eisha Farrukh is a media and law student interning at Sydney University Press and a director of Bawurra Foundation. She loves a good discussion, fine coffee, and snapchat dog filters.

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Discussion about publishing and new books from Sydney University Press and University of Sydney authors

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