14 October 2019

Interview

An Alternative Route: Cooperation Leads to Better Conditions for Australian Libraries

A lot of advocacy work focuses on trying to change laws in order to improve the situation for libraries. However, there can be alterantives to legal reform as a recent example from Australia shows.

IFLA interviewed Sue McKerracher, CEO of the Australian Library and Information Association to find out more.

1. You’ve just announced two agreements – what do these cover?

The first addresses the grey area of copyright permission for storytimes held outside the library premises. Lots of libraries take storytime to festivals, community centres, neighbourhood gatherings, shopping centres – it’s a great way to reach out to families who may not have thought of using the library before. It’s the performance of 100% of an artistic work in a public space that’s not a library but authors and illustrators love the fact that their picture books gain this exposure, and publishers welcome the additional promotion, so we are all in agreement that it’s a very positive thing for the book industry.

The second agreement is one we like to call the Jolly Postman agreement, after the 1986 book The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. This agreement allows libraries to photocopy the removable inserts in activity picture books, so when (it’s always ‘when’, not ‘if’) they are lost by a junior member, the library can simply cut out new shapes for the next borrower. Again, there is no issue for creators or publishers. It’s in everyone’s interest that children can find full enjoyment in the picture book.

2. What will they mean for libraries in practical terms?

For storytimes, this simply takes away any doubt librarians may have had about whether events outside libraries were covered or not by existing copyright provisions. There will be little effect in practice, as libraries have regularly used storytimes as a fun form of outreach. With the Jolly Postman agreement, it may well mean that libraries which previously avoided purchasing picture books with inserts, these books will now be added to the acquisitions list.

3. Is there any precedent for these agreements?

This is the third agreement we have reached with Australian book industry partners. The first was in August 2016 when we agreed that libraries could use book cover images to promote books and authors without seeking special permission each time. Again, it was a commonsense approach to regularise something which benefited everyone.

4. Who has been involved, and what brought you together in order try and find a deal?

These initiatives have been made possible through strong and positive relationships between publishers, authors, booksellers and libraries. Our peak bodies have been meeting regularly since 2015 with the aim of finding ways to champion Australian writing, share insights and data, and generally promote books and reading.

5. Did you ever consider trying to follow a legal route in order to get results here?

Through the Australian Libraries Copyright Committee, we have achieved legislative reform in other areas, for example the same terms of copyright for published and unpublished works in 2017, and safe harbours in 2018, but when there are opportunities for simple industry agreements that are of mutual benefit to all parties, it’s a quick and easy way to solve relatively minor issues.

6. What was the hardest part of the conversations?

The word ‘copyright’. Content creators, publishers and libraries are so used to being adversaries in the copyright arena, that it took a little while for us to work through which areas of copyright we should put to one side, as we have different perspectives, and which ones we could bring to the table.

7. Have you seen any changes in attitudes or levels of understanding on each side?

The Australian Publishers Association and Australian Society of Authors were great to work with once we had identified the no-go areas – and I hope they would say the same about us. We meet two or three times a year now, and between us we run the highly success Australian Reading Hour in September each year. Another great example of collaboration for the benefit of all stakeholders.

8. How will it be possible to guarantee that the agreements will be followed?

The Australian Publishers Association covers almost all publishers operating in this country – and in any case, these agreements work for everyone, so there is no reason why someone wouldn’t honour them.

9. What do you think this means for future cooperation?

These agreements are part of a wider commitment to collaborate. They provide useful practical outcomes that demonstrate this unity of purpose to government and our members.

10. To what extent do you think that this experience is replicable in other jurisdictions?

We would urge libraries in any country to talk to their publishers, authors and booksellers, to see if they can work through those minor copyright irritations and come up with a better way forward for everyone. Where there is mutual and equal benefit, why wouldn’t it work?

CLM (Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters), Copyright, Australia, Literacy and reading, publishers, storytimes

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