Online book piracy is an “offence against moral justice” that “any decent Government” should protect authors from, the writer Philip Pullman has said.
Mr Pullman, the president of the Society of Authors, criticised Britain’s lax copyright laws that are failing to tackle the “increasingly prevalent” number of websites where novels are downloaded for free without the author’s permission.
Mr Pullman’s comments come as 34 leading British writers from the Society of Authors signed an open letter to Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, calling on the Government to do more to strengthen current copyright rules.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Mr Pullman said: “Online piracy of books, music, and other expressions of the human spirit needs to be properly understood: it’s an offence against moral justice.
“It’s the very opposite of freedom of speech, because it acts to prevent those who create beauty, knowledge, consolation or delight from earning even a modest living from their efforts.
“The law of copyright is one of the bastions of civilized living, but the acid rain of online piracy is slowly dissolving something we thought was set in stone. Surely it should be a fundamental duty of any decent government to defend the rights of those who help to create what civilization is.”
In the letter – signed by Mr Pullman, Malorie Blackman and Joanna Trollope among others – the writers express concern at the growing number of websites where users can illegally download books, saying they have the “potential to destroy” the UK’s “great literary heritage”.
The letter cites research by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) which found that in 2017 a sixth of e-books read online in the UK – around four million books – were pirated.
Writing to Mr Clark in the Telegraph, the authors note: “We are concerned that websites offering illegal downloads of books are becoming increasingly prevalent.
“We do not want to give any of these sites publicity by naming them here, but they can easily be found.
“The growth of online book piracy has the potential to damage the legitimate book market and make it even harder for authors to make a living from their work.
“The UK’s great literary heritage has always been underpinned by a robust copyright regime.
Unfortunately, this regime is not respected by online pirates, who flagrantly infringe copyright law by both copying our books and offering them for download.
“As Secretary of State whose department has responsibility for copyright and piracy, we are calling on you to take action against the blight of online book piracy.”
A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “This Government takes infringement of copyright very seriously, and we understand the damage this can do to authors’ livelihoods.
“The IPO will continue to work with authors, online market places and social media platforms to tackle this unacceptable behaviour, and agree ways of reducing this infringement.”
NZSA comment: This comes at a time when our NZ Copyright Act is under review and where key elements in Big Tech companies are wanting to reduce our copyright protection. Tech companies currently operate under ‘safe harbours‘ legislation, where they are not held accountable for illegal activity on their sites so seldom enact remedies like take-down notices issued by authors. The Horizon Research NZ report into Writers’ Earnings has just come out for 2018 and it shows NZ writers earn, on average $15,200 per annum from their writing. Reduced copyright protection will put this meagre income under threat.