Malta’s publishing industry and the copyright exception

The European Commission is planning to introduce a new copyright reform to further harmonise copyright regulations in the single market. In principle most of us would agree and even benefit from further cross-border copyright law harmonisation, however it must be acknowledged that local publishers are against the education copyright exception as it is being proposed as they are unconvinced that the current wording of the draft will guarantee fair compensation for use of works.

I am also against taking a “wait and see” approach on the actual effects of the law on the local publishing industry, which seems to be the position of politicians who are apparently in favour of the law.

There seems to be no limits, standards or guidelines set by the draft law on how much content can actually be reproduced for the use of illustration in the classroom. At the same time the draft also concedes that member states have the right to implement the education exception according to the licensing regulations they have in the local market and this so as to ensure fair compensation for publishers, but this may also be left to the discretion of member states.

The wording as it stands is ambiguous and can be subject to various interpretations. In such technical matters relating to rights and compensation, especially in the light of the recent HP/Reprobel judgment, we know very well that the law may fail its intended purpose and deliver debatable judgements.

I suspect that the main problem in our local context is that there is no culture of safeguarding copyright in our education system and the works of local publishers end up being photocopied or scanned digitally without fair compensation. Local publishers are anxious about the prospect of having a new law which might actually accelerate the current indifference to copyright law and culture.

This is why I think we need to assess properly our local situation before taking a position on the current reforms. We have to keep in mind that this is a very delicate issue since the prime source of revenue for local publishers is not fiction or non-fiction but, as a matter of fact, children’s books and educational material.

If the law allows member states the freedom to interpret the education exception according to local licensing and copyright standards, and the government would take a position in favour of using the education exception to facilitate further dissemination of published educational material, in Malta’s case, the outcome could deal a severe blow to the publishing industry.

So, instead of taking a wait and see approach, the government should engage publishers further on the issue and guarantee that their lifeline will not be cut while, on the other hand, local publishers should make their position more assessable and put forth concrete proposals regarding the implementation of new licensing agreements to immediate effect.

We have to take a unified approach to the issue and given that these reforms will be discussed under Malta’s Presidency we may have a better opportunity to make sure that the outcome of the reforms would safeguard the existence of our publishing industry.

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