VAL McDermid and thousands of authors have called on the UK Government to rethink a copyright law change that would have a “devastating” impact on writers.

More than 2600 authors signed an open letter to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng urging him not to weaken copyright law – which would allow foreign editions of books to be sold in the UK.

The UK was formerly part of the EU’s copyright agreement which allowed books to be sold freely in Europe.

Before Brexit, when the books were sold outside of the EU, they could not be reimported to the domestic market.

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However, the Intellectual Property Office (IPC) began a consultation on the UK’s “copyright exhaustion” rules last month.

One option is to change to an international regime – which would then give the go ahead for cheaper books to flood the UK market without the copyright-holders permission.

Those backing the move argue it would make books cheaper – books cost on average £8.70 in the UK, but only £3.14 in India.

But authors, including McDermid, Sara Sheridan, Carol Ann Duffy and Philip Pullman, have warned that the move could impact writers’ earnings and the industry would end up being “only accessible to the wealthy”.

The National:

Val McDermid is one of thousands of signatories on the letter to Kwarteng

A study by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society found the annual median income made from writing by those who spend more than half their working life on it was only £10,000.

It also found that between 2006 and 2018, the average income for authors fell by 42%.

Save Our Books, a campaign group set up by authors, agents and publishers, are lobbying Kwarteng not to weaken the law.

In a letter, the 2661 signatories said: “The UK currently has strong copyright laws which enable creators to be fairly compensated for their work and the UK to export more books than any other country in the world.

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“Weakening the UK’s copyright laws would impair our ability to earn an income which would have a devastating impact on this country’s vibrant, world-renowned book industry.

“If writing becomes a profession only accessible to the wealthy, important stories will not be told.”

The letter cites the IPC’s consultation, which closes on August 31, and says that if an international exhaustion framework is brought in, “authors will be unable to limit foreign editions of their books being sold into the UK – undercutting their domestic sales”.

The National:

Business Secretary Kwarteng has been urged not to weaken copyright law

The letter continues: “Authors, like many creatives, have suffered greatly during the pandemic. “This consultation could significantly impact authors’ livelihoods, setting them back once again.

“Another blow to the industry would have a deeply detrimental impact on the UK book trade.”

The letter then calls for the UK to avoid any “radical shift” to the way the UK book market operates and to listen to recommendations lodged by Save Our Books.

It adds: “Doing so will allow UK authors to export their books around the world, safe in the knowledge that their UK earnings won’t suffer.”

A UK Government spokesman said: “Any decision to change the current system would be based on the evidence arising from the consultation and we welcome views from all businesses, civil society groups and consumers.”