It was also revealed this month that the government has decided not to change the existing regulatory regime for importing books, notwithstanding the Productivity Commission’s recommendation in June this year that the parallel importation restrictions (PIR) on books be repealed.
Under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), copyright owners are able to prevent the importation into Australia of books that have been lawfully published in another country. To qualify for protection, an Australian copyright holder (commonly a publisher or author) must publish a book for which they hold copyright within 30 days of its overseas release and (subject to some exceptions) maintain a capacity for resupply within 90 days. Once a rights holder is protected, booksellers cannot import and sell the same title in commercial quantities.
As part of the COAG competition reform agenda, in November 2008 the Productivity Commission was asked to assess the effects of these restrictions on the community and to determine whether they should be retained, modified or repealed. In July this year, the Productivity Commission released its report, recommending (amongst other things) that the PIR on books be repealed.
The government stated that its decision not to remove the import restrictions was made in light of the ‘strong competitive pressure’ from international online retailers such as Amazon.com and the diffusion of e-books such as Amazon.com’s ‘Kindle’. The government took the view that this competition meant that the abolition of PIRs would not have ‘any material effect on the availability of books in Australia’.
Previous reviews have been conducted by the ACCC (and its predecessor) and other review committees in 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2001, with each of these reviews also recommending removal of PIR on books. Restrictions on parallel importing for recorded music and computer software were lifted in 1998 and in 2003, respectively.