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Soaring digital book sales down to stable copyright regime in UK, claims publishers' body

Publishers have enjoyed a "huge increase" in the value of sales of digital books because UK copyright laws give those companies "stability" to invest in them, a trade body has said.18 Sep 2012

The Publishers' Association (PA) has reported that publishers have enjoyed a 188% rise in the value of sales of fiction publications in the form of electronic books (e-books), audio downloads and online subscriptions between January and June this year compared with the same period in 2011.

PA said that overall digital sales of "general consumer titles", which include fiction, non-fiction and children's books, were worth £84 million during the first six months of this year, up from £30m for the period covering January to June 2011.

The head of the industry body said that the UK's copyright regime had encouraged investment in publishing across all forms.

"The huge increase in digital sales shows how rapidly readers and publishers are embracing e-book reading," Richard Mollet, chief executive of PA, said in a statement. "Whether books are enjoyed physically or electronically, publishers will continue to invest in exciting authors and titles. They can do this because of the stability provided by the UK's robust and flexible copyright framework. This is why The PA is at the forefront of calls to government to ensure that copyright is not eroded and that creators' rights are protected and supported online."

Late last year the Government outlined its plans to reform UK copyright laws to implement recommendations made by university professor Ian Hargreaves in his review of the UK's intellectual property (IP) framework.

The Government has proposed allowing limited private copying, introducing an exemption for parody and pastiche and widening exceptions for library archivists and non-commercial researchers.

In addition the Government has outlined plans to make it easier for so-called 'orphan' works – copyrighted material whose owner is unknown or cannot be identified – to be utilised by others, whilst it has also detailed planned changes to the copyright licensing regime.

However, PA has been vocal in warning about potential implications of changing the copyright framework. In May Mollet criticised search engines, internet service providers (ISPs) and the British Library, among others, for "seeking to erode copyright".

In addition, PA has argued against plans to introduce a new content mining exception to copyright, instead backing the findings of a Parliamentary committee that recommended new licensing models be formed to allow researchers to use computerised techniques to read information contained in journal articles.

In February Mollet also encouraged the Government to postpone plans to reform the rules around copyright exceptions until the effects of a new digital copyright exchange for licensing of works, the feasibility of which was reviewed and deemed workable, are known.