Brexit: business as usual or time for change?

01 March 2019 Brexit:

Earlier this week intellectual property solicitors Briffa hosted a panel event for SoA members on the implications of Brexit for authors and the publishing industry. 

Chaired by SoA Chief Executive, Nicola Solomon, the panel featured intellectual property solicitor Margaret Briffa, writer and translator Daniel Hahn and CEO of Hachette David Shelley. In a wide-ranging discussion, the panel gave varying perspectives on the possible effects of Brexit on the industry. 

So, what did we learn? 


1. Brexit poses risks to the UK’s copyright regime 

Margaret Briffa highlighted that the UK has a well-functioning copyright framework which balances the rights of consumers and rightsholders. Some of this framework is based on EU law and reciprocal agreements with the EU, and she identified three ‘risk areas’ for copyright post-Brexit. 

The first is the uncertainty around the implementation of the EU Copyright Directive, which contains various provisions that would benefit authors and the wider sector. The Directive is expected to be passed before Brexit which would oblige the UK to implement it – but the combination of a delay in its approval until after 29 March and a ‘no deal’ exit would remove this obligation. 

The second is the danger that the UK’s current copyright standards could be watered down as part of future trade deals. Countries such as the US have much weaker copyright standards and much broader exceptions. The concern is that our own high standards could be traded away as part of future negotiations. 

Finally, ending the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) could have implications for rulings on copyright matters. It is possible that UK judges will look less favourably on rightsholders than EU judges have done. 


2. Literature and culture thrive when they are outward-looking 

Daniel Hahn spoke about the importance of maintaining an outward-looking literary and cultural sector. There is a danger that Brexit could make us more insular as a nation and the sector more isolated. 

Ending freedom of movement poses a threat in this area. The Government is currently proposing that EU nationals will only be able to live and work in the UK if they earn more than £30,000 per year. This clearly rules out many people who work across the cultural sector, and suggests the system is not being designed with the creative industries in mind. 

There is also the issue of short-term visits. It is already getting more difficult for authors from outside the EU to get visas for festivals, and there is a danger that the same restrictions will apply to EU nationals after Brexit. Literary festivals employ small numbers of staff who are already overstretched, and additional administration around visa applications would make festivals even more difficult to manage. 


3. Publishing is a transnational business 

David Shelley emphasised the transnational nature of publishing and importance of trade with the EU throughout the supply chain. For example, most illustrated books cannot be printed in the UK as things stand and are generally printed in Europe and Asia. At present, the UK publishing industry can trade freely with Europe, without tariffs and with books passing smoothly across borders. There is bound to be disruption to this system, particularly in the event of a no-deal Brexit, which will inevitably lead to customs checks and delays. 

There are also likely to be staff shortages in the UK’s distribution centres, which employ large numbers of EU workers. There has already been a drop in EU nationals coming to work here since the referendum, and this trend will only increase with the ending of free movement. 


4. The EU provides vital funding for translation 

Both David Shelley and Daniel Hahn spoke about the value of EU funding for translation. Hachette gets various grants for translation from the EU, which could dry up after Brexit. 

Much of this funding comes from the Creative Europe programme. Membership of Creative Europe is not exclusive to EU members, and in a recent answer to a parliamentary question the Minister said that the possibility of retaining membership ‘will be determined as part of the future partnership negotiations’. 

As well as enabling British readers to enjoy books written in other languages, translation funding boosts our exports, enabling books published in the UK to be translated and sold in countries across the EU. Many European publishing firms would not be able to translate these texts without support from Creative Europe. 


5. But of course, we can’t yet be certain about anything… 

Earlier in the day of our event (26 February) the Prime Minister announced that parliament would be given a vote on extending the Article 50 period, meaning that the chance of the UK actually leaving the EU on 29 March has receded. But even if MPs do choose to go down this route, it takes us no closer to the eventual outcome. 

Many of the concerns expressed by panellists are contingent upon exactly what sort of deals the UK secures, not just now but in the years ahead as part of the future agreement with the EU and trading relationships with other countries. The sector needs to be vigilant in scrutinising every step of the process, especially looking out for any unintended consequences. It is likely to be many years before the full implications of Brexit are understood.