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Freedom to publish

Subcategories from this category: Publishing industry
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Beijing International Book Fair this year (23-27 August) was as lively as ever, due in part to the significant overseas contingent taking part. Of 2,400 exhibitors, 800 were non-Chinese, coming from 89 countries.

Surprisingly, and rather disappointingly, only 29 exhibitors were members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a grouping founded 50 years ago by Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Today there are 10 ASEAN countries, with a combined population of 600 million of which 40% are under 25 years old. Collectively, ASEAN represents the world’s third largest economy.

ASEAN publishers buy a lot of translation rights but sell very few to Western publishers, a fact that has each country’s publishers association (PA) trying to figure out a solution. Each has a national book fair that it has been trying hard to make into a regional hub that will lure more international publishers.

The ASEAN Book Publishers Association (ABPA), whose two-year presidency is held in turn by each country’s PA, has been operating since 2005, but wants to do more to boost cooperation among its members.

Regional activities along these lines have been plentiful in the past five years. In 2013 Bangkok was designated as the UNESCO World Book Capital, and in early 2015 the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand (PUBAT) hosted the 30th IPA Congress the same year that Indonesian Publishers Association (IKAPI) was the guest of honour at Frankfurt Book Fair. The Singapore Book Publishers Association (SBPA) also partnered with Frankfurt Book Fair to organize conferences in 2015 and 2016. Malaysia’s Kota Buku – Book City, a government-funded agency, has been very active in promoting business and networking among ASEAN publishers.

To my mind, this flurry of activity means that the ASEAN publishing community is ready for strengthened intraregional collaboration, international partnerships and visibility on the world stage.  

What comes next is the new International Children’s Content Rights Fair (ICCRF), a response to the unmet needs of the regional book trade, which is believed to be poised to flourish.

The first ICCRF will be in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s most popular city to visit, on 6–9 December 2017, under the leitmotif of Creativity Beyond the Page. And it’s being organized by some of Thailand’s most experienced publishers and the country’s premier venue management company.

We held a promotional ICCRF reception at the Beijing International Book Fair, which was great fun and drew a good turnout.

Besides the main fair, activities will include two art-related initiatives: the 2017 Bologna Illustrators Exhibition, curated by the Bologna Children’s Book Fair/BolognaFiere; and the ASEAN Illustration Award, which is open to all illustrators of ASEAN nationalities, no matter where in the world they live.

The top prize is US$5,000. As one of the organizers, my hope is that these two activities will both inspire the region’s illustrators and promote their works on the international market. On the technology side, a ‘Maker Party’, organized by Thailand’s largest maker community, the Chiang Mai Maker Club, will bring together students, instructors, entrepreneurs and professionals interested in fusing engineering, art, design, and technology to create innovative products and media.

ICCRF will be the first book-related event to integrate an art exhibition with technology and innovation. And it will be Thailand’s first marketplace for buying and selling creative content rights for print media and technology. The event will promote a network of collaboration between entrepreneurs in print media and technology for the children’s and young-adult book industry, copyright owners, authors and illustrators in the ASEAN region and the rest of the world. It will be a ‘creative marketplace’ that can open doors to Thai and international publishers alike.

We’re very grateful to our ASEAN publisher friends who have given us their unfailing support in making the ICCRF a reality, and we look forward to welcoming you in Chiang Mai in December. 

www.iccrfthailand.com 

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By Jessica Saenger*, edited by Ben Steward. The ‘homocleansing’ of the Russian edition of Victoria Schwab’s Shades of Magic series offers a topical hook on which to hang the publishers’ dilemma about duty to authors and their duty to stay in business.

This month the hit American author tweeted her outrage at learning that her Russian publisher had ‘redacted the entire queer plot w/out permission’. She added: ‘I was absolutely horrified. Wouldn’t have known if not for a Russian reader who read both editions. Publisher in total breach of contract.’

There are two strands to Schwab’s indignation: the redaction – or censorship – and the manner of that redaction. Quite apart from normal contractual requirements, simple courtesy would dictate that any author deserves fair warning of significant plot changes, whatever the reason. If this didn’t happen here, then the publisher may well have infringed the author's moral rights and be in breach of contract. That is for Rosman and Schwab to work out, although unquestionably the writer is entitled to be upset at discovering by chance that her work had been mangled.

That said, Schwab would do well to take a breath and consider where best to direct her wrath.

Explaining itself in the Vedomosti business daily, Rosman admitted it had censored a romantic scene between two characters in the second book of the Shades of Magic trilogy ‘so as not to violate the law banning the propaganda of homosexuality among minors’. In other words, to avoid criminal liability and having the book wrapped in plastic and given an 18 rating in Russia – thereby losing a large chunk of Schwab’s target readership – the publisher did what the law wants and altered the offending scene. It is Russia’s oppressive gay propaganda law that lies at the root of the problem, not the publishers who obey it.

The law imposes fines and up to three years in prison for giving minors access to content in which gay relationships are treated as equivalent to ‘traditional’ relationships. When it passed in 2013, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Russia had violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

In addition, such laws also present a more insidious threat by passing the censorship buck to businesses, while the authorities can look uncompromising on conservative family values. And this law is well policed: the Kremlin uses it to create and maintain a sanitized mediascape where certain worldviews are illegal and only ‘right-thinking’ citizens have the right to self-expression. As well as being a deterrent to creativity, forcing publishers to do the policing puts an excessive burden of responsibility on them.

But the Shades of Magic case also raises other broader questions around copyright and licensing. It may be that this case is just the tip of a much larger iceberg, where systematic sanitization just goes unreported. If so, we have to ask ourselves where the line should be drawn. What problematic publishing behaviours may actually be justified to avoid a regulatory backlash? Does self-censorship play a part? What realities must publishers consider when negotiating rights deals in restrictive markets?

The questions are manifold, but two things at least are beyond doubt: trust is the basis of the publisher-author covenant, and freedom of expression is the bedrock of this industry. Protecting both of these is paramount.

Publishers and authors need to explore the issue in an open, collaborative way at international level. They should share lobbying strategies to challenge draconian laws and work together for legal environments that enable, not hinder, creativity. And they need to talk about the pressures, best practices, ethics and the realities of operating where freedom to publish is poorly protected without putting businesses or employees at risk.

The IPA is the optimal forum to drive forward this conversation, which will be in focus at our International Publishers Congress, in New Delhi, next February.

*Jessica Saenger is Legal Counsel and Director of European & International Affairs, Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, and a member of the IPA Freedom to Publish Committee.

 

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I recently had a chance to visit Dhaka to meet the IPA’s member there, the Academic and Creative Publishers Association of Bangladesh (ACPAB).

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Earlier this month I visited New Delhi for the first time, to discuss with our Federation of Indian Publishers (FIP) colleagues the preparations for the 32nd IPA Congress, on 10-14 February, 2018. 

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Tagged in: Congress Delhi India
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Whether we like it or not, self-censorship is the new normal in most countries in Asia, from the Middle East to the Far East. But how did this happen?

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