Digital copyright like David’s sling - by Stefano Mauri

Soon the European Union must decide whether to approve the copyright directive. I would like to give my testimony to the beneficial effects of this piece of legislation. I’ve been a publisher for 30 years. I was lucky enough to see our publishing houses grow mainly thanks to scouting. It simply means research. A central activity for us. We built 95% of our activity on authors found as early as their first manuscript. We are many and the selection between us and the public is ruthless. Every year, among tens of thousands of reports from all over the world, we read about 10,000 new entries. Of these, after careful evaluation, we choose about 200 of them, which will be added to the authors already published in our publishing houses. After acquiring the rights, we are committed to making their incredible talent known by readers. Among these, only the most loved will be able to live off their writing. As a publisher I am defending what represents a cost for my business! Because I’ve seen how these financial resources have been determinant in allowing these talented people to write. We witnessed the beginnings of the success of many writers beloved by readers: from JK Rowling to Luis Sepulveda, from André Aciman to Arundhati Roy, from Donato Carrisi to Ildefonso Falcones, from Rupi Kaur to Marie Kondo and then Alessia Gazzola, Ilaria Tuti, Valentina d ’Urbano, Jostein Gaarder, Gail Honeyman and many other original and beautiful voices. We have grown because the authors we liked were successful. More than 300 of our authors in 2018 earned enough to live off their writing. In recent months, disinformation campaigns have been heard on the web according to which copyright is a limit to the freedom of the press. Copyright is, on the contrary, the sling of David against Goliath. Gian Antonio Stella, Marco Travaglio, Roberto Saviano, Gianluigi Nuzzi are strengthened by copyright and they can be very critical of powerful people.
These extraordinary talents that readers, in a ruthless Darwinian mechanism, have chosen to privilege, acquire thanks to copyright strength and independence toward the rest of the world. The directive is not the optimal solution for book publishers, it is a compromise between the various European forces at stake. But it establishes the holy principle that this talent and this effort must be paid for. But it is opposed by some large platforms mostly from overseas which, while defending their intellectual property through armies of lawyers, through the defence of patents, trade secrets and brands, do not consider it equally important to defend your personal data and preach the freedom to steal the intellectual property of tens of thousands of artists, writers, musicians without making a minimum effort to remunerate them. Recently Mogol wrote, aptly summarising it up: "they have the billions, we are right". They are held up as champions of freedom of expression but in reality, in democracies, they do not deal, as newspapers and publishers do, with defending the contents published in the event of complaints or criticisms of power, in the face of which, they simply decline all responsibility, invoke their neutrality and remove uncomfortable documents from the web. Goodbye and thanks. I add an element that is not clear to everyone. While patents defend ideas, copyright protects the form through which these are expressed. Therefore, if like the patents it constitutes an incentive to create, unlike patents it does not in any way prevent progress, anyone can write a book inspired by other books that he has read. Copyright remunerates precisely the effort of the authors and the way they work, the creator’s original aesthetics. While the platforms in question were born in the US and they pay there most of the little taxes they are forced to pay, Europe is still the global epicentre of the book world.
Out the top ten world publishing groups, six are European-owned, the three most important international fairs are held in Europe (Frankfurt, Bologna, London). Italy is still the fourth largest book country in Europe. Now is the time in which we must decide on copyright and it is natural that it is precisely our continent, the cultural cradle of the West, that takes the initiative. It is peculiar in this context that among the great democratic countries, that are obviously those with the greatest cultural production, only our government declares itself contrary to this directive. It should be on the side of the people, and therefore of thousands of artists chosen by the people and of those who want to continue to enjoy their creations, and of the 130,000 people who work in European publishing houses and the hundreds of thousands who are part of the related industries and who each year produce 600,000 new books, instead of being on the side of a few Goliaths in the Silicon Valley. What will prevail? The talent of thousands of individual geniuses scattered around the world, or the muscles of some of the important Silicon Valley companies, supported by those who have an interest in pirating and exploiting others’ work like parasites?

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Stefano Mauri

President of the Publishing Group Mauri Spagnol and delegate of the Italian Publishers Association to FEP

Published on Corriere della Sera