When I first saw the title of this lecture, I thought that it might turn out to be a rather grim note to prologue the National Writers Forum, which officially starts today. I couldn’t have been more wrong – Joan Rosier-Jones presented a very informative overview of copyright changes in New Zealand since 1987, the year she joined PEN (Now the New Zealand Society of Authors, or the NZSA); and talked passionately about how theNZSA advocates for writers, ensuring that they do not become extinct.
The session was started by Gordon McLauchlan, who introduced Joan as a practitioner – and therefore a ‘professional survivor’ of the publishing industry. During her time Joan has done far much more than just survive – she’s thrived, writing around 18 novels and books about writing, and she’s been extraordinarily active in advocating and encouraging writing culture in New Zealand. Joan was the first female Chair of the Auckland branch of the NZSA, serving during the transitory period of 1993-1995, during many a heated debate about the 1994 copyright changes (she mentioned one particular ‘debate’ where fists almost became involved). She became the President of the NZSA in 1999 and served through until 2001, and she was also one of the first writer directors of Copyright Licencing NZ. Joan now holds the position of NZSA President of Honour – following Phillip Temple. Other recent Presidents of Honour include Owen Marshall, Joy Cowley, and Sir James McNeish.
Joan did a great job of outlining how copyright has changed for authors since the overhaul of New Zealand copyright legislation in 1994, covering everything from the introduction of moral rights and the establishment of Copyright Licensing NZ, to the 2011 ‘digital age’ copyright changes and potential implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (copyright term currently extends to 50 years after the death of the originator in NZ, under the TPP, this period could extend to 70 years).
Next she talked more specifically about publishing contracts and some of their potential sticking points. While translation rights, digital rights, broadcast and merchandising are reasonably standard requests by publishers (though these can be negotiated), I had no idea that publishers can ask for rights for media forms ‘yet to be invented’… definitely something for the signing author to be wary of, and to opt-out of where possible!
One of the problems with contracts is that authors can be a vulnerable lot. At the beginning of her talk, Joan mentioned that she signed her first three contracts without really reading them – something that in the heat and excitement of the moment, many signing authors may still fail to do. While the doors to publishing expand digitally and retract in print, writers are presented with a variety of new hurdles – and it’s great to know that organisations like the NZSA exist to prevent writers from ‘becoming extinct’.
Attended and reviewed by Emma Bryson