Michiel Kolman: copyright, freedom, and advocacy for change

Opinion - Publishing Monday, 30 October 2017

The Professional Programme of the Sharjah International Book Fair opens today (30 October), with a keynote by Michiel Kolman, president of the International Publishers Association. This interview with Dr Kolman appears in A World of Words, the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch fair supplement

Have you visited the Sharjah International Book Fair before?
MK No, This will be my first Sharjah book fair, and I am really looking forward to enjoying the great programme and speakers lined up for 2017.

What do you see as the principal issues for the IPA to handle?
MK The IPA represents publishers around the world who are active in a whole range of publishing areas, from children’s books and literary works to academic and educational works. There is a wide range of issues that the IPA can cover, but these can be categorized into two main topics:

The first is to recognise that in many cases, during the process of providing tools and services to authors, publishers assume the same risks as writers. Underpinning this relationship is copyright, an indispensable legal instrument that protects the rights of creators and publishers.

In today’s society, which is so focused on technology and online media, publishers remain concerned about piracy and its ability to undermine the fundamentals of the publishing industry. Without a good framework for intellectual property rights, there is too little investment and innovation, which endangers quality publishing. I believe that publishers should stand as beacons of trustworthiness in an age of fake news and alternative facts, and we must take a leading role in providing trustworthy, reliable information - it’s the core of what we do and we need a robust copyright framework to that.

The second issue is that having the freedom to disseminate written ideas and protect and encourage creators is fundamental to publishing. Freedom to publish is one of the core pillars of the IPA and central to much of what we do. For example, just recently we awarded the IPA Prix Voltaire at the Gothenburg Book Fair, which rewards exemplary courage in upholding the freedom to publish and in enabling others to exercise their right to freedom of expression. We have also been engaged with issues such as the imminent trial of Turkish writer Asli Erdogan and many others.

Tell us about the progress made on copyright issues in Sharjah and the Middle East.
MK In the UAE and across the region, there is a clear understanding that authors and content creators deserve to have their work recognised and protected. This had been demonstrated over the past two decades with several countries in the region modernising their copyright and intellectual property protection frameworks. The UAE in particular has taken significant steps to protect copyright and IP. The country is a signatory to WTO-TRIPS, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, as well as to the Berne and Paris Conventions. It also passed several laws that largely comply with international standards of IP protection.

In 2004, the government also introduced a Ministerial decree that provides the legal foundation for establishing collective societies in the country, which gives the UAE the opportunity to create the first RRO in the region.

With all this progress, the UAE still faces several challenges when it comes to protecting copyright. Enforcement is really where several of the countries in the region struggle, particularly as it relates to new forms of digital content. The regulatory environment could also benefit from expanding provisions to address online copyright infringements, and extending the length of protection that copyright laws provide.

Free speech is another sensitive issue. What will be your message to the audience in Sharjah?
MK Upholding freedom to publish ensures diversity of sources of knowledge and provides access to information that is essential for cultural diversity, creativity, prosperity, tolerance, and social development. Unfortunately, several countries in the Middle East face important challenges when it comes to freedom of expression. In the UAE, there have been several initiatives to promote freedom of expression and freedom to publish, such as the prioritisation of freedom of expression in the work of the UAE National Commission for Education, Culture and Science.

We at the IPA believe in a dialogue-based approach to engaging countries and member associations where these challenges are more apparent. We aim to give voice to publishers and publishers' associations around the world to help them advocate for change, although there is no one-size-fits-all approach to effectively engage with countries on highly contextual issues like freedom to publish.

Our member, the Emirates Publishers Association, has been active in supporting member associations in the region to promote dialogue and lobby for change. Some recent activities include:

* Participating in a panel as part of the 3rd Arab Publishers Association Conference, which openly discussed the limitations on the freedom to publish and freedom of expression in the region, and affirmed that these freedoms are basic human rights
* Working with the Saudi Publishers Association to help fine-tune its approach to addressing freedom to publish issues which culminated in the creation of a freedom to publish committee by the Association
* Issuing public statements condemning freedom to publish issues in countries like Turkey and Mauritania

How do you view the development of Sharjah Publishing City?
MK The UAE has transitioned from being a country with a small domestic publishing industry to becoming a regional publishing hub in a very short time. With the announcement of the creation of the world’s first free zone dedicated to the publishing industry, Sharjah has become a global publishing industry hub.

Given its geographic location and services, Sharjah Publishing City will play a strong role in helping emergent publishers bring innovative, unique voices from around the world to market. This initiative will not only nurture the growth of domestic companies to compete on a world stage, but will also enable publishers to benefit fully from the globalisation of the industry. It will also help Sharjah capitalise on interest from global and regional publishers in the UAE, not just as a sales destination, but as a more permanent operational base to access emerging publishing markets.

Sharjah being named UNESCO World Book Capital 2019 is testament to the pride Sharjah takes in its cultural industries, and innovations like Sharjah Publishing City, to develop the UAE as a global publishing hub. Sharjah Publishing City provides a compelling value proposition for global publishers by:

* Enhancing access to manuscripts, translators and editors
* Providing state-of-the-art infrastructure, printing, and logistics facilities
* Providing access to the Middle East’s largest book distribution company and regional marketing and sales support
* Reducing the cost of key publishing inputs, such as paper, to promote cost efficiencies that will reduce the cost of book production
* Providing access to capacity building programmes and local and regional grants and awards programmes
* Sharjah Publishing City aims to become the regional operating base for 400 publishers by November 2017

Elsevier is often portrayed as the corporate villain by advocates of open academic publishing. How do you respond to such attacks?
MK Allow me to address this as IPA President. The widespread model in the publishing world is where the reader pays (often directly, sometimes by viewing advertisements, etc). A model where the author pays is highly exceptional and seems only to be embraced in the world of academic publishing. In STM publishing, you have mixed business models. On one hand you have clear leaders like PLoS and eLife that publish high quality open access journals that follow the author pay model. On the other hand, you have players like Springer Nature and Elsevier that offer both the subscription model (where the reader pays) and the author pays model. The surprising development is that both Elsevier and Springer Nature are now open access powerhouses and have become so without compromising quality.

Elsevier continues to support open access, and this has been reinforced with the exciting recent acquisitions such as SSRN and Bepress. These online platforms help the scientific community to collaborate and share research, often in open ways, and are examples of great innovative solutions that are being developed within the STM industry. (More info: https://www.elsevier.com/about/open-science.)

Dr Michiel Kolman is senior vp of Information Industry Relations at Elsevier and president of the International Publishers Association. Since joining Elsevier in 1995, he has held various core publishing roles in Amsterdam and Tokyo. He launched one of the first online journals in the industry in 1996, New Astronomy, and was md in Frankfurt, Germany. For 10 years, he spearheaded academic relations for Elsevier, building up a global network of ambassadors engaged in strategic discussions with research leaders. Before joining Elsevier, he worked for Wolters Kluwer in a division that is now part of Springer Nature. He holds a degree from Leiden University in the Netherlands and a PhD in astrophysics from Columbia University in New York, where he studied with a Fulbright scholarship.

Also on BookBrunch

Featured Video


more charts »