Wellington Scoop

Authors beware

by Christine Dann
New Zealand authors beware – the National Library is establishing a precedent for breaching your copyright.

On the back page of Scotty Morrison’s 2015 book Māori Made Easy (the nearest book to hand for checking purposes) it says “the right of Scotty Morrison to be identified as the author of this work in terms of section 96 of the Copyright Act 1994 is hereby asserted.” It also says:

“All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.”

The publisher is the Penguin Group (NZ). Penguin Random House is one of the four international publishers currently taking a case in court in the USA, claiming that the Internet Archive is wilfully reproducing books without the permission of the copyright owners and the publishers. (Read the details in Paper vs pixels.)

The National Library of New Zealand has just signed an agreement with the Internet Archive for it to digitise books currently in the library’s Overseas-Published Collection. A number of those books (especially those published in the US under US copyright law, which runs for 75 years after date of publication) will still be in copyright.

Looking through several other books easily to hand, I find that all those published or reprinted after 2015 have an identical or very similar statement to the one in Māori Made Easy. Mark O’Connell’s Notes from an Apocalyse, published by Granta Books in 2020, goes even further, saying:

“All rights reserved. This book is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publisher, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights, and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.”

In a more innocent and law-abiding age (before Google started digitising vast quantities of books without getting permission from the authors and copyright owners) publishers did not find it necessary to spell out what copyright means in the books they published. Now, alas, they do – but to what effect?

How many of the 1.3 million books the Internet Archive has digitised so far – without obtaining permission from the authors or publishers – are still in copyright? Does it care? Which part of ‘not legal’ does it not understand? And how could New Zealand government officials sign a contract with an organisation which is facing trial in November for alleged illegal activities?

Since the Department of Internal Affairs took control of the National Library in 2010, downgraded the status of the National Librarian, and subjected the library to a sinking lid policy on funding, it has got rid of almost all of the books previously kept on open shelves in its building in Wellington, and sent them to the dungeons of storage. Library managers are now on a mission to get rid of most of the overseas-published books currently in storage as well.

The National Library is required by law to collect two copies of every book published in New Zealand, as NZ publishers are required by law to provide them, but it seems there is no legal requirement to put them on open shelves where they are easily accessible to scholars and the public, nor to pay the wages of sufficient numbers of helpful librarians to assist users in finding what they want.

If managers can decide that the library will make the overseas-published books ‘accessible’ to New Zealanders by sending them to an American organisation for digitisation, what is to stop it from doing the same to make its New Zealand published collections ‘accessible’? Only the pressure of New Zealand authors standing in solidarity with their colleagues in the rest of the world, it seems.

Christine Dann is the author or co-author of twelve books which are in the National Library. She is worried – very worried – about what the library management is doing.

Read also:
Authors and publishers shocked by partnership with internet pirates


  1. Elizabeth Knox, 14. July 2021, 11:31

    I do feel this outfit shouldn’t be rewarded contracts after such a recent breach of copyright. [via twitter]

  2. Fergus Barrowman, 14. July 2021, 11:33

    It’s easy to find in-print in-copyright NZ books available to borrow from them. It would be a shame if their disregard for copyright and the economic interests of authors and publishers brought all that down. They copied and lent books without permission. [via twitter]

  3. Helene Ritchie, 14. July 2021, 12:05

    Thanks Christine. Writing books and having them published and copyright and income protected, is hard enough without having to navigate yet another minefield. How come our National Library can wilfully do this?

  4. Lindsay Ferguson, 15. July 2021, 16:57

    This is disgraceful. Yet more evidence of the disastrous placement of the National Library and Archives NZ into DIA where generic management considerations have overwhelmed the progressive professional standards that both organisations had demonstrated whilst independent entities.

    Both organisations need to be pulled back out of DIA in order that professional standards can be reasserted. This government needs to assert itself, beginning with a Ministerial directive to put a stop to this latest outrage.

  5. Michael, 16. July 2021, 22:47

    Thanks Lindsay. Yes, Book Guardians Aotearoa and many others have been pleading with the government to do just this, as Labour promised in 2017 but then removed that pledge before the 2020 election.

    It is mysterious, there is something preventing them taking action and it is hard to pinpoint what that is.

    Book Guardians has also asked the Minister to put a stop to this cull, and will of course ask that the digitisation outrage be stopped. It is a good idea to write to the Minister, Jan Tinetti, making all these points. She is not listening yet, but must surely do so at some point.