Departementsråd Helge M. Sønnelands tale 7. september

Dette er manuskriptet til departementsråd Helge M. Sønnelands lunch-tale i Tromsø.  Talen ble dessverre ikke holdt pga. sykdom

Tromsø 7.september 2004

Your Royal Highness
Dear writers,

It is a pleasure for me to have been invited to disturb your luncheon today. My task is to present in a few words ­ and no more than 15 minutes ­  the Norwegian literary system, as seen from the desks of the Ministry of  Culture and Church Affairs . According to the organizers, this is to be done in a light-hearted way, preferably with a touch of humour. Not a very usual prescription to a bureaucrat. And also close to impossible, taking into account that the current situation in the Norwegian book market is seriously uncertain, calling for profound contemplation rather than a bright mood. So ­ as there is no such thing as a free lunch ­ there is probably no such thing as a lighthearted, entertaining description of the literary scenery in  this country.

Anyway: When the invitation came, the Ministry felt ­ to the extent that a Ministry can feel ­very honoured ­ and so did I ­ I also felt humble to be asked to speak to such a prominent assembly as yours ­ and the task felt slightly overwhelming, taking into consideration that I would have liked to have had a few more hours speaking time. So this will necessarily be somewhat superfluous ­ not for the first time in bureaucratic history. I will take the liberty of expanding the time frame to 17 ½ minutes, of which 2 ½ will be devoted to humoristic  attempts.

I will address you in the most spoken language in the world, namely: English as spoken by foreigners.

The title offered to me – “The state of the book and the book of the state” – might evoke associations of literary systems which PEN-members would instinctively want to dissociate themselves from. Let me therefore hasten to underline that Norwegian governmental policy in this area is to provide the basis for a literary production characterized by breadth, multiple choice and quality, and to uphold and enhance the endangered Norwegian languages ­ and Sami and not to interfere with what is to be published, or  in any way censor literary expressions. (On the contrary: censorship of printed material has been prohibited by our Constitution in 185 of its 190 years of existence ­ the exception being WW II.) And in any matter of allocations of funds, to beneficiaries of say literature scholarship, the policy is an armlength’s distance between the government and the decision makers.

My immediate response to the question: what is the state of the book in Norway? would be to declare that overall the situation is not bad. This is an understatement for close to excellent ­ but only late at night and without witnesses would my friends and counterparts in the author’s organisations subscribe to this .However, new literature of all kinds is written, published, praised ­ and condemned ­debated, bought, read, borrowed ­ the old analogue book survives ,simultaneously with the electronic distribution of texts .”The book is dead ­long live the book”, Norwegian author Jon Bing stated 20 years ago. He now proves to be right.  I note that he sounds sad when he predicts that the Norwegian language will be -if not dead, so at least seriously ill   in less than 100 years ­ and I am convinced too that it might deteriorate as English is gaining new ground in our daily – and nightly life. Norwegian governmental cultural policies include steps to avoid this ­ at least prolong the longevity of our languages. Supporting authors and literature is instrumental in this respect.

Let me then revert to my task, and draw your attention to some main features of our system:

1. No VAT on books ­ and for the publishers: payed VAT is deductable.

2. Financed by the state, 1000 copies of new titles of  fiction literature for adults in the Norwegian languages are bought and distributed to public libraries

3. 1500 copies of fiction literature for children and adolescents in the Norwegian languages are bought for public libraries and School libraries

4. Plans are made to introduce a similar purchase scheme for non-fiction literature

5. Royalty to authors of the purchased books is paid by the state, and 5% added to the normal royalty according to the so-called “ standard contract” between Norwegian fiction authors and the publishers

6. Authors are among the groups  eligible for guaranteed income, and governmental scholarships

7. Norwegian libraries ­ including all kinds of libraries ­ hold a stock of 50 million units of material published in Norway. For this material, held for loans or reference use in the libraries, the government pays a public lending right, presently resulting in ca. 8 million Euros/ 9,5 mill. USD. This money is distributed to funds managed by relevant rightholders’ groups, and are mainly given as scholarships to authors. The rightholders decide themselves how to do this ­ as long as there is no discrimination on the ground of nationality within the European Economic Area, and as long as the money is accounted for. (Allow me here a slight digression, in the form of a lovely story concerning  reporting  the use of scholarships and grants. It is contributed to the author Odd Eidem, who had gotten a travel grant. The Ministry wrote: One can not see that one has received a report, one ask you to submit one promptly. The author replied: One have received the travel grant. One has bought a boat. One is still travelling”.)

8. How is the sum of money to public lending right decided, you may ask. The sum to be paid pr lending-unit is negotiated between the government and the rightholders ­ as a part of a general negotiating right provided for Norwegian artists of any kind.

What I have mentioned, are examples of how the Norwegian state takes an interest in securing a plurality of voices in the public sphere. The Norwegian Parliament is currently putting the final touches to a new Article 100 of the Constitution, protecting freedom of speech in Norway. One of the proposals which the Parliament is considering is to include the state’s obligation in this respect ­ to secure the infrastructure of freedom of speech ­ in the Constitution itself. Although more of a political than a legal obligation, it would mean that the state i.a. should continue to contribute financially to art, culture, newspapers, public service broadcasting and literature.

I mentioned the negotiating right of the artists. Here you may ask ironically: what is the negotiating power of artists ?Do they have any ? Part of my answer is to point to the power of this organisation: the power of words. Time and again, the word has proved to be powerful and influential ­ also when used for the purposes of defending artists’ rights in this society- and not least words in the form of head-lines in nation-wide newspapers….

Furthermore, I would like to point to the fact that Norway has for many decades had a well functioning copyright legislation . It is not an exaggeration to say that the Nordic countries ­ which uphold a strong wish to have a harmonized copyright legislation ­ have been in the forefront in securing the rights of the authors ­ as well as in finding practicable solutions for the users. This legislation will be brought up to “Information society-standard” shortly, and thereby the rights of authors will be strengthened. This does not imply that Internet is presently law-less country ­ but it has some similarities with the Wild West ­ it is  hard to be the sheriff.

Norway has a strong copyright legislation, and in addition to being a small and transparent country, we are also extremely organized. The average Norwegian is member of 2,4 organizations. This is also valid for authors, who have formed not less than 4 fiction-writers organizations if the same organizations are included. For the purpose of management of intellectual property rights, you will find well ­functioning collecting societies all over the field-from performance rights of texts and music, to photocopying, where the umbrella organisation is named KOPINOR.

The remuneration collected for photocopying in this country exceeds (USD30 Mill).One of the reasons for this world-record level, is a special Nordic legal solution implemented in our copyright law ;the so-called extended collective licence system. Under this system, the effect of agreements between  a user ­i.a. a university  or government administration-  and a relevant rightholder’s organization ­like Kopinor ­ is extended to cover also non-members of the relevant category of rightholder’s -the result is a strong bargaining power for the rightholder’s, equalled with the possibility for the user to clear all rights needed in an effective way. Through the agreement necessary flexibility can be achieved.

The Ministry intends to propose shortly a similar system to apply to electronic copying.

A characteristic of Norwegian remuneration schemes is solidarity between the artists, and a pragmatic approach in search of solutions. In a majority of cases we have chosen collective solutions, which ­ is my postulate ­ is a characteristic not only of the government’s policy, but also of the policy of the organizations-slightly in contradiction to major trends in other countries.

Concerning photocopying, however, we know from surveys the national origin of the material which has been copied, and payment is made accordingly to relevant organisations representing foreign rightholder’s. We did not dislike it when US publishers received a check of some million USdollars from Norway and ­in the absence of individual data – had to use them for collective purposes ­ which they did by successfully bringing  copyright infringers to court.

Even in the copyright field, where individual management and individual remuneration is the starting point, we have found practical solutions based on solidarity. Most organizations have chosen to distribute the i.a. photocopying money in the form of scholarships, even if individual payment is possible when a specific act of copying can be proven. This collective way of thinking is even stronger represented when you look at remuneration schemes based on cultural policy, outside of copyright, like the Public Lending Right.

But in my eyes, in these times of individualism, when I comes quicker to mind than us and we ­ not to mention they and theirs- it seems that Bob Dylan was and is right: Times, they are a-changing. Mine is the trendy word, and some of the Norwegian schemes may so to speak become minefields, capable of slowly undermining the system.

Also, there are dark clouds in the literary horizon. For many years bookstores and publishers have had fixed price-agreement on newly published books.

The present agreement terminates by January 1. 2005 ­ the start of our 100 year anniversary as an independent nation.

Long lasting negotiations between the parties failed in June.

The Minister of Culture has met with the different parties ­including the authors although they are not directly involved in the negotiations – to listen to their views. The outcome is presently uncertain ­ it is a difficult matter, not least in political terms.

It is my hope that common ground is found for a renewed voluntary agreement. If not, a possible outcome might be the death of the literary system as we know it.

On the other hand ­ speaking as a bureaucrat in the ministry of Culture and Church Affairs ­ I should know that without death, there can be no resurrection…..

This brings me to the end of this quick run-through of some of the elements of our literary landscape. Other speakers will fill out ­or give a more nuanced picture later in this conference.

Anyway: Anyone dealing with and trying to find his or her place in the exciting part of life that cultural policy and literature represent, may get the feeling that it is hard to keep one’s head above water. Be it then a comfort to recall that a person who has her head above water, only sees the tip of the iceberg.

Thank you for your attention.