Struggle over the Host report

Notes on a dispute in which a book was published without the author's permission

Brian Martin
22 April 2010


In 2004, John Host wrote a book-length report in support of a land claim by the South West Aboriginal Land & Sea Council (SWALSC). Host assigned copyright to SWALSC. Later, Host and SWALSC could not reach agreement about publication of the report as a book. Nevertheless, SWALSC proceeded to convert Host's report into a book, without his agreement. The book was published in 2009 by UWA Publishing, titled "It's still in my heart, this is my country:”: the Single Noongar Claim history, with authorship listed as "John Host with Chris Owen".

The book contained some changes from Host's report. Host believed these alterations were detrimental and reflected poorly on him, so he wrote a review essay, titled "About that book", explaining his concerns in detail. This dispute between Host and SWALSC is essentially about Host's moral rights as an author.

Offer to post reply

In early March 2010, with his permission, I posted Host's review essay plus his original report on my website so readers could judge the alterations themselves.

On 22 March, Chris Owen rang me, complaining about Host's critique. I invited him to write a reply that I would post on my site. He has not taken up this offer. The offer stands.

Legal threat

On 7 April, Maryse Aranda, SWALSC principal legal officer, wrote me asking for Host's report to be removed from my website by 23 April, otherwise SWALSC would "commence legal action without further notice".

The rationale for this threatened legal action is copyright infringement. Let me comment briefly on copyright.

Uses of copyright

The central stated purpose of copyright is to encourage the production of original works. The idea is that by giving protection from competition, authors will be encouraged to create more original works. The purpose of copyright is not to limit distribution but to enable it, with returns going to authors and publishers.

The curious thing in the case of Host's report is that copyright law is being used to limit distribution of his own work. Aranda in her letter says that Host assigning copyright to SWALSC "is standard practice in native title representative bodies, as reports such as these cost a considerable sum to produce and it ensures the work stays with the community".

Consider first the point that reports cost a considerable sum to produce. It might be argued that making the report available could cut into sales of the book. Actually, having Host's report and critique on my website is likely to stimulate book sales, as readers seek to check for themselves the claims Host makes in his critique.

Next consider the claim that SWALSC holding copyright "ensures the work stays with the community". I know of no evidence that SWALSC has distributed the report to community members. In any case, if the aim is to restrict distribution to anyone outside the community, this is hardly compatible with publication of a version of the report as a book, which makes the material widely available.

I have long argued that copyright law often operates in contradiction to its stated purposes: see "Against intellectual property". It seems to me that copyright is being used in this case to prevent easy access to the report.

Obtaining the report

Due to SWALSC's legal threat, Host asked me to remove his report from my website, and I have complied. However, you may be able to obain it in other ways.

Those interested in obtaining a copy of Host's report can request it from a library.

Another option is to ask someone who might have a copy. It is legitimate to supply a single copy of a work under copyright for the purposes of study or education.

More information will be provided here when available.

This text is located on the

Suppression of dissent website

in the section on documents.

This site is managed by Brian Martin.


I thank Narelle Campbell, Caroline Dick, Frank Huang and Chris Moore for helpful comments on the text in this page.