UNESCO Courier

Pirates and the paper chase

Pirates and the paper chase – international copyright infringment

Lucia Iglesias Kuntz

Book piracy is a thriving trade in poor nations, sometimes raking in bigger profits than the real thing. In Spanish-speaking countries, publishers and governments are stepping up their campaign to stop the scourge

One of Lima’s largest bookshops is on Amazonas Street. It sells books by Nobel Prize winners such as Gunther Grass, Jose Saramago and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, along with titles like Guia Triste de Paris by Peruvian writer Alfredo Bryce Echenique, Yo soy el Diego, the autobiography of footballer Diego Maradona and La fiesta del Chivo by Mario Vargas Llosa.

This shop, however, gives no bills or receipts. When there are no classes in nearby schools, its vendors move to some other busy part of the city–a traffic-light intersection or even a beach. Its bookshelves are the pavement and its shop-window the road, for all the books on sale are pirated versions, copied and printed secretly without the permission of the author or[publisher, and of course without paying any royalties or taxes.

Making a dent in authors’ royalties

Usually the prices are three to five times lower than for normal books, although El misterio del capital, a popular work by Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, which cost about $8 when it came out, was snapped up so quickly that its “clone” now fetches a higher price than the genuine version.

The business of plagiarizing CDs, cassettes, videos and computer software is thriving everywhere, but pirated books are found almost exclusively in poor countries. It is a scourge that threatens the whole Spanish-language publishing industry.

According to estimates from the Interamerican Publishers’ Group, about 50 billion book pages are illegally reprinted every year in Latin America, ranging from photocopies to the reproduction of entire books. The annual turnover of the legal publishing industry in Latin America and Spain is about $5 billion a year, compared with the $8 billion of the pirate sector. This means a loss of about $500 million in royalties every year.

Carmen Barvo, a Colombian publishing consultant and leading expert on the subject, cites a particularly blatant case. “Even the book Checkmate written by Rosso Jose Serrano, Colombia’s national police chief and a model officer for the whole country, was pirated and sold in the streets, proving that criminals don’t care who the author is.”

Pirated books these days are such good copies of the original that they are sometimes hard to detect, even by the authors and publishers themselves. Not only is the text copied, but also the design, the cover, the colour and the bar code. Pirated Argentine books made in Colombia or Brazil are ironically marked “printed in Argentina” while those in Chile shamelessly carry the warning that “reproduction is forbidden.” Loaded into trucks and vans, they are exported from one country to the next, even making it to the display windows of genuine bookshops–perhaps innocently, perhaps not.

New technologies speed up the task

Those who support book piracy, by buying the forged copies for example, argue that the original versions are too expensive. As Barvo notes, the issue has to be seen in a social context. “Selling a pirated book is part of a vendor’s daily bread. Today he may be selling books at traffic lights, but tomorrow it might be cigarettes, paper handkerchiefs or Barbie dolls. I don’t regard him as the guilty party–that honour belongs to the person who produces the book and violates the rights of the author and publisher.”

New technologies clearly make it much easier–and much cheaper–to pirate books. “Technically speaking, you can do it all these days,” says the owner of a legal Paris printing works. “To copy a book, all you need is two copies of the original, a scanner, a computer with an optical recognition programme, some ink, paper, a small rotary press and a binding machine.” With all this and a place to operate the printing press, a pirated book can be produced in two or three days.

Resorting to police raids and law suits

Attempts to fight book piracy through technology appear to have failed. All that is left are the weapons of police raids and the law, both of which are exploited to the full by bodies such as the Regional Centre for Book Promotion in Latin America and the Caribbean in Bogota and the Spanish Centre for Reproduction Rights in Madrid.

The strategy depends largely on legal action, says Manuel Jos6 Sarmiento, sub-director for anti-piracy and illegal reproduction at the Colombian Chamber of Books. “Since 1997, the Chamber, the publishers and the ministry of culture have stepped up their efforts, ranging from police raids to publicity campaigns in the press and on television.” By January 2001, a total of 139 lawsuits had been successful in Colombia’s courts, leading to the closure of places where pirated books were being produced, distributed or sold.

In Peru, on the other hand, pirated books continue to flourish, and publishers are denouncing the government’s failure to act. German Coronado, head of the Peisa publishing house, says the country has “quite progressive legislation protecting intellectual property in accordance with international standards. Our 1996 intellectual property law punishes illegal copying with up to eight years’ imprisonment and clearly supports authors by giving their heirs the right to receive royalties for up to 70 years after an author’s death.

“All this sounds wonderful and Peruvian technocrats turn up at international meetings to boast about it. But the law isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. The pirates have a bigger turnover now than the legal sector, and we reckon they sell nearly three times more books than we do.”

Calls for lower sales tax and quality paperbacks

In Argentina, which has a strong publishing industry and the best bookshops in the region, “it’s mainly technical and self-help books that are pirated,” says Ana Cabanellas, head of the Heliasta publishing house, some of whose books have been copied. “It’s very painful, like being raped. The pirates are very clever and however much we try, they always manage to make copies. Each year I publish a Basic Legal Dictionary written by my father, Guillermo Cabanellas, and we change the colour of the cover each time. Even that doesn’t stop them.”

As well as cracking down, publishers could make an effort to put out high-quality works in pocket editions, an area in which Spanish-language publishers lag far behind.

Governments could also help to boost the legal book sector by lowering the sales tax, which is one of the highest in the world (18 percent in Chile), or by building networks of public libraries where all Latin Americans can have free access to their favourite authors.

The task is huge, but so is the determination of some. “We’re going to stamp out book pirating,” says Sarmiento. “It’s almost a personal thing for me. We’ll get there.”

A crime in many shapes and sizes

Asia is another continent afflicted by book piracy. In India, where the country’s 11,000 publishers put out more than 57,000 new titles a year, an education. ministry survey pinpoints three kinds of forgery. The most common is copying a book and selling bogus versions — the Indian writer Arundhati Roy and her book The God of Small Things is one of the most recent victims. Another more Laborious method is to print books ostensibly by famous authors but in

fact written by clumsy imitators. A craftier way is to sell foreign books that have been translated illegally, without any formal contract. The famous young sorcerer’s apprentice, Harry Potter, had just such an unfortunate experience in China. A few days before the legally-translated version of one tome came out, a version translated in Taiwan was selling on the streets. The state company publishing the book then printed the genuine version with green pages to distinguish it from the bogus one.


COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group