From Urdu Bazar to 5-star hotels

By Zubeida Mustafa

Christina Lamb’s Waiting for Allah is been pirated vithin days of its arrival in Pakistan. The special low-cost Indian edition produced by the publishgers for the South Asian market is selling for Rs 290.

But the pirates, six of whom are in the field, have managed to beat the price down to Rs 175. What is more, piracy in Pakistan has moved out of the dusty lanes of Urdu Bazar to the prestigious bookstalls of the five-star hotels. They are unabashedly selling the counterfeited edition of the Lamb book.

The treatment meted out to Waiting for Allah is nothing extraordinary. Other best-sellers ranging from Sidney Sheldon’s Windmills of the Gods, Benazir Bhutto’s Daughter of the East, and Henry Kissinger’s The White House Years have not escaped the pirates of Pakistan.


The worst sufferers have been the foreign textbooks. Enjoying wide sales, the pirated versions of these textbooks — some of them photostated copies — are sold at throw-away prices.

The unkindest cut of all is that some of these books e.g. Cunningham’s Manual of Practical Anatomy, published by OUP, are subsidised by the British Government under the Educational Low- Price Book Scheme for Third World countries.

The pirated editions of the Manual which are being smuggled from Iran cost only Rs 80 (publisher’s price: Rs 170).

In a society where moral values have touched rock-bottom, what is alarming is that piracy of the printed word is gaining a degree of respectability. Book piracy is not the only form of theft of intellectual property that is in vogue here. It has invaded the newspaper industry as well.

Finding it increasingly difficult to generate readable and informative material to fill their columns, newspapers have turned to the Western media to satisfy the more discriminating among their readers.

59-25-10-1991bThe Western papers offer lifting rights, but at a price. Thus Dawn pays a very large sum of money every year to acquire publication rights from 25 newspapers and services.

But some daily papers and a number of weeklies are not so mindful of copyright laws. They are indulging in the worst form of piracy when they lift freely from other publications whatever takes their fancy without as much as acknowledging the source.

Book piracy in Pakistan assumed a serious magnitude in the sixties. The advent of off-set printing and the availability of cheap photostating made it possible for pirates to reproduce books unlawfully with a minimum of investment. No more the hassle and cost of re-setting the text as had to be done when the hot metal technology was in use.

Another factor which gave a boost to piracy was the sudden non-availability of Indian books in Pakistan’s market in the wake of the 1965 war. Since these textbooks were in great demand in schools and colleges, piracy became big business.

But over the years the economics of book production has emerged as the major factor in opening the floodgates of piracy in Pakistan. Given the deplorable state of the publishing sector which has received little encouragement from the government, low-cost books are difficult to produce.

Imported books are even more expensive. The high prices allow pirates the big profit margins which serve as an incentive for their nefarious trade.

Surprisingly, there are quite a few champions of piracy around. They support the practice in principle on the ground that it promotes the reading habit and boosts literacy by making affordable literature available to the people.

The government tacitly conceded this point of view when the copyright law was amended in 1972 explicitly exempting the National Book Foundation from its purview and authorising it to reprint any book it deemed necessary for teaching and research without the permission of the publishers.

Thereafter over 200 titles reprinted by the NBF flooded the market.

No fair-minded person would condone piracy for profit though some would argue that photostating a book for personal use is not piracy.

But it is certain that some big publishers and booksellers in Pakistan are themselves resorting to this unethical practice. While some reprint books without permission, a number of publishers are known to cheat the author in the payment of royalty. Small wonder, the country’s credibility in the international book world has been harmed immensely.

If intellectual creativity and authorship are to be promoted the evil of piracy will have to be addressed in earnest. This calls for a dual approach, namely economic measures to lower the prices of books and a legal underpinning to deter the pirate and provide redress to the aggrieved party.

Given the publisher’s unavoidable costs — presuming he operates honestly — he can never hope to beat the pirate at his game. The price of a book has to account for the author’s royalty, cost of editorial production, the publication costs and the publisher’s overheads such as taxes.

By exempting himself from most of these costs, the pirate can artificially depress the price of the book and yet make a hefty profit.

Publishers are now trying to counteract piracy by devising methods to lower the prices of books. Ameena Saiyid of OUP plans to use cheaper paper and binding.

“I hope to lower the price of a book by 30 per cent in this way,” she observed. “Of course we will not lower the standard of the contents,” she added, “but the books will not be so attractive to look at.”

Ameena believes that readers judge a book by its contents and price rather than its appearance.

The Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association has always held the government responsible for the ills of the book industry — mainly the high cost of production which has contributed directly to the growth of piracy.

The low literacy rate (30 per cent), low print runs (1100), high duties and taxes on paper (105 per cent) and absence of subsidies have made book publishing in Pakistan very uneconomical.

If pirates are to be driven out of business, direct government intervention is needed in the form of subsidies for the book trade and lower taxes on the printing and publishing industry.

The Indians who have a better record in this respect have managed to make books cheaper, the cost ratio between Indian and Pakistani books being 1:1.25.

Piracy of foreign books imported in Pakistan pose a problem of a different sort. Their prices are determined by the publishers abroad and the foreign exchange rate fixed by the government of Pakistan for books. (It is £1/Rs45 at present).

This calls for a broader approach in the North-South context. With the imported books being beyond the reach of most readers in the Third World countries, they become easy targets for piracy.

Although some publishers are now allowing reprints of wide-selling titles or offering them at runon prices which are considerably lower, piracy has not been checked. The priced differential still operates as a factor in encouraging piracy.

Hence the ultimate need is for a tough copyright law that is actually implemented. The 1962 Copyright Ordinance that came into force in 1967 prescribes two years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 5000 only. This has failed to deter the pirates.

Moreover they know how to get round the law enforcement agencies. Only the influential can procure justice. When Henry Kissinger’s memoirs were counterfeited President Zia personally intervened on behalf of the author. All pirated copies were seized and the unauthorised publisher arrested.

For years the PPBA has been struggling to get teeth put into the copyright law. It nearly succeeded in 1988 when a bill amending the 1962 law was introduced in the National Assembly.

This would enhance the imprisonment period to three years and the fine to Rs 100,000. More importantly, it authorises the magistrate to award 50 per cent of the fine to the party whose rights have been infringed. This would serve as an incentive to the wronged party to seek litigation.

Unfortunately as is the fate of many a good law in this country, the amendment bill lies somewhere in the Assembly gathering dust. Is this due to sheer apathy or is it because the pirates are a powerful lot in this country?

Meanwhile five British publishers have grouped together to combat piracy by hiring the services of an anti-infringement officer. His task will be to arrange raids on those stocking pirated books and initiate action against them.

Given the slow process of the law, this might not ensure swift action. But even if this vigilance creates enough hassle for the pirates, they will at least not enjoy the free run which they do now. But can all publishers afford the services of an anti-infringement officer?

Source: Dawn 25-10-1991