Piracy: Cancer that kills creativity

THE cancer of piracy has continued to gnaw at the very survival of what remains of the book sector.

Several book publishers and bookshops have gone under owing to the scourge, which has become so rampant one would assume it is a normal phenomenon that is unavoidable.

Illegal booksellers have sprouted all over most urban centres and growth points, taking advantage of people’s desperation in this harsh economy. 

Back then, the inclusion of one’s creative work as a set text in schools was a lifeline that led to blossoming sales and with that royalties from the publisher. 

However, today things have changed dramatically. Once a book is prescribed in schools, that signals the complete death of the work as this leads to rampant reproduction of the work, binding and selling of the book despite the existence of the copyright law.
Very few people understand copyright law. Also known under the umbrella term intellectual property along with patents and trademarks in certain circles, copyright is widely believed to have originated the 1709 Statute of Anne (an Act of Encouragement of Learning by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of Such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned”. 
In most European countries, copyright emerged as part of efforts by governments to regulate and control the output of printers, especially after the advent of printing technology around the 15th and 16th centuries. Before the printing Press, a work could only be multiplied physically by the laborious and error-prone process of manual copying out. The printing press allowed for rapid multiplication of work. 

While governments and the Church supported printing in many ways, notably the dissemination of Bibles and government information, works of dissent and criticism could also circulate rapidly. Consequently, governments established controls over printers across Europe to print particular works over a specific time frame and enabled printers to bar others from printing the same work.

Copyright has been internationally standardised and lasts between fifty and 100 years after the author’s death, If the work was co-authored then copyright would last fifty years after the death of the last surviving writer. 
According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the purpose of copyright is two-fold: “To encourage a dynamic creative culture, while returning value to creators so that they can lead a dignified economic existence, and to provide widespread, affordable access to content for the public.”
Initially covering books only, the types of works that are subject to copyright have expanded over time to include maps, charts, engravings prints, musical compositions, dramatic works, photographs, paintings, drawings and sculptures. In the twentieth century, this was expanded to cover films, computer programmes, sound recordings, dance and architectural works.

In recent times, there have been cries over the impact of piracy on creators of works. When the late Charles Mungoshi — without doubt one of Zimbabwe’s best writers — fell ill, he could not even afford medical bills and fellow writers had to move, begging bowl in hand, top help the writer.
This is a writer whose works were chosen as set books on several occasions by schools and universities in the country.
Educationist and writer George Mujajati said: “The government — for whatever reason —  has allowed piracy to grow out of control.

There are a number of ministries and arms of government which should be at the centre of the fight against piracy but are doing absolutely nothing about it. 
“The ministry of Finance has been talking so much about taxes and revenue collection. How much potential revenue have they lost due to piracy? The Arts and Culture ministry is supposed to be looking at the concerns of artists, singers and writers but what has this ministry done to protect artists against piracy.
“Also, what has that Industry ministry done to protect the publishing industry and the music industry against piracy? The ministry of Education, whose schools are being heavily polluted by pirated versions of books which are photocopied wholesale and sold on the streets. Actually, I have a copy of one of my Science and Technology text books which I confiscated from the streets which contains multiple choice questions from a Ndebele textbook. Why is the ministry of Education allowing such poisonous material into the school? What have they done to prevent pirated textbooks from getting into schools? 

“Then if we go to Parliament, I have yet to hear of any of our legislators raise the issue of piracy. Why should we have laws actually seem to legalise piracy. If someone is arrested for selling pirated books, they don’t even have to go to court. They are allowed to pay a paltry fine and go back to the streets to continue. That’s why we now believe that there barons behind this cancerous but very lucrative and tax-free industry.”
A senior employee with a book publishing company who preferred anonymity for professional reasons said: “There are so many costs involved in publishing from the paper itself, which is imported, to editing among other issues, makes the whole process expensive and as such pushes up the cost of books.
“However, those who photocopy these books take the finished product and do not incur these other costs, hence the low prices they charge, despite of course that their copies are poor in terms of quality. Schools, which are our major clients in the book industry are at times victims. Sometimes they are victims of unscrupulous booksellers who would bring say a few genuine copies of books while the rest will be photocopied versions.
“Recently, a Hwange school bought 100 different titles of textbooks but were equally hocked to discover that only two out of the 100 were genuine copies. We advised them to go back to the bookseller so that they get the issue rectified.
“We have a police operation that is progress at the moment and several culprits have been caught with state-of-the-art machinery while some had soft copies of books on computers. One lady teacher from a school in Shamva was distributing soft copies of books in teachers’ WhatsApp groups.
“When we talk to colleagues in the industry in other countries, they often ask whether we have Intellectual Property (IP) laws in Zimbabwe.”

The bookseller added that they had since approached the Finance ministry to register their IP with them but they are not sure yet whether that is the correct thing and whether it will aid in the prosecution of offenders.
Former head of Zimcopy — the country’s reprographic rights body whose production of the Copyright Strategy for Zimbabwe he oversaw — Greenfield Chilongo has previously said: “In Zimbabwe, both users and creators of copyright do not appear to be fully conversant with the provisions of copyright. People are more familiar with copyright in music because musicians are popular therefore when they complain that they are missing out on the monetary gains of their work through piracy, that the more dramatic case than the one involving an author, or publisher of a book.”

While copyright is a civil offence, piracy is criminal in that it is considered to be a form of stealing someone else’s property for your own benefit. Piracy then involves commercially organised individuals who reproduce books or music for sale to other people.
In the case of books, most copyright holders are not so much concerned about the abuse of copyright but become more concerned when it grows to the levels of piracy.
According to Chilongo, Zimcopy’s mandate is to curtail the infringement of copyright in literary works. He said they have been appealing for stiffer penalties which are deterrent and which discourage copyright infringers from breaching the law by engaging in piracy activities.

In this way, illegal reproduction of books is also checked through cutting the market for such pirated materials in schools and other educational institutions. Zimcopy was established in terms of the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act (Chapter 26:05) and is registered with the Zimbabwe Intellectual Property Office, which also registered the Zimbabwe Music Rights Organisation.
On whether universities and colleges, where photocopying of whole books at times occurs, have any arrangements with rights holders, Chilongo reiterated that the reproduction of books remains illegal. The argument of the Education ministry has been that we need to use books written by Zimbabweans and for Zimbabwean students but this can only continue if the authors are encouraged to write and when they benefit something from it but if we continue photocopying it means our authors will be discouraged and then we won’t have any locally-produced books and we will revert back to using foreign materials some of which may have little relevance to our situations.
Literary works are intellectual property, which — like music — should be protected against unlawful reproduction.