Ameena Saiyid

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IPA: Pakistan has a very poor record for protecting IP and copyright, and for book piracy in particular. Just how bad is the problem, and why are things the way they are?

AS: The problem is acute. Pakistan is a signatory to the Berne Convention and has Copyright Laws and an Intellectual Property Organisation (IPO) but they are weak and ineffective. For examples, the law does not state a minimum punishment and leaves this to the discretion of magistrates, who invariably let the accused off with petty fines. Thus there is no deterrent effect. Enforcement, however, is improving somewhat as the government is now beginning to realize that the weak IPR regime discourages foreign and domestic investment and reduces tax revenue.

The piracy problem is colossal. My estimation is that the market of pirated books is bigger than that of genuine books. What is most worrying is the mindset: there is a widespread perception that piracy is justified, indeed necessary, in a poor, third world country on the grounds that students and readers generally need cheap books, that imported books are exorbitantly priced, and that royalties and profits go out of the country. My contention, which I talk about at every forum, is that Pakistani authors are robbed of their royalties and have to seek jobs to supplement their income. This reduces creative output, the government’s tax revenue is reduced, and piracy actually raises the prices of books as it shrinks the market and prevents economies of scale.

Things are the way they are because of an entrenched mindset which regards pirates as modern-day Robin Hoods, a lack of accountability, weak laws, the enormous and quick profits generated by piracy, and poor enforcement. Incidentally, the violation of all aspects of IPR is rampant and not confined to books. Medicines, packaged and branded food, soap, shampoo, designer clothes and currency notes are all affected by counterfeit.

The knock-on effects are substantial on all stakeholders. The bona fide book industry is the worst affected. Any book for which there is a demand of even 300 copies becomes a target for piracy. Thus the cost of doing business in Pakistan is greatly increased as publishers have to spend their time and resources in protecting their copyright and brand, educating the government, educational institutions, readers and the media on the harm caused by piracy, and trying to change perceptions of piracy. Piracy also diminishes publishers’ brands as pirated books are mistaken for genuine ones and publishers are criticized for their poor quality.

Writers suffer as well as they are deprived of royalties on pirated books. The result is that they either stop writing or do so only in their free time. Many of Pakistan’s greatest writers such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Mushtaq Ahmed Yusufi spent their lives working in banks or other businesses in order to make ends meet, causing much loss to Pakistan’s literary heritage. At times, authors ask for a one-off advance payment in lieu of royalties to ensure some income. Bookstores selling genuine books, and there are not many, are affected, which is why there are no real chain bookstores. There are many small area bookshops which sell stationery and textbooks, but many of them sell a mix of genuine and pirated books.

Education and consumers are victims as well. Poor quality books discourage the reading habit and put children in particular off books and reading. Consumers are cheated as they are sold pirated books as genuine books. We have thus carried out an extensive copyright education campaign to sensitise the public to this issue and enable them to check carefully before buying, to distinguish between genuine and pirated books, and to report sales of pirated books.

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