The book piracy game out
A piece of old news but still of great importance and helps you understand the book piracy game out.
If you steal a book from a bookshop, you are likely to be hauled up by the police and put behind the bars. But if you reprint a book and sell it without authorization, chances are that you will have made your pot of money before anything can happen to you. The law isn’t strong enough.
This is a gap the Government of India is attempting to plug under a new copyright law it is understood to be contemplating.
Book pirates have a dog sense about what will sell best. In India, the best sellers from their point of view seem to be school and college textbooks, novels by popular Hindi authors, and English fiction published in the West. Because of its covert nature and scattered operations the magnitude of the piracy is difficult to assess. One publishing executive, who had probed the question in 1970, assessed it at seven per cent of the entire publishing trade.
Pirates are interested in textbooks as they are big business. Millions of copies are required every year. The print order for one single book used for primary schools is something like 200,000 copies. The need is so great that all private and government publishers together are unable to meet them fully. There is always a shortage of prescribed textbooks at the time of reopening of schools. And that is the time the pirate comes in.
March and April are the busiest periods for pirates. All they have to do is to photocopy an authentic book. This is done on the same offset presses on which cinema posters are made. Almost all big and small towns have these presses. The economy demands at least 5,000 copies to be printed, but most pirates print twice the number. The printing cost comes to no more than one-fourth of the price of the authentic book.
Distribution and sale of such books is the second trick of the trade. Operating within a district, they sell them to the same bookseller who is selling the authentic ones. but give a margin of profit which no regular publisher can rival. For the bookseller, therefore, the margin is so attractive that he cannot afford to lose the goose that lays the golden egg. In return, he protects the pirate publisher from any nosing enquirer.
According to one publishing house official, the pirate in school textbooks is the small-time printer whose number is virtually legion. In a place like Varanasi, there are 400 registered printing presses. Not all of them are offset, but some pirates even use letterpresses for their work.
Pirate publishing of Indian novels is the other lucrative avocation. At present Gulshan Nanda, the Hindi novelist is a rage with the reading public. According to publishing sources, his books are being pirated in practically every district of Uttar Pradesh.
Piracy of English novels published in the West is a phenomenon confined mostly to the bigger cities. They are, however, printed on the same small-town offset presses where other books are pirated.
The business flourishes during the second half of the year, as new titles are issued in the West to catch the Christmas sales. Pirates in India average 18 books a year. A popular Western novelist like Alistair Maclean has a market of 25,000 copies. His latest novel, Circus, was out in the West only a month ago, but is already available in India. The same was the case with Arthur Hailey’s ‘Money Changers’ a few months ago.
About 10,000 copies of each of these books are printed. If you calculate an average price of Rs. 10 per book, the turnover for 18 books, is something like Rs. 180,000 per year.
This kind of piracy, however, is saving valuable foreign exchange for the country. The magnitude of it does not seem to have affected foreign publishers to take any action.
At present the law which checks piracy is non-cognizable. So publishing houses wanting to protect their interests have to file a petition with the district magistrate. The petition should state their suspicions in black and white, mentioning the name and address of the pirate. The magistrate then refers the matter to the police who are asked to report back to him after enquiry. The process involves an almost unending legal battle which might go on for years. No publisher so far has gone full out, as piracy is a quick business which might well be over by the time the magistrate sends his request to the police.
However, at one time or another, publishers do feel the pinch and the course of action they take to check the menace is the rough and ready way-carried out with the indulgence of the police. Legally, police cannot confiscate any pirate book, but publishers have seen to it that they hold up a pirate’s operations on one pretext or another for a short while, maybe upto a month, to enable them to sell their books.
This is the only remedy, available at the moment, but only to those who have the right contacts with the police. And then not many publishers come to know of pirated books. Publishers are demanding that laws should be tightened adequately and piracy be made a cognizable offence. There may not be a way to stop the pirates totally but they can at least be kept in check.