Book piracy: The evil killing reading culture, publishing

Charles Batambuze, the Executive Director of the Uganda Reproductive Rights Organisation, displays a copy of one of the impounded books. PHOTO by Ephraim Kasozi

What you need to know:

Because pirated books often have many faults like missing pages, upside down text and other such faults, making reading them is difficult

I could not tell anything was amiss about the thin yellow paperback I picked up at a street book peddler’s stall. It was definitely a copy of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector, a book in the schools’ curricula.

It set me back by a mere Shs4,000, which is why I walked away thinking I had struck a bargain. In the mainstream bookshops, it does not go for less than Shs15,000. It is only later that I began to understand why it was being sold at a throwaway price.

Faint pages, mixed up fonts, some bold, unaligned words, missing words and sections, a dizzying mix of upside down and page numbers that did not follow sequence, rendered the book illegible for all intents and purposes. Indeed it was only fit to be thrown away; I was duped into buying a pirated copy.

Copies of the popular play are one of the titles seized in an 80,000-copy haul of pirated books during a joint operation between publishers and the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) recently. It covered bookshops, printers, homes and streets throughout the country.

Charles Batambuze, the Executive Director of the Uganda Reproductive Rights Organisation (URRO) says the impounded books are part of a racket that has seen the market flooded with pirated books. URRO is a collective management body authorised by URSB to enforce the copyright of books to save the publishing industry.

The danger of pirated copies
Peter Mungawu, a teacher at St. Mary’s College Kisubi, laments that on top of discrediting the author, pirated books disrupt the learning process.

“The students would not understand what is portrayed, especially in science and mathematics where we use equation editor, but when scanned, they appear in bits, which make the book useless,” says Mungawu, also author of various physics, chemistry and mathematics books.
According to Martin Okia, the chairman National Book Trust of Uganda (NABOTU), authors and publishers have lost business due to piracy, despite incurring all the expenses. And this also creates loss to government in terms of revenue because pirates do not pay tax. It also frustrates investment in publishing.

What keeps piracy thriving
The gullibility of the consumer, who is always looking for a bargain, keeps the illegal reprint trade thriving. For instance, George Orwell’s Animal Farm is worth Shs15,000 in a bookshop but it can be got for Shs5,000 to Shs8,000 on the street. Julius Ocwinyo’s Fate Of The Banished costs Shs18,000 in a bookshop but one can bargain it down to 10,000 when it is a pirated copy on the street.

“Pirates are able to sell at a much lower price because they do not pay original publishing costs like royalties to the author, editorials and book design fees or marketing (like book launch) costs,” says Philly Jjemba, a copyright inspector with URRO.
It is estimated that pirating in the printing and publishing industry has caused losses worth more than Shs10 billion between October 2013 and June 2014.

Source of pirated copies
Going to the streets, some book vendors are hesitant to reveal the source of the books on sale on their stalls. Others say they work for big bookshops in town where they pick books for vending and earn a commission. On Kampala Road where most book sellers used to sit, you find cardboards and signposts with contacts and, or directions of where to get the books.
At Nasser Road where printing is the major business activity, you find most people operating photocopying machines and others doing binding work.

Among the activities is the ongoing photocopying of examination past papers, booklets and pamphlets, some of which are on sale at the various points.
Operators are silent on who and how they acquire business but one machine operator said they get business orders from various parties, including schools.
Indeed, Batambuze laments that pirates enjoy a profitable business because most of the books have ready market because they are on the schools’ curricula.

Way forward
According to Okia, starting September this year, there are plans to introduce holograms (a special type of picture in which the objects seem to be three-dimensional (solid rather than flat) on all genuine books sold in the Ugandan market as a measure to fight against piracy as it will differentiate them from imitations. Apart from helping the buyers ensure they are buying a genuine book, it will also ease the work of inspectors as they go on crackdowns to rid the market of pirated books.