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The Problem Of Piracy And Pakistan’s Complete Lack Of Concern

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Whereas the need to balance the competing rights of access to resources on one hand and protecting the intellectual rights of authors in a developing country like Pakistan is concerned, the answer lies in rethinking public libraries and not in supporting and partaking in the crime of piracy, writes Nida Usman Chaudhry.

The World Book and Copyright Day is celebrated by UNESCO every year on the 23rd of April for promoting reading, publishing, and copyright since 1995.

By way of background, the UN on its website explains why April 23rd was selected as the day for celebrating literature and promoting the writing industry. It states that 23 April is a symbolic date for world literature. It is on this date in 1616 that Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors, such as Maurice Druon, Haldor K. Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo. It was [therefore] a natural choice for UNESCO’s General Conference, held in Paris in 1995, to pay a world-wide tribute to books and authors on this date, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those, who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity. With this in mind, UNESCO created the World Book and Copyright Day.”[1]

Copyright infringement causes significant economic losses to Pakistan as estimated by various industry experts and publishers. Ms. Ameena Saiyid, the former Managing Director of OUP is reported to have said that, “book piracy deprives the writers of royalties, the publishers of legitimate income and government of tax revenue. She said that according to an estimate, the government lost Rs25 billion to piracy during 2012”.[2] In another estimate, the Head of Events Committee, Anti-Counterfeit and Infringement Forum (ACIF) Pakistan Mr. Amar Naseer stated that “violation of intellectual property rights in books and publishing can lead to losses worth Rs. 40 million”.[3]

The actual losses are expected to be even higher than these figures given that piracy is no longer a challenge on the ground alone, as copyright holders now have to face the immense challenges of online piracy in the shape of PDF versions of their work which may be available and disseminated across networks and digital platforms even before the release of the official books. The issue of book piracy is, therefore, not just about the infringement of personal rights of the authors and/or publishers, but also about the deprivation of revenue and loss to the country’s national exchequer on the whole.

Responding to a question about her experience with piracy, author of four books, Sara Naveed said, “I have been a victim of piracy and have seen pirated copies of at least three of my books being sold for as low as Rs 150/- on various book shops. The ready access to cheaper unauthorized copies directly affects the rights of the author and the publisher but still, there is rampant practice of selling illegal and unauthorized books in the market.”

The challenge seems to emerge from the fact that there is a sheer lack of awareness and indifference around copyright laws and piracy being a punishable crime in Pakistan. Often, the flawed argument that people are not able to afford books at their original price is advanced by vendors to continue to profit off of stealing someone’s hard work and without any realisation of the loss, this is causing to the national exchequer on the whole.

Author and editor Mehr F Husayn questioned whether such unauthorized publications would be allowed to continue if the books of Pakistani authors were published by local publishers. “Had the publishers of these books been local, we might have seen a stronger response and reaction against pirated copies,” She added.

Whereas the need to balance the competing rights of access to resources on one hand and protecting the intellectual rights of authors in a developing country like Pakistan is concerned, the answer lies in rethinking public libraries and not in supporting and partaking in the crime of piracy.

As the author of ‘In the Company of Strangers and founder of The Writing Institute Awais Khan said, “We just want the readers to appreciate and understand why it is important to invest in the original books and if someone cannot afford the original book, it is better to ask friends around to lend the book for reading or develop books clubs and other reading communities to share books even if investment in revamping public libraries is a distant goal.”

Lack of affordability, however, is not the only challenge plaguing the writing industry in Pakistan. Another reason why avid readers are likely to resort to accessing PDF versions of books is that original books published abroad can either take years to reach Pakistan or never make it to the markets here leaving them with no other option than to request or look for PDF versions. Talha Mansoor, an attendee on a recent online session on Piracy and The Writing Industry jointly organized by Lahore Education and Research Network and The Writing Institute to celebrate the World Book and Copyright Day 2020, seconded this and suggested that concerted efforts to improve the supply chain and market access could reduce the need to resort to these measures.

At the same session, author and editor Mehr F Husayn expressed her dismay over lack of outrage against piracy in the country as well as the lack of awareness that selling pirated copies is a crime. She said, “[piracy] amounts to stealing someone’s hard work. When an author puts in their heart and soul into a project they have every right to share what they are suffering as a result of piracy or other discriminatory policies hampering their book and its access to markets and to take necessary action where need be to curb such a menace.” She stressed the importance of seeking legal advice throughout the publishing and distribution process as a measure that an author can take to protect their interests.

Is it, however, fair to put the entire burden on authors to keep track of piracy of their books and to press for action against it? Under the Copyright Ordinance 1962, the owner of the copyright is entitled to civil remedies for infringements of his rights which include injunctions, damages, and accounts amongst others.[4] In addition to the owner of the right, the law also gives rights to any other person who may have an interest in the copyrighted work to apply to the court to prevent infringement of the copyright in question.[5] However, the law also imposes penal sanctions on the offender which include imprisonment up to three years or fine which may extend to One Hundred thousand Rupees or both and gives police wide powers to seize infringed copies without a warrant and produce them before the Magistrate.[6]

Although, author Awais Khan stated that he will take legal action against any sellers of pirated copies of his book and will report all social media posts and pages advertising the same. “It is these pages that are the hub from where these sellers operate nowadays and I will report them to all relevant authorities,” he explained; an effective regime to curtail the intellectual property infringement needs to have a more coordinated response mechanism among the stakeholders and a real interest in losing out on business as a result of piracy needs to be established before those with deeper pockets feel obliged to take action. In Rawalpindi for instance, a case was filed by a publisher of O’ and A’ Level syllabus books against a local book vendor in 1997. The vendor and his brother were released on bail and since then only sell original works of that publisher in their shop. This shows that legal actions can prove useful in curbing piracy. Legal actions, however, can be costly and time-consuming and authors in their individual capacity may not be in the best position to pursue such claims on their own. Therefore, a collective voice is needed to amplify the rights of authors and take up these and other matters officially with the authorities and concerned persons.

To conclude, we must acknowledge that the support structure and requisite awareness of rights appear to be missing from the writing scene in Pakistan and all stakeholders and the readers are urged to support the writing industry in this creative but highly labour-intensive endeavour to produce books.


[1] https://www.un.org/en/observances/book-and-copyright-day

[2] https://tribune.com.pk/story/687701/book-piracy-govt-losing-billions-due-to-lax-ipr-protection/

[3] https://www.thenews.com.pk/archive/print/155695-ipr-violation-causes-loss-of-billions-to-government

[4] Section 60

[5] Section 60 A

[6] Section 74

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