Arab book publishing threatened by copyright infringement

The Arab publishing industry is facing unprecedented challenges, including a publishing market that has decreased as much as 20%.
Sunday 10/11/2019
A man chooses a book at Al-Azbakeya market in Cairo.        (Reuters)
At all costs. A man chooses a book at Al-Azbakeya market in Cairo. (Reuters)

CAIRO - The Arab Publishers Union revealed that the market for forged books in Arab countries has grown, causing annual losses of $350 million to legitimate publishers.

Book piracy has become a hot topic in print and social media as writers and critics urged readers not to buy pirated books.

The campaign was begun by Egyptian writer Omar Taher, who wrote several articles on the publishing crisis in Egypt. He was quickly joined by other Arab writers, including Sudanese Hammour Ziada, Egyptian Ashraf El-Ashmawi and Moroccan Youssef al-Rabie.

Some people have tried to defend the market for pirated books as a logical alternative to recent prices increases, which has reduced readers’ opportunities to buy many books.

Data released by the Arab Publishers Union indicate that losses by legitimate publishers due to the counterfeiting market in the Arab countries totalled $350 million annually. That figure indicated the alarming growth of that market since the size of the official book market did not exceed $15 million.

Mohamed Rashad, president of the Arab Publishers Union, said the huge gap between the forged books market and that of original books released by Arab publishing houses created a catastrophe that threatens the Arab publishing industry.

Rashad said it is facing unprecedented challenges, including a publishing market that has decreased as much as 20%. He mentioned that pirating books and producing forged copies caused dozens of publishing houses to close and writers have become reluctant to publish because of poor sales.

Book piracy and forgery are not new. Publishing houses produce dozens of books annually that are reproduced by shady entities. These bodies produce lower-quality copies and sell them at significantly lower prices. Some Arab readers buy the forged copies and say original publishers are scamming them with higher prices.

Rashad explained that the negative image created about regular publishing houses is because of a lack of awareness of the efforts and costs involved in producing books.

“Publishing houses do not overprice books and it is only normal that forged books are cheaper,” he said. “Book pirates don’t pay taxes or copyright royalties or administrative expenses. They produce poor copies by reducing the cost of printing and, therefore, it’s only natural that forged books are cheaper.”

The market for pirated books differs from one Arab country to the other in terms of size and quality of the forgery process. The market is huge in countries such as Egypt, Sudan and Morocco, where there are sophisticated mafia-like networks producing and exporting forged books.

Some countries play a major role in the distribution and dissemination of counterfeited books abroad. There are offices dedicated to receiving forged books and redistributing them in other countries where there is demand for books in Arabic, especially novels.

Angry Arab publishers demand tougher measures and stronger enforcement of laws protecting intellectual property and the publishing system in Egypt, which is the largest market for printing and selling books in the Arab world.

Rashad said the law in Egypt criminalises fraud and forgery with fines of $300-$600 and a jail sentence of up to three months. Such a measly fine is not going to deter counterfeiters, especially when they know they stand to make millions of Egyptian pounds in profits by counterfeiting books.

On top of tougher laws, publishers stress the importance of increasing public awareness about the book piracy. Readers may believe that the cheaper prices of counterfeited books allow them to buy more books but forged books indirectly affect the publishing world in the long run. Counterfeiting weakens the regular publishing market, leading to lower profits for publishers and writers, resulting in fewer books being written and published and even the disappearance of publishing houses.

Counterfeiting books is not unique to the Arab world. It exists in many Western countries but remains at a small scale and with very little effect on the regular book market. This is essentially because of the Western reader’s awareness of the importance of supporting the publishing industry and creators.

There is, therefore, an urgent need to raise awareness of the importance of respecting intellectual property rights among young people through schools and universities in the Arab world and to teach people that forging books is a crime and a form of cheating and deception.

Saeed Abdo, president of the Egyptian Publishers Union, stressed the role of intellectual property protection laws in Egypt in fighting piracy. The laws, however, have not changed since being enacted 50 years ago and are not a strong deterrent. They may even encourage the falsification of books.

This is why the Egyptian Publishers Union recently submitted new legislation for the protection of intellectual property to the Egyptian House of Representatives, proposing tougher measures and higher fines and prison terms for convicted counterfeiters.