Arab Publishers failing to fight book piracy, risking future

Mary Mourad, Monday 25 Mar 2013

Arab Publishers' Conference discusses threats to publishing from online pirates and how to beat them

Arab Publishers Conference
Arab Publishers Conference (photo: Mary Mourad)

Hossam Lotfy, legal advisor to the Egyptian and Arab Publishers Association, led the discussion on copyright and piracy, with Peter Givler, chair of the copyright committee at the International Publishers Association (IPA), Jens Bammel, Secretary General of the IPA, and Mohamed Adnan Salem, ex-head of Arab Publishers association (APA). This was the long-awaited discussion for the Second Arab Publishers' Conference that took place on 23 and 24 March 2013 at Bibliotheca Alexandrian, alongside the Alexandria Book Fair.

Bammel started by promising to give publishers tips to handle the copyright and piracy challenges. He argued that investing in publishing in the Arab world in the last few years meant losing business, due to the economic crisis, political instability and piracy, the latter being easy to detect yet hard to fight, both in paper and digital copies, due mainly to low moral pressure and an ineffective court system. "Compared to music and cinema, the publishing business globally isn't suffering and is still slowly growing despite the digital revolution. It's rather making transitions, though revenues are down, the profits are up and mistakes were done already and lessons learned," Bammel described these as reasons to be optimist about the future.

On fighting piracy, Bammel proposed that effort be made to make it easy for readers to buy rather than steal books, and find win-win solutions to them. "90% of the readers are good people who would be willing to buy books if they were easily accessible, and these are not enemies," he stressed. Copyrights are dropping in value, Bammel warned, but he suggests engaging with readers, authors, copyright critics and others in debate about the business sense behind it. He suggested to venture into digital, but not faster than the market, and to hold governments responsible for protection of copyrights.

Givler described how the only way to get to piracy websites is through collaboration between publishers, lawmakers and lawyers to create systems against websites that systematically pirate books, including attempts to block their Internet access, or payment systems, since they live off advertising.

"20 years of effort to combat piracy of paper books have all failed," Adnan Salem admitted, hoping that the advancement in book technologies will make it easier to protect copyrights on digital media better than paper that had failed miserably. He's afraid that Arab publishers will be extinct if they didn't find a place for themselves in the new volcano of knowledge, and part of it is laws and their enforcement, although weary that even these laws have failed to catch up on the continuous digital advancement in the West. Recalling the progress of laws and breaching of these laws in the Arab world, Alem was conerned that even in some cases Arab publishers invited digital piracy as a means for advertising, and fearless for their paper business (which is by far the source of money and the bulk of the market) since 'digital isn't paper'.

To conclude, Hossam Lotfy reminded that the main victim of piracy isn't only the publishers' rights but the authors' rights, and the risk it represents to writing and creativity is much bigger than the business risk to publishers.

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