Book piracy is hurting Zimbabwean authors

By Lazarus Sauti

Harare – Charles Lovemore Mungoshi is one of the most prolific as well as respected writers in Zimbabwe and his works include poetry, which he describes as a ‘mere finger exercise’, children’s books, plays, short stories and novels in both Shona and English languages.

Notable titles of his works include Ndiko Kupindana Kwamazuva (1975), Makunun’unu Maodzamoyo (1977), Inongova Njake Njake (1980), Kunyarara Hakusi Kutaura? (1983), Coming of the Dry Season (1972), Waiting for the Rain (1975), The Setting Sun and Rolling World (1987), Stories from a Childhood (1989), One Day Long Ago: More Stories from a Shona Childhood (1991), Walking Still (short stories, 1997), The Milkman Doesn’t Only Deliver Milk (1998) and Branching Streams Flow in the Dark (2013).

Some of the awards he has amassed include the International PEN Awards (1975, 1981 and 1998), Noma Honourable Awards for Publishing in Africa (1980, 1984, 1990 and 1992), as well as the Commonwealth Writers Prize (African region) twice in 1988 and 1998.

Mungoshi is so famous in Zimbabwe and other countries, and with his creative works, he should be able to make a comfortable living just like some writers in Africa and other parts of the world, but the book sector in Zimbabwe is so punishing to the extent that the celebrated writer is not even enjoying the fruits of his fame and hardwork.

Recently, his family sourced for $9 000 required for a repeat operation after doctors inserted a shunt to drain water from his brains last year.

This forced readers, writers and publishers to question the seriousness of Zimbabwe, especially when it comes to taking care of its writers, who contribute immensely to the socio-economic development of the country.

These readers, writers and publishers think the country is only concerned about the writers brains not their welfares and believe the time is now ripe for Zimbabwe to create an enabling environment for its writers to enjoy the fruits of their artistic endeavours.

Publisher, photojournalist, social media consultant and poet, Takudzwa Chikepe, says book piracy, which is a spreading like wildfires, is tolerated in this country and it is crippling the book sector.

“Book piracy, which is being pushed by the boom in the printing industry, information technology, survival know-how, economic meltdown, students, informal book traders, school heads and university lecturers, is affecting the development of the book sector in Zimbabwe,” he says.

Tamara Jena, an avid book lover, also says book piracy, whether in print or digital form, is the ‘cancer’ that has decimated Mungoshi and other writers’ incomes, forcing them to live in dire poverty.

Some of the authors, she says, die without having properties to their names, a development that demotivates young writers and stifle the sustainable development of the sector.

“Although illustrious Brazilian author, Paulo Coelho, believes piracy – the unauthorised use of copyrighted works – is like a medal to any writer, whose biggest reward is being read, this ‘cancer’ is widespread in Zimbabwe with every street corner in the country home to stalls of pirated texts,” she says. “What pains most is the fact that we often support this heinous crime.”

Book piracy, adds poet Proud Mutauto, is an illicit venture that cannibalises not just the efforts as well as investments of authors such as Mungoshi, but government revenue since those who operate under the radar dodge paying taxes.

“Book piracy is damaging publishers, writers as well as the country’s knowledge base as it discourages authors to write books and make a contribution to our society,” he says, adding that when content creators such as writers stop writing, the future of the education sector is badly affected.

In 2014, veteran writer, Ignatius Mabasa, contemplated quitting writing books, thanks to book piracy.

“In three years, I earned nothing from a book that has been a national school set text. My publisher is fighting demons in the form of book pirates, photocopying technology and weak copyright infringement laws and we are both victims, but of the two victims, I am worse off,” he said.

“US poet Emily Dickson once said, “the wounded dear leaps the highest.” Today, I feel like that proverbial dear.”

Mabasa added, “This is why I am asking myself why I should continue investing my time and energy in a business without returns.”

Concurring, Mutauto says what is painful and disturbing is that writers are earning peanuts from their creative works while pirates are lining their pockets after selling their books.

“In an environment like us”, he adds, “Publishers should work together with development partners to revive their businesses as well as cater for their writers’ wellbeing”.

Chikepe also urges schools and readers to be cautious on being deceived into purchasing illegal copies as they have poor print quality.

“Most pirated copies carry wrong content while some have incorrect, mixed up or missing pages,” he says. “We should, therefore, protect the writer and help the readers and for this to be effective, parents, schools and other readers should just shun such substandard copies.”

The government, Chikepe adds, together with stakeholders in the publishing and production sector should engage in a wide-range of awareness-raising programmes so as to reduce the level of piracy affecting our book industry.

“Organisations such as African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) should provide assistance to the government, authors and other stakeholders in the book sector in identifying ways to tackle specific cases of copyright infringement.

Librarian, Lawrence Mbanje, believes revitalising library and information centres plus opening new bookstores can provide some hope in fighting piracy.

“The government should support libraries and bookstores as well as invest in book development,” he says.

He also urges law enforcers to arrest pirates as well as photocopy businesses that are booming around educational institutions.

“Legislators must come up with harsh anti-piracy laws,” he says, adding that college and university lecturers, since they are at the epitome of our education system, should promote and protect intellectual property rights.

Information Technology specialist, George Magombeyi, says the country should embrace electronic systems and come up with an information technology-based solution that instantly informs a customer if s/he has bought a genuine or pirated book.

The Kenya Publishers Association in partnership with the Ministry of Education as well as the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, for instance, developed an electronic tool to curb book piracy that threatens the multi-billion publishing sector and the book industry in the country.

The tool has first been embedded on this year’s Literature and Fasihi set book, which are Kigogo by Pauline Kea, The Pearl by John Steinbeck, Tumbo Lisiloshiba na Hadithi Nyingine by Said Mohammed and Memories We Lost and Other Stories by Chris Wanjala.

These books have been fixed with distinctive hidden numbers at the front, inside or back which buyers can use to prove whether they are authentic or pirated copies.

Using mobile technology, the initiative makes it possible for parents, teachers as well as students to discern between authentic and reproduced copies simply by tracking each and every uniquely serialised book.

“Zimbabwe should follow and expand on this noble idea as it allows one person to buy a book so as to ensure survival of publishers and writers and the preservation of our culture,” says Magombeyi.

April 2017
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