Unpacking piracy, copyright
HARARE – A walk through town shows that street bookshops have become the norm with the formal booksellers either closed down or resorting to selling mostly imported books.
Street bookshops have sprouted almost everywhere and with the accessibility of new technologies some of the books found on street corners appear to be original ones and yet these are photocopied texts.
The vendors, who thrive on playing a cat and mouse game with law enforcement agents, sell these books to willing accomplices — cash-poor parents and students — all too-ready to buy the pirate copies because of the price charged.
They cannot afford to spend any extra cent on original books.
Besides killing off the publishers and booksellers, the practice of piracy has also strangled the writers of the books.
Most can not survive on their creativity.
Although most books are clearly marked: “All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the copyright owners.”
Wikipedia defines copyright as “the set of exclusive rights granted to the author or creator of an original work, including the right to copy, distribute and adapt the work.”
Copyright is said to last for a certain period of time after which the work is said to enter the public domain.
Also known under the umbrella term intellectual property along with patents and trademarks in certain circles, copyright is widely believed to have originated with the 1709 Statute of Anne (an Act of Encouragement of Learning by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or Purchasers of Such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned.
In most European countries, copyright emerged as part of efforts by governments to regulate and control the output of printers, especially after the advent of printing technology around the 15th and 16th centuries.
Before the printing press, a writing could only be multiplied physically by the laborious and error-prone process of manual copying out.
The printing press allowed for rapid multiplication of work.
While governments and the church supported printing in many ways, notably the dissemination of Bibles and government information, works of dissent and criticism could also circulate rapidly.
Consequently, governments established controls over printers across Europe to print particular works over a specific time frame and enabled printers to bar others from printing the same work.
Copyright has been internationally standardised and lasts between 50 and 100 years after the author’s death.
If the work was co-authored then copyright would last 50 years after the death of the last surviving writer.
According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the purpose of copyright is two-fold: “To encourage a dynamic creative culture, while returning value to creators so that they can lead a dignified economic existence, and to provide widespread, affordable access to content for the public”
Initially covering books, the types of works that are subject to copyright have expanded over time to include maps, charts, engravings prints, musical compositions, dramatic works, photographs, paintings, drawings and sculptures.
In the 20th century, this was expanded to cover films, computer programmes, sound recordings, dance and architectural works.
However, copyright does not protect ideas, but their expression.
Therefore the law was designed to protect the fixed expression or manifestation of an idea rather than the idea itself.
Most Zimbabweans, according to Greenfield Chilongo, executive director of Zimcopy, do not seem to take copyright seriously until they know how it affects them either adversely or in terms of the benefits they are missing.
He also pointed out that this affects both users and the creators of the works, the copyright holders and the people who use copyright.
When people write, they expect some bit of income from the writing.
However, they often do not give weight to the issue of copyright when they negotiate contracts with publishers because in the first instance, their major interest is in getting published.
But later they get worried when they realise that the benefits that should accrue to them are not coming.
Chilongo said: “In Zimbabwe, both users and creators of copyright do not appear to be fully conversant with the provisions of copyright. People think copyright applies to musical works alone.
“The major reason is musicians are popular therefore, when they complain that they are missing out on the monetary gains of their work through piracy, that is the more dramatic case than the one involving an author, or publisher of a book.”
While copyright is a civil offence, piracy is criminal in that it is considered to be a form of stealing someone’s property for your own benefit.
Piracy then involves commercially-organised individuals who reproduce books or music for sale to other people.
In the case of books, most copyright holders are not so much concerned about the abuse of copyright but become more concerned when it grows to the levels of piracy.
Chilongo said as Zimcopy, their mandate is to curtail the infringement of copyright in literary works.
In this way, illegal reproduction of books is also checked through cutting the market for such pirated materials in schools and other educational institutions.
Zimcopy was established in terms of the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act (Chapter 26:05) and is registered with the Zimbabwe Intellectual Property Office, which also registered the Zimbabwe Music Rights Organisation.
It is important to understand that copyright does permit other uses of literary works like accessing a few pages for research or production of study packs.
Speaking on legislative interventions on copyright, Chilongo said: “The Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act is in line with other international protocols and WIPO copyright treaties and regulations which are coming up to combat the growth of infringement, particularly on the Internet.
“We now have a lot of equipment for publishing, which makes it a lot easier to infringe copyright other than the traditional photocopying.
“Our activities also include promoting awareness among the users of copyright and among the rights holders and new publishers, because they are not fully conversant with the provisions of the Act.”
Zimcopy also works with other sister organisations throughout the world like the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations to ensure that copyright infringement is closely guarded in all countries.
That way, Zimbabwean books would not be exploited in other countries.
There are binding bilateral agreements that Zimcopy has with other countries, an arrangement which facilitates that whenever books are legally reproduced outside Zimbabwe, the sister organisation remits what are called reciprocal fees and then Zimcopy sends it to the creator of the work.
“Our Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act is fairly comprehensive.
“It is very fair in that it allows people to access material, which shows that copyright is not there to prohibit.
“What it recognises is that writing is also an occupation like selling bread or potatoes. Government may come in to control the price and this is acceptable.
“The ministry of Justice, who administers the Act, are open to suggestions on possible improvements to the Act.
“What they want is a law which serves the interests of both the users and creators for the mutual benefit of everybody and the cultural development of the country,” said Chilongo.
On whether universities and colleges, where photocopying of whole books at times occurs, have any arrangements with rights holders, Chilongo reiterated that the reproduction of books remains illegal.
However, he indicated that Zimcopy comes in to license anyone wishing to reproduce books, for a specific fee of course.
The ministry of Education, Sport, Arts and Culture’s argument has been that we need to use books written by Zimbabweans and for Zimbabwean students but this can only continue if the authors are encouraged to write and when they benefit something from it but if we continue photocopying it means our authors will be discouraged and then we won’t have any locally-produced books and we will revert back to using other people’s books
Literary works are intellectual property, which like music should also be protected against unlawful reproduction. – Eddie Zvinonzwa, Chief Sub-Editor