The legislative framework exists to combat piracy, but publishing houses must be more vigilant and establish proper infrastructure.
Publishing industry can help end piracy
ABU DHABI // Arab authors and publishers say they can stop unauthorised translations of their work being sold but only if the publishing industry matures. They say that because of a lack of infrastructure in the industry, including publishing houses and agents, too many authors are left to self-publish, leaving them vulnerable to having their work stolen.
But in a vicious circle, the high level of piracy is putting companies off making serious efforts to develop that infrastructure. Haissam Fadel, the foreign rights and sales manager of the Arab Cultural Centre, a Moroccan-based publishing house that distributes Arabic translations aimed at young adults, including most recently the Twilight saga, said he had seen many unauthorised translations on sale at book fairs.
"Once a book starts to sell it is marketable," he said. "You see a lot of badly translated copies being sold illegally. The Arab Publishers Association are taking steps now but I think it is more a matter of education than people actively trying to avoid the law. "After all, the potential market in the Arab world is 300 million [people]. Why would you not buy the copyrights for a translation when you have that audience?"
He put the problem down to a lack of maturity within the industry. "The lack of distributors and networks across the Arab world is a big thing," he said, adding that it would help if authors used literary agents. "There is a lot of mistrust towards having someone negotiate on your behalf in the Arab world, but it would help stop the huge problems we have with piracy." Monika Krauss, the director of Kitab, which runs the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, said that while authors who tried to go it alone and self-publish were vulnerable to such illegitimate copies, publishers had the heft to take action.
"Many authors don't know what they can do," she said. "They don't have proper contracts with publishing houses and see agents as a threat. "We have agents coming to the book fair for the first time next year and we hope the symposium will move things forward. "It is such a traditional industry and there are so many factors that it takes time for new developments to penetrate. "We want authors, publishers and distributors alike to know that we are taking the problem very seriously."
Nasser Ali Khasawneh, managing partner of Khasawneh Associates in Dubai and an expert in intellectual property, said the problem stemmed from lack of enforcement of copyright laws in the UAE and across the Arab world. "The copyright law of 2002 is very advanced and reflects the applicable norms of the best international standards," he said. "The legislative framework is ready. We just need the private sector to engage.
"Book publishers need to be more active and vigilant; they need to co-ordinate with governments and the level of awareness within the public also needs to grow. "The biggest problem is a lack of consolidation and it has been for decades. Let's be honest, if Khalil Gibran had written The Prophet whilst he was still living in Beirut then there is no way it would be in the top five selling books of all time. It's not that we don't have the talent, we just don't have the proper systems in place."
It might have been easier for Nisreen Ghandourah to reach her dream of becoming an established and paid author if she had published her own works. Ghandourah, 25, works as a copywriter for an advertising agency in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Her first novel, Al-Nahr Al-Thalith (The Third River), about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, was published by Dar al Arabiya Lil Ouloum in 2006. Despite having a five-year holding contract with the publishing house, she collects no revenue from sales and was not paid for her initial publication.
"The only benefit I get is that it was published and is being distributed around the world. However this is exactly what I wanted." Ghandourah, who is now writing her second novel, said having an agent would have helped her career. "In the GCC, there are very few agents and for me it was the case of negotiating my own deal. I had to send out a preview of my work to publishers and I was really worried. I couldn't register it as my own and I worried it might get stolen."
There is some hope of change, however. In March, the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair will host a symposium on copyright. Speakers from the International Publishers' Association will focus on the state of copyright in the UAE, the GCC and the Arab world, and what measures are being implemented to fight piracy. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org