Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 26-27, November 2000 


Piracy and ignorance in Kenya

Jimmi Makotsi
Jimmi Makotsi is a publisher. Acacia Stantex Publishers, Muthithi House, Westlands, PO Box 66853, Nairobi. +254 02 751208 (fax),

Several meetings have been held in Nairobi lately to discuss the worrying phenomenon of book piracy in the country and the region. According to David Muita, chairman of the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), 'piracy cases in the country have become so rampant that the publishing industry is losing Ksh 3000m (US$4.1m) annually.'

Indeed the matter is so grave that it brought all the publishers together for the first time ever, and saw them speak with one voice, strongly condemning the unscrupulous pirates who reprinted their books without permission, 'reaping from where they never sowed'. It came out at this meeting that the problem is at three levels:

1. There are cases where quick-selling titles, usually set books, are reprinted without the publisher's permission and sold to bookshops and to schools by the 'entrepreneurs' at lower trade discounts than the publishers offer. This, of course, is criminal.

2. Photocopying of textbooks is so rife that many institutions, including universities, schools and colleges, have installed photocopiers in their premises as it is more economical to acquire a book through this photographic 'wonder' than to purchase a copy.

3. It came as a real shock to discover that publishers themselves are reproducing one another's materials, using excerpts as quotations, without seeking permission.

Since it is always easier to deal with those problems which we can easily blame on someone else, the KPA decided to tackle the first part of this problem and revisit the other two at a later stage.

The shocking lanes of book piracy

In most instances, books are reprinted by merchants or moneyed individuals who understand the value of the particular books they choose. Usually such books are the fast sellers; what the Nairobi meeting described as the 'milk cows' within various houses. Such set books are quietly, and illegally, photographed and reprinted within small presses, bound in the night and transported to the provinces from where they are sold both to bookshops and directly to schools - usually at discounts that go as high as 50 per cent. Publishers in Kenya usually offer 25 to 30 per cent discount to trade.

  • Booksellers will collude with the merchants to reprint these fast-selling titles and will quickly supply school orders and pocket their booty before the peak selling period (January to March) is over.
  • Printers will overrun publishers' orders and channel the extra copies into the market via 'willing' booksellers and at attractive discounts. Printers will even 'loan' films or plates belonging to publishers to the enterprising merchants for a fee, and without any qualms.
  • In one case that was reported, it appeared that publishing staff were even involved in this racket, colluding with their own printers to steal from their employers.

Whichever method is used in this game, the bottom line is that piracy denies the two rightful owners of the book their remuneration: the author, who wrote the book and whose intellectual property it is, loses on royalties, and the publisher, who is the manufacturer and whose physical property it is, loses on the investment.

But crying about the 'thieves and scoundrels' will not help the Kenyan situation. What is needed is a concerted effort of education and sensitisation - to make every citizen aware of the sanctity of intellectual property and to respect it.

  • The KPA needs to work more closely with the office of the Attorney General to streamline regulations relating to paper usage by printers, and ensure that printers abide by the legal requirement of keeping records on paper use.
  • The Publishers Association has to work closely with the Printers Association to ensure that a code of conduct is set up and that ethical behaviour is both encouraged and practised.
  • The Publishers Association has to establish closer working relations with the Booksellers Association, to foster good business practice and to discourage sourcing of stocks from non bona fide sources.
  • Publishers themselves should introduce systems in their operations to ensure the security of their publications and to make it difficult for them to be reproduced without permission. Safe storage of pre-press and press materials, use of identification marks in their editions, insistence upon proper security at printers' presses, and regular repeated education of the general public are necessary in protecting authors' rights.

The Nairobi meeting resolved to boycott selling to any booksellers suspected to be abetting piracy, to boycott printing with any printer dealing in this racket, and to sue anybody found to be involved in the racket. Whereas we acknowledge that the law should take its course where a crime has been committed, we urge the publishing fraternity in Kenya to recognise the importance of educating the public, and to embark on programmes that will make everyone recognise and respect intellectual property. Boycotting and ostracising some players only makes them irascible and, in this particular case, will only make them vengeful pirates. [end] [BPN, no 26–27, 2000, p. 23.]

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