At the Tunis Conference: On Piracy and the Myth of ‘Free Content’

In News by Porter Anderson

‘Governments need to be convinced that the scourge of piracy is a problem for them and for their countries’ evolving economies,” IPA’s  José Borghino tells the Arab Publishers Association’s conference in Tunisia.

José Borghino, secretary general with the International Publishers Association, speaks at the Arab Publishers Association’s fourth conference in Tunisia. Image: Ministry of Culture, Tunisia

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Respect for Creators’

While the international book industry’s concept of piracy these days tends to be focused on digital vulnerabilities, José Borghino, secretary general of the International Publishers Association (IPA) has reminded the Arab Publishers Association conference in Tunis this month that piracy as been a challenge for book publishing “right from the start.”

Piracy “is present, in mutated form, in the second volume from 1615 of the first modern novel, Don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel Cervantes, when the author refers to an unauthorized continuation of the first volume of his Don Quijote by an imposter, a pirate of his ideas.”

“Of course,” Borghino told his audience, “in 1615 copyright hadn’t been invented and an unauthorized sequel isn’t exactly what we think of today as book piracy. But in the disrespect shown to the author and publisher of Don Quijote, as well as the attempt to profit from and free-ride upon someone else’s work and reputation, we can discern in this example all the underlying motivations of book piracy.”

The IPA has made a copy of Borghino’s speech available to Publishing Perspectives, and in it, you can see Borghino working carefully to lay out the fact that even today, book piracy doesn’t always mean one thing or the other. In sub-Saharan countries, it can refer to counterfeit hardcopy books, while in Europe and North America, it’s mainly an electronic-format reality.

“In a brilliant article published by Granta a few years ago,” Borghino writes in his commentary, “the Peruvian writer Daniel Alarcón described piracy in his country as a kind of market failure. He described a situation in which mainstream publishers could adequately service the market in the capital, Lima, but he concluded that if an author wanted to get his or her book distributed outside of the metropolitan center, then it would be best to be pirated.”

And there have been some self-publishing authors in recent years who said that visibility for their work had been raised by piracy, although that came with a loss of revenue, of course.

Borghino also references Eugene Gerden’s report from August here at Publishing Perspectives, about how the Russian ministry of internal affairs estimates that between 25 and 30 percent of that country’s book market overall is counterfeit and that in some regions of the country that figure is as high as 50 percent. And these figures are expected to rise.

Estimate: 13.9 Billion Pirated Pages in One Month

“In a report that is already five years old and therefore probably underestimates the problem,” Borghino says, “David Price, the director of piracy analysis for NetNames, stated that in January 2013, 432 million unique Internet users explicitly sought infringing content.

“In North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region—which made up the majority (82.6 percent) of the world’s internet users and 95.1 percent of the bandwidth consumed at the time—Price estimated that infringing bandwidth use increased by 159 percent between 2010 and 2013 and represented almost 24 percent of the total bandwidth used by all Internet users in these regions. What’s more, he asserted that 13.9 billion page views were recorded on piracy web sites in January 2013 alone.”

One of the more subtle problems of piracy that Borghino explores in his Tunisian paper is the “shadow effect” of piracy on how many publishers think of digital work. He’s especially thoughtful in his understanding of this dilemma, from his experience with the IPA’s membership of publishers from some 70 markets and territories.

“The flood of e-piracy not only has financial ramifications,” Borghino writes, but “it also has a profound psychological impact on publishers.

“Some of them are even holding back the technological development of their home markets, preferring the devil they know, hardcopy piracy, to the vertiginous threat of losing control of their electronic files.

“This is a serious problem, especially in some of the less-developed markets of the world, if we want publishing to be innovative, to stay ahead of the digital curve and to contribute to the economic, cultural and social development of these places.

“And denying a market access to digital products is at best a quixotic enterprise given that a 2016 McKinsey report showed that in 98 percent of the American economy, the digital revolution has already been won and that, by 2025, digitization is expected to contribute $2 trillion to US GDP.”

Copyright’s Collision With ‘Freetards’

“Printing and publishing,” Borghino writes, “may be artifacts of the European Renaissance, but copyright is a child of the Enlightenment. ”

He recounts quickly that copyright was created in 1710 with the Statute of Anne in the UK, which embraces “individual rights as opposed to the power of the State.”

“In the language of classical liberalism,” Borghino goes on, “it’s about the individual’s right to create and exchange their own intellectual property. In Marxist terms, it’s about an individual’s ability to exploit and extract surplus value from intellectual labor.

“Every day that a creator or a rights holder doesn’t get paid for the use of their work is a bad day.”José Borghino

“And ethically, to paraphrase the Australian writer John Birmingham, copyright is simply ‘a codification of respect’ for creators.

“Despite the best efforts of the anti-copyright movement—the ‘freetards’ as Birmingham calls them—information is still just an abstract noun,” Borghino writes.

“It doesn’t ‘want to be free.’ It doesn’t ‘want’ anything. It either sits around, ignored by billions of people, or it becomes the latest viral meme, shared by all. But whatever its consumption status, the one thing that each bit of information has in common with every other bit is that they were all created by human beings. And unlike information, humans are not abstract: they are concrete and even proper nouns.

“Humans eat, drink and have bills to pay; some of us have children to put through school, dogs to walk, and bikes to peddle. We are consumers as well as producers, users as well as creators.

“And every day that a creator or a rights holder doesn’t get paid for the use of their work is a bad day. Everyone should get paid for their work: whether it’s arguing a legal case, stacking a library shelf, or giving an NGO political advice. I believe this is also true for authors, creators and for those who publish their works.”

Borghino then offers four points of approach to combating copyright for publishers:

  • Offer works commercially in all electronic and hard copy formats, because that’s what consumers want. The books must be competitively priced and of the highest quality and should be available with the minimum of inconvenience.
  • Publishers must actively communicate the value of their books, not just in terms of price but as cultural, educational and intellectual vectors.
  • Publishers need to fight pirates wherever they exist, using whatever legal means at their disposal. The IPA has a subcommittee of our Copyright Committee, the anti-piracy working group, which has conducted successful multi-national campaigns in the past. “This is very expensive and requires employing lawyers in multiple jurisdictions,” Borghino writes, “but we remain committed to this course of action in particular cases.”
  • Publishers must lobby governments so that they take appropriate and timely action.

“Too often,” Borghino writes, “governments need to be convinced that the scourge of piracy is a problem for them and for their countries’ evolving economies.

“IPA works with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to promote respect for copyright—the international conference in South Africa at the end of this year, entitled Building Respect for IP: Growing from the Tip of Africa, is a good example of WIPO taking the initiative on the African continent.”

At the upcoming International Publishers Association 32nd International Publishers Congress in New Delhi, the issue of self-censorship will be addressed by Elsevier’s Paul Doda and in other sessions. We’ll have coverage for you here at Publishing Perspectives.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.