Piracy: A bane for booksellers and writers alike

A ground plus two storey British era building once a hot destination for elites of the country now lies dilapidated and books are getting dusty on the ground floor as you take the steps upstairs the situation gets worse. You have to make your way through a spider’s’ web to reach Zafar Hussain, the owner of the book shop which is older than Pakistan, sitting overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness passing his time with tea and pan who says piracy is the main culprit that ruined the historical bookshop ‘Pioneer Book House’.

Hussain’s grandfather Anayat Hussain, a member of the business community hailing from Mandsaur district of Madiha Pardesh established Pioneer Book House before partition of Pakistan in 1945 on M.A Jinnah Road opposite Dow Medical College. It was renowned for its law and other international publications. Famous personalities like the former Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto; former chief election commissioner, Fakhruddin G Ebrahim; Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, Khalid Ishaq Advocate; educationist, Anita Ghulam Ali, AK Brohi, Abrar al Hassan Advocate used to visit and buy books from here.

Anayat Hussain started this shop after their contract ended with Faber and Castell as a serving and leveling instrument agency under which he had been running two branches namely Nobel Stationary in Karachi and Bombay Renown at Fort Road Bombay since it was compulsory under British Law to have at least two branches of any company in India.

The shop has fallen prey to piracy so Anayat’s grandson and present owner Zafar Hussain has finally announced to sell the shop. “I will donate the books to make the souls of my elders happy after selling this shop as we can’t survive in Rs 500, Rs 1,000 or Rs1,200 sales per day,” he said talking to Profit while mixing sugar in tea at the nostalgic architecture of early 20th century.

He can still remember trams running outside his shop at M.A Jinnah Road “when I was ten years of age, I joined my father at his shop, we used to commute on tram to reach here,” 52- year-old Hussain recalls.

Pioneer was once the distributor of Government of Pakistan Publications and other 265 books, reports and journals published across the country.

Zafar recalls how in 1980s and 1990s public made queues to get their hands on a copy of the import policy. Their quota was 60 copies which got sold out in just half an hour or 45 minutes, now he sells only 20 to 25 copies per year.

Piracy is a product of the black economy and Pakistan is among those countries which are largely affected by it.

At least 40 percent of Pakistan’s total regular economy, amounting to $7.5 trillion takes place in the parallel sector, said the then chairman of Central Board of Revenue (CBR) M. Abdullah Yusuf in 2007 while talking to Pledge, a quarterly newsletter of Anti Counterfeit & Infringement Forum (ACIF).

This is the information age and knowledge is very prized. Piracy discourages writers as a consequence we cannot hear from exports of different realms. It means indirectly piracy undermines the reader and the whole society, for instance we can find books of international writers in our markets but can’t find local writer’s books who can share his local experience thus in last two decades Pakistan hasn’t seen any remarkable writer.

“One can gauge the influence of piracy that in last 70 years we haven’t been able to produce even a single book recognized on an international level,” says Amar Naseer member Editorial Board of Pledge.

Due to this reason supply of quality books in the market remains low and on the other hand demand is increasing day by day.

With a rapidly growing education sector, demand for books keeps constantly expanding. At present, the market value of book business in Pakistan is approximately more than Rs12 Billion, Chairperson of Anti Counterfeit and Infringement Forum and Managing Director Oxford University Press Ameena Saiyid said in an email.

Despite positive growth rate in the book market, Pioneer is shutting down as almost all the textbooks are being pirated. According to Zafar, above mentionedapproximately 100,000 copies of ‘Principle of Marketing’ by Philip Kotler are sold every year, its original price is Rs 8,000 while one can find a pirated copy of this book for just Rs200 to Rs250.


Also ‘Personnel: the management of People at Work’ by Dale S. Beach which originally costs Rs13,000, its pirated copy can be found in just Rs150. Pioneer used to sell 40 to 50above-mentionedbooks but now they are able to sell only two books in a year, “one by the library and other would be by the father of the student who want to give his child a good book,” says Zafar.

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European Pharmacopoeia which costs Rs 220,000 is available for just Rs 17,000 which is a pirated copy. Furthermore, a  pirated copy of British Pharmacopoeia can be found for just Rs 30,000 whereas its original price is Rs 238,000. USA Pharmacopoeia costs Rs300,000, whereas the pirated version sold in the market is procurable for just Rs40,000.

The rampant spread of intellectual property infringement in Pakistan continues to harm the economy, lower investment, reduces employment prospects and opportunities, endangers consumer health and safety, decreases innovation, inventions and creativity, diminishes brand image and perceptions of Pakistan internationally, said Ameena Saiyid. She also added if this gets addressed through strong enforcement, Pakistan would then be able to benchmark itself against national and international trading partners.

Due to rampant piracy, Pioneer is hardly able to cover its expenses, said Zafar Hussain telling that rent of the store was five rupees initially, then in 1981 it increased to Rs130 and currently they are paying Rs 15,000. The building has been declared a protected site by Archeology Department Sindh as it was built before 1900’s. At the time when this bookshop was established, its neighbour was a renowned tailor Mughal Anayat-Ullah where elites came to get their dresses stitched.

The Government declared it has forsaken property and in 1973 Sultan Ahmed purchased it at an auction and renamed it Sami Chamber after his son Samiullah who is the current owner of this building before it was named Avon.

Ram Jethmalani who was the leader of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and former Law Minister of India had taken the upper floor of the building for his company SM Mallaney Company, interestingly K-Electric is still sending a utility bill in the name of his company.

Layout 1 Pioneer Book House has remained popular for decades for books related to Law, Income Tax, Constitution of foreign countries and various official gazettes. Likewise Lawyers, Researchers and Tax Advisers were always among its main clientele. Most of the above mentioned publications are uploaded by their publishers free of cost, which has also contributed in creating a bankruptcy like situation for Pioneer. Internet piracy has changed the whole situation and the book market is badly struggling because of it.

Majority of books published globally by any press has a digital pirated copy at any given moment, says Ameena Saiyid. Since 1980 the shop has been robbed countless times and these burglaries have not inflicted damage like piracy has done. Piracy affects the national treasury to the tune of billion of rupees in taxes and duties.

Book piracy deprives writers of their royalties, publishers of legitimate income and the government of tax revenue. According to an estimate, the government lost Rs25 billion to piracy during 2012, says Ameena Saiyid. In fact the aforementioned amount is equal to the budget proposal made by Higher Education Commission (HEC) in 2016-17 to achieve its vision 2025.

Piracy prevails in market in different shapes for instance this practice is more common in the name of ‘Intekhab’ (selection of literary work) in the country, “sometimes, in the guise of ‘Intekhab’ 10 to 15 of my poems are printed, without my consent. This bad practice affects the sale of original books,”  Amjad Islam Amjad was quoted by Pledge as saying.

Markets are flooded with counterfeit books of popular writers i.e. Mumtaz Mufti, Parveen Shakir, Ahmed Faraz, Munir Niazi and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Even though one can find various pirated editions of Manto’s books ,his heirs don’t receive any royalties. Iftikhar Arif says when he sent a royalty cheque to Mrs Manto called Safia Aapa for using ‘Manto Rama’ for a telecast she wondered what the money was for as it was very first time when somebody paid her the royalty.

After a writer dies, his heirs can’t stake their claim as rightful copyright holders as pirates offer the argument that if the writer had any objection he would have filed a lawsuit against them.

In addition, most authors complain that publishers make an agreement “all rights for all time” through which the publisher keeps on earning perpetually, while after a certain period they stop paying royalty to authors saying that their books aren’t selling anymore. Author Khurram Sohail who has written several books and dealt with various publishers terms this act “another kind of piracy introduced by publishers in Pakistan.”

Layout 1He says publishers make a deal for one edition which normally comprises of 500 books, however, the first edition never finishes according to the publisher after which they inform the author that his book is not selling. However upon checking through other sources he came to know that the publisher had published 3500 books and was making a profit on it without informing the writer.

Infringement of copyright is an arrestable offence under S.66 of Copyright Ordinance 1962 and under sections 420,468 and 471 of the Pakistan Penal Code with imprisonment, fine or both as punishment.

But the law exists on paper and due to lax enforcement of the law pirates are encouraged to continue this unscrupulous activity. Zafar Husain explauns that in light of his ancestors experience that “Goray Sab k baad Kala Saab aya tu uss nei poochna shuru kia k mera kiya” (when the white master {the Britishers} left and the black master {native} came into power they started asking what’s in it for me).

Due to delayed justice system authors don’t resort to litigation against pirates “author may die until a court decision comes in an infringement case,” said Khurram Sohail.

Here people write only to satisfy themselves, it’s not necessary that renowned authors whom we have grown reading must have earned from their writings, he added.

quote 2The federal and provincial governments should show political will to strengthen the IP regime, minimum punishment should be introduced in respective laws instead of leaving it to the discretion of magistrates who let off the infringers with low fines and hence no precedent is created. IP legislation should be reviewed and strengthened to comply with global best practices, said Ameena Saiyid.

IPR tribunals should be made functional in all major cities,currently one tribunal is fully functional in Lahore and legal prosecution should be done effectively. Intellectual Property violations should be prevented through civil, administrative and criminal procedures, specialized departments should be created in the provincial police to deal specifically with IPR violations. This has been done at the FIA level to great effect, she added.

Due to lack of awareness about Intellectual Property Rights, many buyers don’t know whether they are buying original or pirated books. Therefore it becomes vital to increase familiarity about IPR.

Market experts suggest that a campaign of seminars, distribution of literature, awareness via electronic, print and social media should be launched by the government down to district level to highlight the loss and damage being caused by piracy.

Although some buyers who are aware of piracy agree with action against it, they say if they stop buying pirated books what will they do as genuine books’ are priced way out of their reach. Competition can be the solution for this situation so that buy and seller should have win/win situation.

After writing a book and investing money to get it published, authors either end up being cheated by their publisher or if they become popular, they fall prey to piracy.



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Piracy is a worldwide phenomena, but in the subcontinent it has become a menace. India and China are on priority watch list of United States of America while Pakistan is on watch list due to violation of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR).

Iftikhar Arif had given his first books “Mohray Doo Neem” publishing rights to Education Foundation in order to avoid piracy. Ironically he found pirated versions of his book in Indian Markets when he visited there.

He observed that popular books of Mushtaq Yousufi, Ahmed Faraz, Mumtaz Mufti and Amjad Islam Amjad have fallen prey to piracy in the Indian market. Likewise, we find pirated books of Krishan Chander, Munshi Premchand, Rajinder Singh Bedi and other Indian writers in Pakistan, since both countries don’t have any agreement to protect their authors, respectively.

The piracy problem can be improved by reviving the National Book Foundation (NBF) which was established in the mid 1970s. It used to procure rights from the authors and provide books to readers on subsidized rates, in this way both the reader and author reaped the benefits.  This way the writer received his due share,the reader would purchase the book at cheap cost, and the government would pay the difference to the writer.

“I remember NBF used to provide books related to field of Medical, Engineer, Commerce and Arts sold in just Rs150 which otherwise may have coasted Rs1500 to students,” recalls Zafar Hussain from their good times.

Although competition in the local market can curb piracy, no international publisher is ready to come in Pakistan because of it. In fact, except Oxford University Press, we don’t have a representative of any other international publisher in Pakistan.

If more publishers come on-board, this will lower the prices and increase competitiveness. As an outcome of this, when genuine books become available at a lower cost, buyers will then not opt for pirated versions. Paperback editions of  books is also a good way to cater to lower-end buyers of a book.

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Some other booksellers like Liberty Books, Paramount and publishers like Oxford University Press (OUP) have come up with a solution of their own to this huge challenge.Paramount and OUP started focussing on the textbook market, on the other hand Liberty focuses on fiction and international magazines.

Director, Strategy and Business Development, Liberty Books Sameer Hussain says they try to engage the reader to actual stuff by providing discounts, promotions, price control “When a reader will get good quality and rather low cost for the original book why would he or she go to pirated version.”

Pioneer could have saved itself by some innovative measures however Zafar says it is impossible to survive in today’s situation without unethical marketing gimmicks “If I had the money I could have revived my book centre but still it wouldn’t be possible without compromising my ethics and principles which I can’t.”

He says those who have survived have resorted to unethical tactics for example bribing school administrations through gifts, tours and foreign trips like Pharma industry does with Doctors.

Piracy has serious implications on the continuing development of any field, not only does it cause publishers like Pioneer Book House to shut down but it also discourages speakers and teachers who are interested in proper attribution and in making money via copyright protection from writing books in the first place. The result is that what they have learned in the course of their careers is lost to the rest of us.



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Usman Hanif
Usman Hanif
Writer is a former staff reporter
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