The death of creative writing might sound too harsh, but the breach of copyright or intellectual property rights has reached alarming levels, and it is time drastic measures are taken.
When music artistes and artists in other genres have been lamenting the level of piracy of their works, their cries seemed to have fuelled the problem.
It went viral, and the result is that the music and/or movies most people listen to and/or watch on their DVDs and/or computers is all pirated, and at the end of it all, the artistes are the biggest losers.
What is also very painful is that industries that could earn the country millions of dollars are now almost non-existent, and,
parallel systems have taken their place, and making money, which never gets into Government coffers.
When we see all those pirated CDs and DVDs sold at flea markets and street corners, it is as if these people have been given the green light to illegally vend stolen material. But, the cancer is spreading to other areas and Government has to do something.
Art, in whatever form should continue to be an industry that benefits both the artist and the nation. Motivation and interest are killed when you see people stealing your works, and getting away with it. If Government does not intervene, what it means is that we will once again depend of foreign ideas.
It made me reflect on the poem:
First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
They have come for writers, and I am not referring to the Educational Transition Fund textbooks that made news a few weeks ago when some unscrupulous heads were selling these donated books using street vendors.
A careful check of the books being sold by some street vendors will show that they are selling books that are not coming through the normal publishing channels.
Unlike in some cases where they sell books stolen from some schools and libraries, in this instance, they are selling books that are dubiously produced.
I have samples to prove that there is massive piracy targeting some local publications.
The places where these books are sold are too many, making me wonder why the same titles I see are being illegally produced.
The evidence that these are scanned and photocopied books is there for all to see.
Is this because these titles are set books in both secondary schools and tertiary institutions?
If they indeed are set books, are they available in the few bookshops that are still around, and at what cost?
When I asked a vendor who their supplier was, he said, “I’ll take you into the system if you buy a few more books.”
In my view, these issues, coupled with loopholes that the dealers observe are contributing towards this criminal activity. These producers would not incur scanning, photocopying, binding and other production costs if there was no benefit for them.
The samples that I purchased at US$5 per copy include Shona classics “Pfumo reropa” by Patrick Chakaipa, and published by Longman in 1961; “Jekanyika” by Francis C Mugugu and first published by College Press in 1968.
The last reprint was in 2010. The third one is “Vakasiiwa pachena”, by Juliet Chikanza, which was published in 1984 by Mambo Press. The last reprint was in 2011. I have also seen James Kawara’s “Sajeni Chimedza” on sale.
The long and short of it is that there are people out there who believe that they can make money out of the creative works of artists.
While writers were used to plagiarism, another serious offence, this new phenomenon is worrisome and can derail their efforts, especially those who write school texts.
Copyright in the case of the three books rests with the authors. I asked myself what the law says regarding the publishers’ role in protecting writers’ interests, considering that Mambo Press, College Press and Longman are locally based. Are they telling us that they are not aware of these substandard publications from their original versions, artistic designs included?
The following is an observation about copyright and/or intellectual property rights breaches made by Rabison Shumba, a local writer who wrote me recently, which is part of the solution: “It is important to note that stealing of someone’s material is not only unfair to the owner of the material but an absolute sign that you have personally failed to use your own creative power to activate the ingenuity within yourself.
“It is sad to note that stealing of material is rampant event for literary work. This can be in the form of plagiarism (when someone copies who text from another’s book without acknowledging it) to photocopying or duplication whole books with the intention to make some money out of the sweat and efforts of others. It is no longer a matter of, “will it happen to me?”
“I got the shock of my life when I discovered one day that my first book, “The Greatness Manual: Recipes for perpetual success” was being sold online for ridiculous prices through a website with which I had no previous linkages or agreements with in the UK.
“I moved from surprised, to alarmed and all the way through the trajectory that leads to absolute anger and frustration. “How on earth does someone live off my sweat?”
“I found myself helpless in terms of how to “deal decisively” with these perpetrators of copyright violation. When I then discovered that emotions alone will never change my circumstance, I calmed down and began a whole process to address the situation. Through making use of such websites like www.copyscape.com and www.whois.sc I was able to trace who the offenders were.”
Shumba added, “My advice to all authors and creative people out there is that we need to increase our awareness about the scourge.
“There is nothing worse than feeling like you are the copycat when in actual fact you are the originator of the work.
“If I ever I caught anyone duplicating copies of my book and selling it, I would certainly take legal action against them. If we do not put an end to this problem, we will kill our own desires as authors to write more intelligent pieces of literary work.
“We do ourselves a disservice when we watch other writers’ works being copied and sold on the streets. Someone said before that ‘when you see a fire at your neighbour’s house, be very concerned because a spark from that house will burn yours too’.
“There is a law protecting intellectual property rights. The tragedy is that this law is not in the hands of those who are supposed to know (the artists).
“There is need to educate and inform the artists of such pieces of legislation. In the abundance of ignorance, your rights can be infringed without you even recognising it.
“As writers and artists, let us come together and ensure we carry each other’s burdens. It may not have happened to you yet but because your fellow author is carrying such a burden, it is time you identify with the situation and help stop the pain.”
It was not accidental that I picked on Shona novels.
I feel proud that this nation has produced great writers like the late Archbishop Patrick Chakaipa, and that he was a role model for other priests to write in their mother tongue.