Legal booksellers wary about piracy’s end

- Austin says gov’t may have made good deal with overseas publishers

Legitimate importers of school texts are almost certain to take “a cautious line” as far as the number of texts imported for the forthcoming school year is concerned since there is no certainty that last September’s court ruling prohibiting the publication and sale of ‘pirated’ school books in Guyana will guarantee the cessation of the practice, Proprietor of Austin’s Bookstore Lloyd Austin has told Stabroek Business.

Late last year around half a dozen stores including some in the city removed  stocks of pirated books from their shelves after the court ruled in favour of the British Publishers Association (BPA), an umbrella organisation representing British publishing companies whose books, primarily school texts, were being subjected to widespread pirating. However, Austin, whose book-selling enterprise has been hard-hit by the sale of pirated books over the years, told Stabroek Business that there were no guarantees that the court ruling would bring an end to book piracy. “The ruling targeted specific business houses that were offering pirated copies of books for sale at the time. Insofar as I am aware there is really nothing to prevent other persons from replacing those who have been affected by the court ruling,” Austin said.

The bookstore proprietor also pointed out that at the time of the court order the booksellers would have been in possession of presumably significant stocks of books. “The issue that arises has to do with where those stocks are at this time. What the court should have done was to have ordered those books impounded. That was not done and it created the opportunity for them to turn up elsewhere.”

Austin conceded that “price considerations” were likely to sustain the high demand for pirated text books though he pointed out that the rules of fair trading meant that book piracy was unsustainable.

The saga of the pirated text books has been in the public eye for several years with observers accusing the Government of Guyana of being complicit in the practice. Former education minister Shaik Baksh had continually evaded questions from the media regarding official complicity in the book piracy racket. However, last year, Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon dropped a bombshell, conceding that government bought pirated textbooks from illegal operators to supply the country’s state schools and that its motives for so doing had to do with low prices.

The BPA charged that by entering into commercial arrangements with the book pirates the Government of Guyana was acting in direct contravention of local, regional and international laws.“The Cabinet’s decision in Guyana to procure pirated textbooks for public schools is an indisputably illegal act. This decision is in contravention of Guyanese law, Caribbean law (Caricom’s revised Treaty of Chaguaramas) and the international Berne Convention,” a statement from the publishers organisation said.

Weeks after what many observers described as the “reckless” posture of the political administration, government said it would adjust its posture on engaging the pirates and would be willing to engage the publishers. Austin told Stabroek Business that it had come to his attention that arising out of the meeting the government had secured significant price concessions from some of the publishers which, at least in the short term, would enable the option of importing text books rather than pirating.

Meanwhile, Austin said he felt the problems associated with pirated text books were unlikely to go away quickly since the question remained as to whether the government was financially in a position to fulfil its obligation to import basic  school texts.”My understanding is that the agreement that has been reached between the government and the publishers is a one-off deal. We are unsure as to what will happen when that deal runs out,” Austin said.

According to Austin, the “climate of mistrust”, arising from the discovery that the government had been involved in the purchase of pirated text books had resulted in “a significant loss of confidence” on the part of the booksellers.

“At the moment there is a great deal of mistrust. “The situation will only be remedied to the benefit of the sector when, first, we have strong and effective legislation and, second, we are in a position to enforce that legislation,” Austin said.

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