Monday, January 18, 2010

book piracy -- a tale of two worlds

The Guardian online is running a photo essay about physical book piracy in Peru. The photos remind me of the book vendors I frequented in Eastern Europe when I toured the region in 1994. One fellow in Bucharest was using the steps of a bullet-scarred university building to stack his wares, many of which had the look and feel of cheap, quick, rip-off copies of North American bestsellers -- though it was admittedly hard to tell, because five years out of the revolution the free publishing industry in Romania was still in its infancy.

As this essay suggests, the effects of (and motivations for) physical book piracy can seem complex -- access and affordability for the poorest of the poor, increased audience for writers -- but the bottom line remains intellectual property is being trespassed upon and abused.

Meanwhile over here in the digital world, book authors and publishers are trying to figure out how to secure their "treasure" while watching what appears to be an advancing fleet of pirate vessels. IP law-guy, Barry Sookman points us to a recent study showing what appears to be an epidemic of online book piracy. The study was conducted by an online piracy monitor called Attributor, and it estimates that piracy represents approximately 10% of current U.S book sales, or roughly $3 billion (USD).

Consider the potential effects for Canadian writers and publishers worldwide. According to a recent Hill Strategies analysis of Statistics Canada data, our current international trade in homegrown books is approximately $395 million. We are currently experiencing a book trade deficit of approximately $1 billion.

BTW, books, magazines and other printed materials appear to be the clear leaders in terms of Canadian cultural exports (and imports) outstripping even film and video. Granted, video games stats were not collected.

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1 comment:

Darryl Moore said...

But, somehow Peru only makes the US "Watch List" while Canada gets to be on the special "Priority Watch List" in the same company as China and Russia. And you wonder why some of us are so sceptical about the whole damn system. It is overly political and heavily weighted in favour of corporate lobbyists.

Regarding the study you mention. The 10% figure you quote assumes that every pirated copy represents a lost sale. It is virtually impossible to come up with a value for real losses from that. My guess would be something in the order of one or two percent. But even conceding 10% as real losses, that means the publishing industry suffered about 1% losses due to online piracy. Hardly worth anyone worrying their head over that.