Monday, September 19, 2011

Be My Guest: Lauri Kubuitsile in Botswana

Botswana’s Copyright Law and How it’s Killing Writers

I got a message from someone that a school had photocopied one of my books for their students. I called the Copyright Society of Botswana (COSBOTS) and the helpful lady there told me that they couldn’t do much for me even if they had started registering members (which they haven’t yet) because the law allows the photocopying of books for educational purposes.

The copyright law in Botswana is relatively new, passed in 2000, and COSBOTS only set up last year. The part of the new law on photocopying of books for educational purposes is shockingly vague. Basically it says they can, it does not include any parameters. This is the problem.

Botswana is a small country, 1.8 million people. In Botswana, there are no trade publishers. All of the publishers in Botswana are educational publishers. There are a handful of locally owned publishers who must fight it out with the big internationals. Before the establishment of the locally owned publishers, school books brought to Botswana to be sold were made for other markets. Our market was just too small to support the development of books specifically for Botswana educational objectives. Schools just had to make due with materials which were not always appropriate.

But then locally owned publishers started operating and they only had the Botswana market (unlike the multinationals) so they started making books for our country, for our students’ needs. This was wonderful. Now teachers could teach from books that were relevant to Botswana. But to produce such books is costly.

Now let’s look at the photocopying of those books. This will mean a school can purchase, in theory, a single book then photocopy it for all of their students. If this happens only a handful of books will be bought, publishers will soon be unable to make a profit in Botswana. For multinationals, they still have their markets outside of Botswana where copyright is taken seriously and infringements are prosecuted. They will survive.

But what about the locally owned publishers? Their market will be gone and they will have no option but to close shop. Since making books for Botswana will become no longer profitable, even the multinationals will stop doing it. Teachers will be back to using South African or British books in classrooms in Botswana. Students will lose out.

And what about writers? Our only market in the country is the schools. Once gone, our markets disappear completely. No markets, no writers.  Our literary legacy gone as well.
Readers, please share with us copyright challenges you have experienced. Leave us a comment!

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  1. Lauri, this is a real challenge to writers. Our books are what we make our living by and yet there is such poverty out there, especially in the rural areas, it's understandable (even if it can't be condoned)if the only way people can access those books is by copying it. What really irritates me is when people who can afford to BUY the books copy them - that's clearly disrepectful of an author's rights and effort.

    I haven't had any copyright issues yet - I know one of my blog posts (on dialogue) have been used on some website in India, because I get so many hits from the India/Pakistan region all going straight to that blogpost. Have tried racing the link wit no luck; as they've clearly given me credit I haven't really bothered to much about it.
    Judy, South Africa

  2. PS sorry for all the typos and spelling errors. Today is a Monday kind of day...oh wait! It IS Monday! :(

  3. One thing good about Botswana is that it is small and quite flexible because of it. We are yelling and fighting so hopefully someone in Parliament will bring the bill for some re-writes.

  4. Sounds like a real ripoff for authors over there! What kind of laws do they have for people buying goods at stores? Is everything for free?

    It's not right.

    Morgan Mandel

  5. Hi Lauri

    Isn't it frustrating!

    As a Teacher I do feel for the teachers as some of them don't have access to resources but having said that many writers and publishers are robbed of their livelihood through random photocopying.

    Or in this case, not so random. More needs to be done to protect intellectual property.

  6. Does the educational system not have the funds to actually buy the books? What a tricky situation. Hopefully you can make a big enough noise in Parliament.

  7. Lauri, thanks for being here and sharing your perspective. It is quite a conundrum. Perhaps publishing is only a viable as a nonprofit industry in such a poor nation? But then again, who funds the nonprofit?

  8. You know... copyright is an interesting concept - we think it's been around forever. I was astounded to discover a few years ago in a jewelry class, that copyright of jewelry designs wasn't put in place in North America until around 1940. Jewelers stole each other's designs with reckless abandon, and some oldtimers swear that process kept everyone on their toes and creating the newest and latest that someone else could then copy. It's an intriguing idea.

  9. Wow, I did not know there were so many problems in Botswana with books and copyrights. Breaks my heart. Hope the parliament will listen to you and the others, Lauri.

  10. Fascinating information. I guess we take things for granted here in the US!

  11. That *is* interesting about the jewelry copyrights (in response to Dani's comment). Kind of cool. :)

    As far as the topic at hand, well, I hope everything gets resolved in a way where writers, local publishers, AND poor schools win. Things are complicated in this world, though.

  12. Actually Botswana is a middle income country with loads of foriegn reserves and minimal debt. And they also spend a lot of money on education. The problem in this case is a vote is given to the school. It's up to them to decide how to use it. This is where education comes in, to teach people why photocopying a book actually kills all of us in the end.

    I was a teacher I know how difficult it can be. In this case my book is prescribed which means it is going to be on the national exams. The kids must read it. Now what to do when the administration decides not to buy the books? In any case, it was a teacher who alerted me to the siutation.

    I think what is needed is parameters, a definition of fair use. This is what I'm pushing for.

  13. I haven't experienced any challenges. Yet. But things like this sadden me. I am glad to students in Botswana are getting exposure to great books, but it does seem like there should be some sort of guidelines for what can be done and how often.

  14. I second Judy Croome's sentiment: ". . . when people who can afford to BUY the books copy them - that's clearly disrepectful of an author's rights and effort." My publisher, Pelican, guards my rights fiercely. I was thrilled when a small Chinese Cultural School in Fresno presented a free performance of a play based on THE WARLORD'S PUZZLE. In my excitement, I told my publicist and the school soon received a polite letter advising them to obtain permission for any further use of my books. Sad that the authors & publishers in Botswana have no similar safeguards.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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