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!