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Piracy Sting Nets $700,000 in Illicit Books in Uganda, Shows the Value of Reprinting Services like Paperight

3752143560_7fb8c27ce5_b[1]A distributed printing network like Paeright might not make much commercial sense in the US, but in its native Africa where the market is flooded with pirated print books, it’s a different matter.

There are conflicting reports coming out of Uganda this week concerning a major crackdown on illicit printing operations.

Depending on which source you find, somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 books have been seized from multiple locations in  the Ugandan capital and from Mbarara, a small city in southwest Uganda. One account says that 1.8 billion Ugandan shillings worth of books were nabbed during "raids on bookshops, printeries and some homes".

Most of those books are said to be textbooks, with one source saying that they were worth the equivalent of $686,000 USD. According to the executive director of the Uganda Reproduction Rights Organisation (URRO), Charles Batambuze, the pirated textbooks aren’t sold on the open market but to schools. "Most of these thugs connive with private schools, who then buy the books from them, some not knowing that they are buying fakes," Batambuze said.

Some 29 booksellers were cited in the sting, including both street vendors and some prominent Ugandan bookstores. All of the thousands of textbooks seized in the sting will be burnt as soon criminal proceedings have concluded.

Local experts say that piracy has cost the Ugandan publishing industry around 10 billion shillings since last October, though it’s not clear where they got that figure. The Ugandan govt is also missing out on taxes.

Piracy is considered to be such a problem that  the industry is putting the final touches on a plan to use advanced anti-counterfeiting tech to foil the pirates.

A hologram is a form of a stamp fixed on genuine books to differentiate them from those plagiarised with a view of helping inspectors to identify rightful books on sale the market. The chairman of the National Book Trust, Mr Martin Okia said businesses and vendors have with impunity infringed on the copy right of both Ugandan and foreign authors which has killed the market for genuine books. “Authors and publishers have lost business due to piracy. This evil also affects buyers in terms of getting substandard and or altered materials,” said Mr Okia.

Something tells me that the book pirates will either find a way to fake the stamps, or they’ll just buy them on the black market. I think a better solution would be to push more of the print shops that are printing the pirated books to join with Paperight and start compensating creators.

Paperight is a South African startup which created a distributed network which connects publishers and print shops. Publishers sign up and submit their titles, and authorized print shopspay a fee for each copy they print.

It provides an alternative source for textbooks which often cost too much in academic bookstores:

Dozens of students come into Aloe X every week to look for – and print out – textbooks that they need for their studies, but can’t afford from the town’s only academic bookstore (which, by the way, is just down the road.)

Because of this, Aloe X is one of our most active Paperight outlets, and probably the most active outlet in South Africa relative to the amount of people who live in its immediate vicinity. Word spreads fast here: students walk into Aloe X with their smartphones in hand to message their friends to come along if  the books they need can be located on the Paperight website.

“It’s gotten to the point where people come up to me in the club and ask me if I can get them the books they need,” Angelo says. “It’s crazy how many people can’t afford books in the book store here, but I’m happy we can do them a service.”

I have long been an advocate of affirmative solutions to piracy, and not simply cracking down on pirates. Paperight is an example of how one can turn a pirate into a customer, and Ugandan authorities would be wise to push for a system like this. This strikes me as a long term solution which would remove or at least lessen the need to fight piracy.


image by fuzzcat

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Nighty July 3, 2014 um 3:33 pm

I went to a party a while back with some friends and they struck up a conversation with some shady characters and from that conversation I learnt that the holographic stickers used on alcoholic bottles in Mexico cost around 10 pesos to make. That’s under a dollar. So I figure that was circa 2005/2006 and prices should be comparable now since even if some of the costs have gone up, the tech should have gotten cheaper. Sure, some holograms will be morecomplex but even if the price doubles, it’s still less than two dollars. When you consider how much textbooks cost, that’s nothing to them scurvy pirates.

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