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Copyright And The Publishing Industry, my column on publishing

Copyright And The Publishing Industry, my column on publishing

Copyright And The Publishing Industry: Understanding the relevance of IPR laws in the book publishing domain and how the buying and selling of rights yields a profitable revenue stream for publishing houses

It was a cozy and warm atmosphere in a bookstore in South Delhi — with plenty of cushions thrown on the floor — that I attended a delightful book launch for children. The book was displayed prominently, along with some fabulous original illustrations done by the author, from which the book illustrator had been “inspired”. I clicked some photographs with my smartphone. The publishers, based in another city, couldn’t attend the event. So, I thought why not mail it to them, they are fraternity. Soon, a newsletter popped into my mailbox from the same publisher, with a lovely write-up of the book launch accompanied by my photographs, but with no acknowledgement given to me. I was disappointed.
After pondering over it, I decided to bring it to the publisher’s notice. To me, it was the principle of recognising the IPR (intellectual property rights) of the creator and giving due credit that I felt was at stake here. This was the reply I received, “So sorry. It was a slip up as I had said that you should be acknowledged. But since that is not the usual practice — simply because no one had asked — it was overlooked.” An apology received and accepted. I did not stop at that. I requested that in the next newsletter it should be rectified and on the blog, the photographs uploaded should go with credits.

To explore larger issues surrounding copyright, and for publishers in general, management of copyright ( http://businessworld.in/web/guest/storypage?CategoryID=0&articleId=304899&version=1.0&journalArticleId=304900 ) is a very important part of their business. In May 2012, the Indian Parliament passed a few amendments to the Copyright Act. (It is still a bill, at the time of writing this column.) A victory to a large extent for the music industry, but it has made very little difference, so far, to the publishing industry. Plus, the debate surrounding Clause 2(m) of the Indian Copyright Act is still an open chapter. As per the clause, a book published in any part of the world can easily be sold here. Thus, diluting the significance or infringing upon an exclusive Indian edition. The Parliament Standing Committee investigating the pros and cons of Clause 2(m), made a “forceful recommendation” for its amendment, but it was not included in the bill. So the HRD Minister has referred it to an NCAER expert committee constituted.

However, another amendment relevant to the publishing industry has been the increase in copyright term for photographs. “This will make using older photographs impossible without hunting down the original photographer,” says Pranesh Prakash, a lawyer and copyright expert and programme manager at Centre for Internet and Society. “So far, things have worked well because sepia-tinted photographs have generally become part of the public domain. But now, only photographs by photographers who died before 1951 are part of the public domain. This has shrivelled up the public domain in photographs since it is even more difficult to trace the photographer (and date of death) than to estimate the age of a photograph, determining whether a photograph is in the public domain is laden with uncertainty. The use of historical photos in books (and Wikipedia) will be badly affected.”

Having been a publisher for years, I tend to be very careful about issues involving copyright. Dig deep and you will find anecdotes that illustrate the crying need for understanding copyright issues. For example, an illustrator submitting files to a reputed art director could be told that the illustrations are not up to mark. Unfortunately, when the book is published, the ‘new’ illustrations are pale imitations of the original line drawings submitted by the illustrator.

Or for that matter, a playwright being asked to create a script, but is never acknowledged or even paid the royalty due since the director believes that the core idea for the play is hers. ‘The playwright merely gave it a form’ is a common retort. Or, a couple of editors discovering their original research (and highly acclaimed globally) has been blatantly plagiarised by a well-known writer and published by an equally prominent publisher. Despite having marshalled all the necessary evidence, the editors are unable to file a case, since the court fee is a percentage of the damages sought and is beyond their reach. So, these cases stagnate with no redressal and the creators are left frustrated and angry.

The core issue is, how many professionals in the publishing eco-system actually know what is copyright or how to exercise their rights? After all, it is only a concept, albeit a legal one, which gives the creator of an original work exclusive right(s) to it for a limited period of time. Establishing and verifying the ownership to copyright is a sensitive issue. A good example of how an organisation can facilitate, disseminate, inform and empower a literary community on IPR and related topics is the Irish Writers Union.

According to their website, it is “the representative organisation for one of the major stakeholders in any discussion about copyright: Irish authors. While we understand that copyright legislation might be a barrier to innovation in certain industries, the IWU believes that any change to copyright law must be managed in such a way as to ensure that no damage is done to Ireland’s literary activity. …literature earns hard cash for Ireland. Both in the form of its contribution to the €2bn annual gain from cultural tourism and in the considerable revenues deriving from the success of sales of Irish works, Irish publishing and writing is an activity that should not be jeopardised by any legal change that weakens the value of copyright ownership to the creators of original literary works. …We note that if anything, copyright law in regard to literature should be strengthened to protect rights holders.”

As Shauna Singh Baldwin, a Canadian-American novelist of Indian descent, comments upon the significance of copyright in an e-mail conversation with me, “The breath of the individual creator, his/her imagination and speculation gives life to a work of art. To create something new, you take ideas from many sources, recontextualise them, find unexpected connections between them, and create something new — and beautiful. If we continue to be ashamed of our own imaginations and so fearful of mistakes that we must copy the tried and true, we will never create, only innovate.”

As for the rejoinder and photo credits I had requested for my photographs, the publisher implemented it immediately. And I was glad.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist.

My webinar with the Canadian publishers on Indian Publishing Industry, 25 Sept 2012

My webinar with the Canadian publishers on Indian Publishing Industry, 25 Sept 2012

 

Exporting to India for Canadian Publishers

Join independent international publishing consultant and columnist Jaya Bhattacharji Rose live from New Delhi for this two-hour webinar.
September 25, 2012, noon to 2:00 pm ET

The Indian publishing market is one of the most vibrant in the world with more than 16,000 publishers publishing 90,000 titles annually in 24 languages. India is the third largest publisher of English language Books after the US and UK.

With a population of 550 million below the age of 30 and a burgeoning middle class, book sales in India are expected to skyrocket. There has been an astounding increase in titles originating India, in addition to large-scale investments in retail and marketing and increasing standards of book production.

Publishing is gradually coming into the mainstream of India’s trade and commerce. As the Indian economy integrates with the world economy, more and more business activities are expected. Indian publishers are keen to explore new areas and many of them are regular participants in international book fairs.

Come away from this webinar with a better understanding of India’s opportunities as a potential export market for your books.

Join Jaya Bhatthacharji Rose for a two-hour webinar exploring the ins and outs of the Indian publishing market:

The state of publishing, reading and book buying in India
The Indian trade, children’s, and education markets for Canadian publishers
The fast-moving digital publishing market
And much more
This live webinar is 60 minutes followed by an interactive one-hour Q&A period.
Your host

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an independent international publishing consultant, columnist, and literary director with Siyahi, a literary agency, based in New Delhi. She has been associated with publishing since the early 1990s. Her responsibilities have included guest editing a special children’s and YA literature issue of The Book Review, and producing the first comprehensive report on the Indian book market for the Publishers Association UK. Her extensive editorial experience includes stints with Zubaan, Routledge, and Puffin. Her articles, interviews and book reviews have appeared in BookBrunch, Frontline, The Book Review, Daily News & Analysis (DNA), Outlook, The Hindu, Hindustan Times, LOGOS, Businessworld, Brunch, and The Muse. She also has a column on publishing in Businessworld online, the largest selling Indian business magazine, and a bi-monthly column in Books & More. More at www.facebook.com/jayabhattacharjirose.

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Register for this live two-hour webinar by September 15, 2012.

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For more information contact Communications and Marketing Coordinator Nicolas Levesque by email ( nlevesque@livrescanadabooks.com ) or telephone at 613-562-2324, extension 228.

Your host
Jaya Bhatthacharji Rose

When I was interviewed by Samit Basu (3 July 2006)

When I was interviewed by Samit Basu (3 July 2006)

 

July 3, 2006
Jaya Bhattacharji Interview
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Jaya Bhattacharji edits books for Zubaan, an imprint of Kali for Women. Young Zubaan is Zubaan’s children’s/young adult imprint. Jaya is also guest editor, children’s and young adult literature, at The Book Review.

Q: You recently published a fantasy novel aimed at children/young adults. What was the crucial factor in deciding to publish this now? Is there a market for speculative fiction already, or is it a potential market?

A: During the World Book Fair, New Delhi 2006, Young Zubaan released A Shadow in Eternity. It was not a “crucial” decision, but I guess the time was right to publish something like this. By time, I mean that the market was ready to receive a book of this genre.
Pottermania has contributed a great deal to the surge in this form of writing. Given that the Rowling phenomena has been pivotal in encouraging reading, irrespective of the size of the book, I think, a lot of children’s writers, feel that since this is probably the genre that is selling, it is the one to emulate.
There certainly is a market in India for this kind of fiction. I am certainly all for any genre that encourages reading and releasing the imagination. But the Indian market has to evolve its own signature/stamp of fantasy fiction. We cannot rely totally on imitating fiction that is necessarily based on a Western/Christian tradition or of even trying to yoke the two systems together. A lot of the fantasy fiction that comes from the West is in the classic form of Good vs Evil; or in the Romance tradition of being on a Quest; or in search of the Holy Grail, whatever it may be; or reliance on Greek mythology. In India, we have a huge amount of influences to rely upon, which don’t necessarily encompass the idea of a quest or the Holy Grail. Sure, we do have a strong sense of Right and Wrong; Good vs Evil, but it is tempered by the cultural melting pot that we live in, where a lot of traditions are being intermingled. So, if fantasy has to emerge in India, it has to develop its own distinctive identity.
The other kind of fantasy could be good Science Fiction, but I am not sure whether we have a strong tradition in this, except for maybe in Bengali literature.

Q: Do you feel SF/fantasy (speculative fiction) has a future in India? Why, either way?

A: Well, personally speaking, I think speculative/imaginative/slipstream/fantastic/science-fiction or what-you-will-genre has huge potential in India. But, it has to be a story well told and not necessarily a mish mash of all that is to offer. Sure, it can be a genre that transports one into an imaginative world, but it has to be a world that is well created, detailed and to some extent logical. It may not be logic as we know it, but it is perfectly rational in the parallel world that is being created.

Q: Internationally, a lot of speculative fiction aimed at the age group you’re looking at ends up being part of a cross-media franchise – TV, books, merchandise. There’s no history of this in India, but do you think it’s possible eventually, or are the worlds of TV/film and books in India too isolated for this to happen unless something fundamental changes about the markets in question?

A: I don’t think you should consider the marketing blitzkrieg surrounding some of the recent Hollywood blockbusters based upon books/comic characters like Harry Potter, Superman, Spideman, as being a model that needs to be emulated lock, stock and barrel in India. This cross-media franchise is marketing gimmickry and sure, to some extent brings in the money, but except for a few in India, I don’t think most people will be able to afford it even if the youngsters fall for it. There may not be any history of this, but there is only a very thin line between the film and the book world in India. It has seen some cross-pollination, but maybe not in the same way as is evident in the West. (Or in the East? I don’t know!)
Having said this, it maybe possible some way in the near future, but such a huge market control depends upon a great deal of accurate monitoring of IPR, and ensuring that there is no piracy of the products. At the moment, even if it were possible, financially speaking, to hire spin-doctors in India for a film based on a book or a good film rights agent to hawk a good book to a film-maker, it would prove near impossible to stem the leaks in the system. It is a very tough call to monitor cross-media franchise. It requires a lot of efficient and corruption free systems to be installed. Funnily enough, India may not have a history of cross-media franchise, but many of our garment sweatshops/factories in Coimbatore are mass producing “movie” franchise clothes for kids solely for the export market! And these are sold at the exclusive retail stores of movie giants like Disney, Time and Warner. Surprisingly poor imitations of these garments have not necessarily entered the local market in the numbers expected, so may be there is hope for cross-media franchise in the Indian future.
The only fundamental thing that has to change in both the industries, in order for such cross-media franchise to be viable is a close monitoring of the © and stemming the leaks in the piracy market. Also, the Indian market is not one, homogenised market as is noticed in most countries abroad. So, a marketing model that may have been adopted and at least cost applied across the country may not work in India. We are many markets in one, in terms of languages, communities, literature, regional characteristics and tastes. So, in order for cross-media franchise to be successful, it would require huge amounts of direct investment and I don’t think any publisher or film distributor or literary/film agency or even the creator/author would be willing to take such a risk!

Q: Do you get a large number of SF/fantasy submissions, given the overwhelming popularity of crossover/YA speculative fiction abroad?

A: Well strangely enough not too many. But the trickle that we get is talented. Yet, I have my reservations about it. Indian fantasy has to break its shackles from the West and really learn to come into its own, otherwise it is going to just generate a great deal of confusion in the young reader’s mind.

Q: In fiction aimed at adults, SF/fantasy tend to be seen as low-caste, but in the world of children’s publishing, the most popular books in recent times always seem to contain speculative elements. Do you think this is because children are seen to be more accepting of non-identifiably-real-world situations, or because the children’s’ book market is now large enough for it to have its own rules – or is it something different entirely?

A: Speculative fiction is such a convenient and oh, so modern a term for the plain and simple use of imagination in literature for children. The number of categories or kind of titles that this category subsumes is of those books that are very difficult to categorise in any other way. Also, this kind of fiction has existed from whenever literature began to be written down with the young reader in mind. It is not necessarily a recent fashion.
It is not a case of being low-caste, as SF/Fantasy has always had a steady following. It is just that it is now clearly visible as it has been dominating markets recently. Also visibility of this genre has to be linked to the access to information. Today, more and more of the children and young adults have a direct say in their reading tastes and to some extent have the purchasing power as well. So, it is not being mediated by the parent/educationist/teacher. There is direct marketing of books in schools. Spaces have opened for youngsters to hang out, like coffee shops which also have bookstores in them. There is also the Internet where it gives one access to blogs, author websites, online bookstores, reviews, fan fiction sites etc. Children/YA are better informed and to a large extent know what they want.
Children’s publishing has always accommodated a variety of genres, I believe it is the only place where one has the space to experiment and fine tune different genres. So, if you are interested in SF, then you have the freedom to explore the limits of technology, science, etc. Sure, this reader audience is far more discerning than an adult reader, but they can be equally critical and damning.
The book market for children is completely unpredictable, so the current flavour of the decade is fantasy as it has a reading public, hence sales. Given the huge investments required in children’s publishing, most publishers, authors, literary agents will want/ten to be conservative and capitalise on a winning formula rather than take a risk. It is pure economic sense to promote fantasy and hence, its noticeable dominance of the market.
Children and young adults are actually reading a wide-range of stuff. A visit to any local bookshop will confirm that. In fact, as I said earlier, there is a sense of inverted snobbery being noticed in the younger generation today of what and how much they have read. Interestingly enough, it is a greed/thirst for anything that can be read. They will devour anything but very honest in their opinions. Most of the time, it seems that their opinions are not necessarily formed by what is dominating the review pages of newspapers, but their gut feel. Hence, an extremely difficult market to gauge and monitor. It is quite unpredictable.

Q: What sort of children’s fantasy/SF would you like to see coming out of India? And what do you think writers in the genre in this country would do best to avoid?

A: Fantasy for children in India, can be set in any context, time zone etc, but it has to be well written. In the sense, that there should be good, cohesive logic to the universe that is being created. There should be details of the environment and the people and certainly not a cacophony of voices, which really don’t do much for the characters. Each character should have a distinct voice. If different traditions are to be mixed (and frankly, I am all for experimentation in literature), then it has to be done cleverly, treated lightly and presented in an interesting manner. By clever, I mean that the author should not be “showing off” their immense reading and familiarity with these other traditions, but create multi-layers and echoes in the story, that will prompt the young reader to submerge, discover and be totally entranced by the new literary creation. At the end of the day, it has to be a GOOD STORY. Also, a story well told will live for a very long time to come and not necessarily be written and created with “a” single market, fixed in time. In fact, it will then be read for many generations to come.