Initially printed in The Nation (edited and summarized)
Pirated books? Yes I buy them. In fact I grew up reading the pirated versions of my favorites for the simple and obvious reason: the cruel prices of the originals. I remember the time when I was an eleven year old kid and a new part of Harry Potter series was released. I was one of the first crazy fans to rush to the bookstore in order to grab a copy, only to find that the cost of the original (Rs. 2400) was well out of my pocket money’s scope. Thanks to book piracy, after switching to another bookshop I got a pirated copy at the shameful low price of Rs. 250 (Do the math).
Now before you start bashing me for being immoral, take in account the skyrocketing prices of foreign books in Pakistan. The pirated editions are economical and easier to get. Right or wrong, this is the real world. The foreign publishers cannot put books in our market at prices hardly affordable for a third world country and expect us to prefer them over pirated ones for the sake of upholding our morality.
The thriving piracy tradition in our country owes more to just our lack of regard for copy-rights. Some of the chains at very critical junctures are attached to the foreign publishers themselves. In Pakistan, contrary to the other countries the branches of foreign publishing houses are near to non-existence. In the absence of domestic publishing houses, the price we pay (if we choose to) is parallel in monitory terms to international level; which in turn gives birth to book piracy. If the alternative is out there for people then a few raids on bookstores cannot stop them.
My defense for this globally recognized criminal act maybe weak but let me get a few facts straight. A pirated copy does not necessarily imply a lost sale. For a certain number of pirated copies sold here, the same cannot be said had it been available exclusively in high price version. Low prices just serve as a tempting incentive to buy something; things that otherwise we would not have bothered considering. A lot of books in my collection are those which I would not have bought in ordinary circumstances, maybe because they didn’t initially seem interesting or simply that I did not know the writer. But due to their humble ‘pirated’ prices I had no hesitation in buying them out. Lisa Jackson, Joanne Harris and Diane Hoh are a few names I discovered this way.
Book piracy earned Pakistan international criticism and defame. But on the flipside, we should not forgo the fact that book piracy to some extent compensates for the virtual non-existence of libraries in our country. Not only it helps developing reading culture in students but also makes us a part of the global reader’s community. Had there been no piracy; Dan Brown, Sydney Sheldon and Paulo Coelho would have been alien names for us. Also not to forget that in case of students at university level, paying for expensive books on technology, medicine and business in addition to the degree dues is practically not feasible (rather next to impossible) for many students. When the savior Robin Hood comes here in the form of piracy, bidding good-bye to copy-right laws is something that students feel justified doing so.
Having said this, I do not mean to brush the dark side of book piracy under carpet. The reason for articulating the above mentioned arguments was to highlight the root cause of piracy and the dire need of availability of books at normal price range. For this purpose, the import of books should be made easier. Plus we should also urge for the establishment of sub-offices of international publishing houses in our country. Famous publishers like Penguin, Granta and others have offices in India because of which the reading culture has developed and has led to the growth of local writers as well. Reprinting the foreign originals here legally with the collaboration of foreign press companies will bring down the book cost. Not only will this help the readers here but will also prove beneficial for foreign publishers/writers by curbing book piracy.