KARACHI, July 24: Given that Liberty Books reports having already sold some 13,000 copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it’s reasonable to assume that thousands of people are, at this very moment, reading the book. For each of these, however, many more are unable or unwilling to pay the book price of over Rs1,500 and have no qualms about supporting the violation of copyright laws. This is the market targeted by Pakistan’s book pirates.

Pirated versions of the fifth book of the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, became widely available within days of its publishing date. This year, however, the publisher Bloomsbury has taken steps to prevent a similar situation through appointing a private company, the Karachi-based Pakistan Intellectual Property Rights Solution (Pips).

The company, which was established in 2003 and employs 150 investigators across the country, works in liaison with law enforcement agencies to check the infringement of intellectual property rights, trademark or copyright violations, and piracy. Over the past few days, investigations conducted by the company have led to police raids on bookstores in Lahore and Multan found to be violating Bloomsbury’s copyright on the Harry Potter series.

According to Pips’ chief executive Col (Retd) Faiz Mukhtar Qureshi, The Deathly Hallows, which was launched worldwide on July 21, appeared in bookstores in Multan and Lahore a day earlier. Investigations revealed that through the internet, the pirates had bought paper of the quality the book was printed on by its American publishers, Scholastic, downloaded a pamphlet called The Harry Potter Spoiler and made the book – with The Deathly Hallows cover – available in small bookstores. A crueller dupe for Potter fans cannot be imagined.

On July 21, police raided the Ilmi Kitab Ghar and the Multan Kitab Ghar in Multan, and subsequently, Imperial Books and Model Town’s Book Fair and CD Mela in Lahore. Arrests have been made in this connection although the proprietor of the Book Fair, Munir Ahmed, is said to be absconding. Mr Qureshi told Dawn that the biggest challenge was faced in Islamabad and Rawalpindi where pirated copies were being sold openly, and five raids were pending in the region.

Violators of the law are prosecuted under sections 66, 67 and 67(a) of the Copyright Ordinance 1962, under which the maximum penalty for those proved guilty is imprisonment for up to three years. However, Mr Qureshi says that in practice, courts often let the violators off with a nominal fine, a practice against which Pips intends to appeal.

Mr Qureshi estimates that some 5,000 fake copies of The Deathly Hallows are currently in circulation across the country, of which about 500 have been seized during the recent raids. The scale of book piracy in the country, he points out, can be gauged from the fact that about 30 per cent of the schoolbooks in the market, most of them published by the Oxford University Press, are pirated, while 70 out of every 100 college textbooks, such as books on medicine, business management etc, are fake copies. The ratio for trade books, however, is slightly lower at 50 per cent.

That piracy hits the book trade hard is undeniable. Liberty Books, the sole distributor for The Deathly Hallows in Pakistan, estimates that Pakistan’s market for Harry Potter’s swansong is about 20,000-25,000 buyers strong. However, the bookstore is projecting its sales estimates at about 10,000-15,000 only, says its proprietor, Saleem Hussain, “because piracy is rampant in Pakistan.”

No pirated Potters have so far surfaced in Karachi but Mr Qureshi and Mr Hussain urge customers to refuse to buy them if they appear. “Such pirates are only doing Pakistan a disservice,” says Qureshi while Hussain points out that “copyright laws must be strictly implemented, not least because publishers abroad become very reluctant to send books here because pirated copies stamp out the sales of the original.”

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