Before the fifth installment of the Harry Potter series went on sale five years ago, pirates in China worked some magic of their own. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had not even been released when versions hit China’s streets that looked like the real deal but were nothing of the kind.
In fact, Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-up-to-Dragon, as it translates into English, was said to have more in common with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
The seventh – and final – installment of J.K. Rowling’s hugely successful Harry Potter series was released worlwide on July 21 and again the specter of piracy loomed over the release.
“We have not received reports of any sales of books titled Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that are in fact a copied cover and random text inside but we have seen such things being shared for free on the internet,” said Neil Blair of the Christopher Little Literary Agency which represents Rowling.
“We do from time [to time] encounter piracy… and there are some examples of this right now we are addressing.”
China is still one of the major culprits when it comes to copyright piracy. Even within the difficult Asian region, it tops the list of problem areas for book publishers and the movie industry.
The latter has a well-oiled lobbying effort, led by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). According to its latest study, losses to piracy in the Asia Pacific region for MPAA members are US$1.2 billion per year while global losses top US$6 billion. More impressively, consumer spending losses due to piracy may be US$18 billion.
The spread of the internet is aggravating the issue by making it easier to distribute copies of copyrighted products. With China well on its way to having the largest number of internet users in the world, the number of pirated copies appears set to grow and grow.
“Hard copy piracy does the most damage to the majority of the markets in Asia Pacific,” said Mike Ellis, vice president of the MPAA. “Inevitably, there will continue to be a shift in the format that piracy takes in the near future given the speed in which technology has progressed.”
Locals lose out
But the MPAA figures can be something of a guess – particularly the consumer spending numbers – since the assumption is that someone who buys a US$1 pirated DVD would also spend US$20 on the real thing; but the fact of piracy remains. What’s more, said Ellis, it is the local industry that gets hit the most – domestic filmakers account for 55% of all consumer-spending losses.
This is something that both the book and film industries agree on. Piracy hurts domestic industries, often with far-reaching impact.
Jens Bammell, secretary general of the International Publishers Association (IPA), said the widespread availability of copied books hinders domestic publishing industries, which keeps local cultures from emerging and countries from developing.
“If the international publisher gets a cold, local publishers get pneumonia,” said Bammell. “Piracy is by far the biggest growth market, particularly in educational books.”
Why publish a new book tailored to a specific demographic when copies of a single foreign book are available for the taking?
Like the Harry Potter books five years ago, the IPA has also had reports of titles supposedly by authors from Spain and South America appearing in China that are entirely fake – the author’s name on the cover of a non-existent book.
And the book publishing industry may have more to lose than the movie industry. The more efficient public relations machine of the MPAA makes it easy to overlook the fact that, worldwide, book publishing is much bigger with sales of US$83 billion annually, Bammell said.
Books for schools
The issue of rampant piracy of the occasional big hit like the Harry Potter series is secondary to the impact of piracy of educational books. In China, one obvious example are books used to teach English, which many schools photocopy for their students.
“The point is not really the big number of books but the number of copies being made,” said Bammell.
The big titles certainly take their hits from pirates but the impact on these is limited. Harry Potter is now on the shelves of booksellers around the world and, invariably, fake copies are also available in the streets of China. Getting rid of them would be a trick worth learning but there is no magical answer, just good old-fashioned muggle efforts.
These efforts are hampered by problems identifying the size of the problem since no hard numbers are available but Bammell points out that it is “the biggest-growth industry.”
“Local people are making a lot of money but not the rights holders,” she said.