Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 January - 4 February 2009
Issue No. 932
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Protecting knowledge

On the fringes of the Cairo International Book Fair publishers and writers call on authorities in the Arab world to fight intellectual property theft, Nevine El-Aref reports

Upon discussion with his deputy Ibrahim El-Muallim, who is also president of the Egypt Publishers Association (EPA), the newly elected president of the International Publishers Association (IPA) for the next two years, Dutch writer Herman P Spruijt, paid a visit last Monday to the Cairo International Book Fair (CIBF). Enthusiastic over what he saw there, Spruijt described the fair as a festival for intellectuals and the learned and a hub for different cultures.

During a press conference held in the 6 October Hall, Spruijt began by asking four questions that consumed his thoughts: Why is Egypt introduced in the international market with a tiny quota of writers and books despite its long history in publishing and its great cultural wealth in the field? How can the number of CIBF visitors reach two million and the number of international publishers and professionals attending remain modest? Why has Scotland some 14,000 books available on the Internet while the Arab world goes unnoticed? Why is the number of layout professionals of international publishing standard in the Arab world, Africa and Latin America less than five per cent of the norm elsewhere? "But the most important question is: How can we change that?" Spruijt said angrily.

"If we are serious about promoting publishing in the Arab world it is very important to be more serious in promoting intellectual property rights and highlighting their significance and value for the different communities of the Arab world," Spruijt said. This issue was in the mind of the IPA, he said, when it decided to organise the seventh IPA International Copyrights Symposium in the Arab world, slated for Abu Dhabi in 2010. Other initiatives have been undertaken to make this region attractive for publishing, including efforts to fight piracy and create awareness of publishing rights in the Arab world.

"I will grasp the opportunity to invite you all, publishers, presidents of all publishers associations, policymakers, librarians, writers and intellectuals to attend the symposium," Spruijt said. The symposium's projected slogan is "Established rights, developed markets". "Copyright must go in parallel with the market atmosphere as information must be introduced to both rich and poor people," Spruijt added.

Programme Manager Beatrice Stauffer said that every four years the IPA invites publishers and their commercial partners to discuss cutting edge issues in the field of copyright law and cultural policy. The seventh IPA symposium will take place two days before the Abu Dhabi Book Fair in March 2010. Sessions on collective copyright licensing, digital and online distribution of copyrighted works, and competing with free content are the main discussion aspects of the symposium. Other panels dealing with copyright in Islamic law and buying and selling rights in emerging markets -- highlighting regional aspects of publishing -- are also scheduled.

On his part El-Muallim urges concerned authorities to take the required steps to implement the Florence Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials and to support Egypt exporting books and culture and standing against piracy. He underlined the importance of respecting copyright, particularly in the face of the present international financial crisis. "Egypt must be a good example for all Arab countries," he said asserting that the IPA must protect authors and other creative artists.

Since its establishment in 1996, El-Muallim relates, the Arab Publishers Association succeeded to convince some concerned authorities to respect copyright and fight piracy. But regretfully, he continued, media elements were not all of the same conscience. And while some countries do not violate copyright, many force publishers and writers to surrender copyright in order to participate in cultural and publishing events.

Does a model for copyright exist among Arab countries? Spruijt responded that there is no model, but there are endeavours to protect copyright. "If there are correct efforts to protect printing and publishing rights there will, absolutely, be a base for all other copyright procedures, which will increase competition and the many art works to choose from," said Spruijt. For creators to compete, "a special infrastructure" of the government and police is needed to catch hijackers and pirates, Spruijt said.

During his two-day visit to Cairo, Spruijt met Mrs Suzanne Mubarak to discuss means of cooperation to spruce up children's schoolbooks, including inserting modern art to make books more attractive and enjoyable for children. The meeting also discussed Egypt's role in supporting the publishing industry in the Arab world and beyond, as well as translating Egyptian writers into foreign languages.

Spruijt described the "Reading for all" campaign spearheaded by Mrs Mubarak as a model not only for underdeveloped countries but also developed ones, as it extended the base of reading and spread a reading culture among Egyptian families and schoolchildren.

In his time in the Egyptian capital Spruijt also met Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and Minister of Communications and Information Technology Tareq Kamel.

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