Author Royalties Down to Definitions in the Punjab

In the Punjab, not knowing what author royalties may entail nurtures the belief in some people that it will make the publisher liable to pay a percentage on all printed copies without consideration to sales. This view is held to with steadfastness, and in the face of evidence that the publishers are indeed well-protected under copyright laws worldwide, and that other than the publishers who are able to offer advances the rest pay royalties on the actual sale price of the actual number of copies sold.

This generated some heat around what author royalties really are, and i was enlightened indeed with some definitions. Top most among them is the one where it is suggested that since the word ‘royalty’ comes from ‘royal’ meaning ‘monarchy’, it is a bourgeois term, and so, it is hard for ‘progressive’ Punjabi publishers and intellectuals to support author royalties! The person may not be too far off as author royalties are indeed linked to monarchy in that it was Queen Anne of Britain who allowed the first legislation to pass that acknowledged such rights. This is Wikipedia:

“The Statute of Anne in 1709 was the first real copyright act, and gave the author in the new nation of Britain rights for a fixed period, after which the copyright expired. Internationally, the Berne Convention in 1887 set out the scope of copyright protection, and is still in force to this day.”

I was shocked by the discomfort i was causing my peers just by bringing it up, and then by the hostility that began to find its way to me. I was called ‘Greedy’, ‘Westernized’, ‘Individualistic’, ‘Selfish’ and ‘Destructive’ to mention a few common names; and, it also jinxed the publication of Gurumukhi edition of my novel ‘Skeena’ in Indian Punjab. All of this made me evaluate my position on author royalties several times in Lahore.

Until then, my interest in royalties was limited to enjoying the benefit of it for my anthology Aurat Durbar: Writings of Women of South Asian Origin in 1995 in Toronto (Sumach Press), and then hearing about it in Vancouver in the late Nineties from Author Susan Crean, now a co-Chair of Creators’ Rights Alliance Canada/Alliance pour les droits des créateurs (www.cra-adc.ca), who was then working on a policy paper titled “Intellectual Property and International Trade” (Crean, Edwards and Hebb) to contribute to the resolution of copyright issues arising from the expanding culture of Internet. Next, i heard about royalties and copyrights in 2006 from Poet Cesar Love in San Francisco who was working as a Contract Advisor for the National Writers Union.

Back in Lahore, I began way down the road but my vision was unobstructed; i also knew that author royalties and copyrights are acknowledged and implemented in Punjab and Pakistan by Urdu and English language publishers while Punjabi language publishers have extended these rights to ‘successful’ authors such as our wonderful poet Munir Niazi who received royalties from the more prosperous Urdu language publishers in Lahore.

The biggest criticism on my position is that i was being ‘individualistic’ by demanding money from publishers who are struggling to survive and cannot afford to pay; and, that I being a ‘Canadian’ should help out by donating dollars to the publishers instead of making such demands on them. This view is based on a myth and a misconception; the myth is that anyone who had been living in Canada or any other Western country must be rich even when they say that they are not; and, the misconception is that paying royalties to authors will weaken a publishing organization. Both the myth and the misconception are weapons to put away authors of any language.

I stopped working for money at the end of 1995 because i just could not do it anymore; for the next decade, i worked full time on my three novels that were in progress since 1991. However tough it had been, i feel i made an excellent choice. The myth cited above is a killer for me because it denies the reality of my life, and then obliterates it by making it the base of an argument that snaps my rights as a writer. As well, the toughness of my experience as a full time (woman) writer (of Color) of unpublished novels has made me wary of most myths and misconceptions.

The view that paying author royalties will weaken or threaten the publisher sounds almost the same as when the workers’ right to make trade unions was denied on the basis that it will kill the very industry that is providing employment to them or when a woman’s right to vote was negated to ‘protect’ her status in the society. Cloaked in many noble passions of anger and outrage, it remains what it is; an excuse to deny writers their right to earn money from the sale of their books.

Let us look at a standard case of publishing an original Punjabi work in, say, Lahore. The Author pays the Publisher the full cost of production including composing, cover art, lay out, design, processing, printing and binding. Once the book is published, usually 300 to 500 copies, the author gets about 20 to 50 copies for free. It is rare for a publisher to grace a title with a launch or to do anything to inform the larger group of Punjabi population. Over the first year, the same couple of hundred readers come to know about it through traditional channels as no concerted effort is usually made to let more people access the information about the new book. It sits in the shelf at the publisher’s own office/outlet, and in a few other shops and book shops that keep Punjabi books. The Publisher usually sells it at 50 Percent of cover price to a customer, and at 40 Percent to a distributor or re-seller.

This scenario tells us many things, this is one: At each and every step of the production and sale of a creative work, everyone including the Publisher who has not even invested cash in it, gets paid; some up front, some in smaller payments. The only person who does not ever get paid from the publication of her/his creative work is the Author. The situation is bad enough but it begins to erode the possibility of ever having full time writers and artists in our midst when a cultural community thinks that there is nothing wrong with this scenario or whatever is wrong is necessary or worse, that it is a ‘better’ or an ‘acceptable’ way to go about developing Punjabi language and literature.

In a larger environment where literary and arts communities are kept at a perpetual disadvantage caused by religious indoctrination and corresponding cultural values, Punjabi writers and artists are suffering double blows as the messages coming to them from their own communities also add to their projected valuelessness. It was amazing to see so many writers and artists writing, singing, dancing and painting while actually believing that no one really wants to read their books or see their creations. However, because the larger situation is discriminatory to Punjabi language and culture, we need to create more opportunities to value, appreciate and sustain Punjabi writers and artists. In that, there is no harm in looking at ourselves and saying, may be we can do a few things in a different manner and award some more recognition to creators because that will help bring Punjabi language and literature to the next level of its development.

I had the opportunity to ask a few questions via email from Safir Rammah of APNA.ORG who had been releasing information each year about the number of books published in Pakistani Panjab. I asked him if the number of published books increased in the last ten years, and why. Rammah Jee says: “… the total number of Punjabi books that were published during the 35 year period (1947-1982) were 1,528, or an average of about 42 books per year. During the last few years, my estimate is that an average of 100-120 Punjabi books are being published each year and that number is slowly growing.” (Early number from the bi-annual Khoj Magazine of Punjab University).

Rammah Jee goes on to say that “Book publishing, even in Punjabi, is a profitable business in Pakistan (of course, only if it is properly managed). A number of Punjabi book publishers are now well established (Suchet Kitab Ghar, Punjabi Adabi Markaz, Punjabi Adabi Board, etc., and now the Institute of Punjabi Language and Literature). In the absence of government’s support, the Punjabi magazines have played a major role in bringing more and more writers towards writing in Punjabi and in introducing new Punjabi writers while also playing the critical role of language planning. Both the number of writers and their readership has been growing, albeit slowly.”

Not so bad.

Please keep in mind, these numbers are for Pakistani Punjab; we will get a sense of what has been happening in terms of Punjabi books in Indian Punjab where Punjabi enjoys a better status, and in the Diaspora, by the next post.

Authors and Publishers Page
Fauzia Rafiq

more on Author Royalties

3 comments on “Author Royalties Down to Definitions in the Punjab

  1. […] 3. Author Royalties Down to Definitions in the Punjab […]

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  2. Roop Dhillon says:

    Dear Friends, I am been observing many things for a while now. One is the creation of the Folio society for English language books years ago. I am indeed a member of this organisation. It is well know for publishing expensive but beautifully bound and illustrated books.

    Now taking it as a prototype, it woul dbe great if established writers such as yourself, Ajmer Ji, Amajit Ji etc was to create a similiar Society for Punjabi books, or perhaps join forces with Rammah Ji and expand Saanjh into a membership club, where subscribers fees covered the cost of beautiful books, and the author is able to obtain royalities.

    I stringly advise you to examone their website. This could be a good format for the future.

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  3. Roop Dhillon says:

    I am fully in support of your rights to receive royalties.

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