Copyright Chaos in Book Industry

By Anne Zhang, China IP,[Copyright]

Just before the 2010 Chinese Lunar New Year, news came out that the Chinese copyright to One Hundred Years of Solitude was officially authorized for the first time. As the editorial director of the public life series editorial department in New Century Press of China Science Publishing Group Co., Ltd., Chen Cigui, who have participated in the planning and editing of several series of best sellers including Make Yourself a Doctor and Cure Yourself in a Second, told China IP that he had come across the officially authorized Chinese translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude in the 21st National Book Expo. The book was presented by the Thinkingdom Media Group. According to him, any one with some understanding of the literary history of the 1980s would consider this book of great importance.
According to the publisher—the Thinkingdom Media Group, all of the various versions of One Hundred Years of Solitude that have been available in the mainland market are retranslated or jointly translated with missing contents, rather than an officially authorized and fully translated version. “The publication of the officially licensed version is significant,” said Chen. “The awareness of copyright in the publishing industry is much better than before. However, compared to the mature western publishing industry, we still have a long way to go. The process will inevitably be painful, but we hope we can shorten it as much as possible.”
Twenty years of “solitude”
In the 1980s, Latin American writer Gabriel García Márquez shocked the world literary arena with his magnificent magical realism work One Hundred Years of Solitude, which later led to his Nobel Prize in 1982. The news soon spread to every corner of the world as well as China. A large number of Chinese readers have read the book, among whom many became Márquez’s admirers. However, all of Márquez’s books published in China by domestic publishing houses were without authorization, including One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera and No One Writes to the Colonel. Even these classical works have many different versions in the market.
The 1980s witnessed Chinese people’s thirst for knowledge. At that time, any book could sell more than 100 thousand copies, while books of quality could easily sell several times more. In Chen’s opinion, in the 1980s, Chinese people had strong spiritual needs. Even books like Sartre’s Existentialism, which only a few can comprehend, had sold out over 800, 000 copies. “Because of the thirst, we had a book market where sellers did not have to worry about the sales. If he had the books, they sold.” Chen stated with a sigh.
However, few people at that time were aware of copyright. In 1990, Márquez was once touring throughout China, only to find that his books were being published by various publishing houses around the country without authorization. The Colombian Newspaper reported that during Márquez’s journey in Beijing, he said to those Chinese that accompanied him: “You are all pirates!” The comment embarrassed Mr. Qian Zhongshu, a master of Chinese literature, very much. According to the Colombian Newspaper, Mr. Qian fell immediately into silence because of the mixed taste of anger and mockery in this statement. The Colombian Embassy tried in vain to ease the tension. After the journey, Márquez made a harsh decision and declared that he would not permit any copyright of his works to be authorized for sale to Chinese publishers for 150 years after his death, including the copyright of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
In 1992, China formally joined the Universal Copyright Convention. Meanwhile, the Chinese publishing industry gradually increased awareness of copyright. Though the records are incomplete, it is estimated that over the course of 20 years, more than 100 national publishing houses filed copyright applications to the author Márquez himself, the Colombian Embassy, and even the Embassy of Mexico (since he had lived in Mexico for many years). However, not a single one of them has ever received a reply. It almost became a dream of China’s major publishing houses and publishers to obtain formal authorization from this literary master of the world.
“The book band which binds the copy of One Hundred Years Solitude presented in the Expo reads ‘The first formally China’s book industry is respecting and attaching more importance to copyright.” said Chen.
Plight of China’s copyright trade
Talking about the thirst for books in the 1980s, Chen commented that at that time, people did not pay much attention to copyrights. For them, whatever could satisfy their spiritual needs was precious and of emergent need.
One Hundred Years of Solitude invoked Chinese people’s great interests in understanding the world. The 1980s witnessed the publishing of several series of books which had a significant influence on Chinese people, such as the “Three Great Book Series,” which enjoyed great reputations in the thinking and academic fields, including Going to the Future series and Culture: China and the World series. In addition, there was the Going to the World series of books published by Hunan People’s Publishing House and Yuelu Publishing House. These books described the life experiences of Chinese intellectuals going abroad and seeing the world in the 19th Century. The respected publisher Mr. Zhong Shuhe began to build his fame by editing this series of books.
All those books served to promote the emancipation of the mind in the 1980s, and raised people’s interests in reading foreign literature, history, philosophy, political science and economics as well. However, both the publishing houses and the common readers were facing the same perplexity, that is, China had not yet established a normative copyright trading system.
“We can say that the boom of the book industry in the 1980s was bubble-like. The concept of copyright was not widely known. At that time, due to a lack of talents in the translation field, publishing a foreign book was highly dependent on the translator. Many of the best translators enjoying a good reputation today began to build their fame or were re-evaluated in the 1980s. The comparison of translators, the names of the real authors or whether the book they were reading had a legitimate copyright or not was not a concern by most people. Moreover, some writers and publisher even consider some materials and information as private property, holding that whoever took possession of them could enjoy the absolute copyright. A lot of pseudo-books popped up as well under such market circumstances. It was not until 1984, after China Copyright Trade Center was established, did a relatively large-scale official transaction of international copyright in China being to appear,” said Chen.
To become a culturally powerful country, cultural output serves as an important measure. However, China has long been in a deficit position in the book trade. In 2009, for example, China imported copyrights of 13,793 kinds of publications, while the exportation was only 4,205 kinds. Analyzing from the total amount of copies, China exported copyrights of 856,000 books which made 6.25 million copies, while importing 756,000 books which printed 5.33 million copies. The latter looks similar in scale with the former but is actually three times the amount of money! Comparing the general conditions of different years, China’s exports declined slowly while imports remain relatively stable, with single-product importing prices higher than exports. According to Chen, the exportation of Chinese books relies on quantity, while the exportation of foreign books relies on quality.
Chen also provided information indicating that among the total exports of China’s copyrights, a large proportion is of literary and social science themes, whereas influential books concerning technologies are very few. China imports books mainly from the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Korea, and some other countries as well as China’s Hong Kong and Taiwan. However, the exportation of books back to those sellers is much lower in quantity. In the case of some countries or regions, the statistics could be even lower. Take the United States as an example; the country from whom China imports most books. Each year China exports only a little more than 200 varieties of books to the US, while importing as many as 4,500 kinds. International copyright trading has long been a weakness of China’s book industry.
In terms of the price, foreign books generally cost two to three times more than domestic books. In other words, the same manuscript worth only 1,000 dollars authorized Chinese version.’ This informs the buyer that any other version available is either fake or pirated. It also shows that if the copyright owner is a Chinese could be sold for up to 3,000 dollars if owned by a foreigner. Chen lamented that this phenomenon should be attributed to copyright disrespect and the long existing production of fake and shoddy products in China. Even if there are books of quality at times, the end prices of them will inevitably be diminished as a result of this problem.
“Hidden rules” in book industry
“From 2003 to 2005, pseudo-books once spread widely. It was the crackdown practices conducted by the central government that has suppressed this phenomenon. At that time, the practice aimed mainly at books in business management and motivation areas,” said Chen. “I found the signs of a large-scale resurgence of fake books this year. And I came across many fake books in this Expo.”
Chen distinguished the following concepts: (1) An infringing book is translated, printed and published without being licensed, like the various versions of One Hundred Years of Solitude mentioned above. (2) A fake book is a simulation of the book which is not for distribution channels, but for book dealers. (3) A pseudo-book claims to be a book but in fact was never legally published, copyrighted or marketed for legitimate sale; sometimes even the said author is made up. These books are often written by someone under the name of ancients or celebrities.
A typical case in the industry involves the author Wang Yuewen, a Hunan writer, who is currently a leading composer of officialdom novels in China. His most accomplished work was a masterpiece entitled The Chinese Painting. However, in June 2004, a publishing house in Beijing found another person with the same name who had published another officialdom novel named “The Chinese Style.” The content and writing style were very similar to the original famous writer’s work. Besides the content, both the design of the book cover and the publicity measures imitated that of The Chinese Painting. The book even came up with an advertising slogan telling consumers that “After The Chinese Painting, read The Chinese Style.” Even though the Hunan author has won the lawsuit, publication of the fake books hasn’t come to an end. Best-seller writers such as Wang Shuo, Zhou Guoping, and Ye Yonglie have all encountered such embarrassments.
“This case has very bad influences, but many book dealers and publishing houses are doing the same thing,” said Chen. “Recently, I found a book walking a very fine line. Le Jia, a man who gained fame as a psychology expert in the match-making TV program ‘Don’t Bother If You’re not Serious,’ publicized by Jiangsu channel had published books such as Make Your Relation Serious, and Re-know the Others through Color , which sold quite well. Then a book titled Make Your Relation True signed also by Le Jia popped up all of a sudden and made its way into the market. However, the author was not the original one, but was a woman by the name Le Jia. As a result, anybody who comes across the book is likely to be confused before reading the profile of the author. The male Le Jia explained with frustration on his Weibo that although the name and profession of him and the female author are identical, it was explicitly demonstrated in the book that she was a southern girl.”
Pseudo-books in the market often confuse the consumers. But there are ways to avoid being tricked. “In fact, if you pay attention, pseudo-books are easy to be distinguished. There are some tips: first, there will be a registration number of copyright contracts on the copyright page along with the ISBN and the CIP.
The registration number of foreign books needs to be registered in the National Copyright Administration of China. In addition, on the copyright page there will also be a claim from the authorizing party, reading ‘…publishing house authorize… publishing house to publish simplified Chinese books in mainland China.’ There should also be a claim which states that ‘All Rights are Reserved’ or something similar. Sometimes the claim is even bilingual. Similarly, we will also ask for such a claim when we authorize copyrights to foreign publishing houses. In contrast, if you look at a pseudo-book, such information is omitted, incomplete or contains fake data.
Secondly, you can search Writers of pseudo-books in China often impersonate American writers. Amazon, as a benchmark of English books, includes almost all the new English books on its website. If you cannot find such on Amazon, then you can almost be sure that the book is a fake.
Thirdly, pay special attention to the translator. Some translators claim to be masters translators of so many languages from so many countries that their ‘translation’ claims are simply too good to be true. For example, last year a book was released which claimed that it had changed the lives of over 16 million people around the world. The book went so far as to claim that it had even deeply moved prominent figures as Bill Gates and Barrack Obama and had earned their recommendation. The book became an Internet sensation and was even considered a trend setter, but in the end it turned out that the author was fictitious and the claims were untrue. However, despite a series of publicity activities revealing these facts, the book still managed to be fashionable among readers. How ironic it is!”
Current situation: hot but not profitable
“The reason why the book industry is so disordered lies in that the copyright protection does not draw enough attention in China. Authors’ copyrights do not enjoy effective protection and their royalties are low,” said Chen. “Rate of return plays an important role in the development of the book industry. In the Republic of China period, men of letters were active because of the high royalties in addition to patriotic factors. To be a literary youth meant to win social status, reputation as well as high income. Lu Xun’s royalties was several times higher than his wage, and royalties of two or three years was enough to buy him a couple of courtyards in Beijng or a small foreign-styled house in Shanghai. In the 1980s, there were many people who called themselves ‘literary youth,’ and were proud of the title, which was also related to the high royalties of the men of letters.”
China’s Copyright Law has been amended twice, and a third amendment is being suggested. Copyright and its protection are attracting more and more attention. It has been mentioned in the new amendments that the royalties should be higher. Currently, as the Implementing Regulations on the Copyright Law provides, the royalties should not be lower than 15 yuan per thousand words, which is very low compared to the consumption standards today.
Moreover, there are many “overbearing clauses” in the Copyright Law. For example, according to the law, China’s radio, television and some party newspapers and journals are not required to seek the consent of the authors or to pay any royalties to them when selecting and publishing their works. These could all be classified as “quasi-tort.” The most serious copyright “quasi-tort” happens in the composition of textbooks. The essay Poplar, written by Yuan Ying, was studied by many people when they were little children. After the publication of this article, it was selected for inclusion in the People’s Education Press’s primary Chinese textbooks without noticing the author. There are many similar cases, in some works even large parts of the content were deleted or the original intent was changed. These articles often give rise to hot disputes while the author knows nothing.
“Everybody knows that the sales of textbooks are huge. Take the statistics of this year’s college entrance examination as an example. According to reports, both the number and the proportion of the students taking the examination are decreasing annually. Despite the decrease, there were still 9.33 million examinees,” said Chen. “Their needs for textbooks are inflexible. Therefore, the relevant publishing houses are never worried about sales. If only the copyright protection mechanism could be improved in textbook publishing, it would be an act of great respect and would provide encouragement to the authors.”
(Translated by Monica Zhang)

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