Copyright: what are they talking about?

Every time in Frankfurt, I see people anxious, running from one appointment to another, eager to do their business, to find a place in the publishing world that is bravely resisting against the danger of extinction. “What are they hurrying to do?” was my first impression the first time I went to Frankfurt, and it didn’t take me long to find an answer: buy and sell rights, the most important business happening in most of the major book fairs, something that has never been much of a business for Iranian publishers, as Iran recognizes no international copyright agreement, being one of the few countries left, who are not members of the Bern Convention, WTO, World Copyright agreement, or any other convention that oblige publishers to acquire the rights for a book published outside Iran before translating or publishing it. That is why we have at least 12 editions of Harry Potter, 5 editions of One hundred Years of Solitude, and even 4 translations of Kafka on the Shore in Iranian bookstores, without a dime paid to the author. Of course there are a few publishers that individually respect copyright and try to acquire the rights of a book, but this will not legally stop the other publishers from publishing the same title with another translation, and the publishers who actually pay royalties, have a problem with pricing the books, as it doesn’t matter how hard they try, they can not compete with the price of the unauthorized editions of the same books. The government of Iran has been claiming for many years that Iran is planning to join the Bern Convention, but during the past ten years, I have not actually seen a real effort made.

That is why most of the publishers consider us, Iranian publishers, to be pirates, and explaining the situation doesn’t help much, except for a few brave agents, publishers and authors who risk being published in Iran with a low royalty or no advance payments, most of them actually don’t believe that we are telling the truth.

Copyright is a major line that divides our worlds, but it is not the most important one.