- More than 2 million copies of Harry Potter
and the Deathly Hallows were pre-ordered
worldwide, including 240,000 from India. Those,
anyway, were the legitimate books. India's
booksellers are not rejoicing about the
anticipated Potter bonanza. They worry that their
profits will be drained away by pirated copies.
"Whatever one does, we can expect to see
pirated copies of Harry Potter selling
tomorrow on the streets," Kaya Natarajan, manager
Landmark in Chennai, one of India's biggest
bookstores, glumly informed Asia Times Online.
His customers had been lining up since
midnight for the pre-dawn opening sales of J K
Rowling's much-awaited book, but less scrupulous
Potter fans can own a pirated version, complete
with similar fonts and book binding, at one-third
of the price of the original.
been done by the Potter publishers, just short of
calling in the navy and air force, with the
unprecedented levels of protective fuss including
setting up a 24-hour anti-piracy hotline
(0981-801-0044), armed guards, all-night vigils,
and armored convoys worldwide shipping the book
from airports to stores.
The book trade
called the Deathly Hallows operation the
single most complex distribution operation
undertaken in Indian publishing history, with
simultaneous deliveries being made to more than
300 destinations across the country.
Bloomsbury and Penguin India commissioned
a team of legal experts and vigilance officials
and teamed up with local police units to ensure
that the Potter tome did not see the light of day
before the 6:30am (Indian Standard Time) official
release moment on Saturday, July 21. Penguin's
representatives approached the Mumbai police
commissioner for assistance to battle the book
The stakes were high. "We
estimate 50% of sales lost due to piracy," Himali
Sodhi, head of marketing for Penguin India, told
Asia Times Online.
On the first day, sales
breathlessly clocked 170,000 genuine copies at
about US$23 each.
Book piracy in India
ranges from sophisticated presses churning out
copies hardly distinguishable from the originals
to cheaper versions that carry printing ink with
unsafe chemicals endangering children's health,
says Akash Chittranshi, head of ACA-Law, a New
Delhi-based firm representing the British
Publishers Association, and now spearheading the
anti-piracy drive in India.
"Some of the
pirated books use such cheap paper that they turn
into pulp if some water drops on to them,"
Chittranshi chuckled. Pirates busily churn out a
best-seller range from fiction and technical books
to the pseudo-spirituality paper cons.
Chittranshi said the book bootleggers are
usually concentrated in the bigger cities such as
Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. In Mumbai, pirated
Harry Potter copies (complete with
thoughtful plastic wrapping) can be found being
peddled at traffic signals and outside busy public
places such as Churchgate Station and D N Road.
"Some cheaper versions sell for as little as Rs100
[$2.40]," Himanshu Chakrawarti, chief operations
officer of Landmark Bookstore in Chennai, told
Asia Times Online.
Indian copyright law is
very strict, said Chittranshi. "Persons found
dealing in pirated copies of Harry Potter
can be arrested and and punished with imprisonment
for up to three years and fine."
Indian law-enforcement officials have been
exceptionally cooperative with defending the
latest Potter edition. But the heat quickly wears
off and India's limited law-enforcement resources
cannot hope to sustain book pirates high on their
agenda for long.
Bootleg versions of the
sixth J K Rowling book, Harry Potter and the
Half-Blood Prince, were available in sidewalk
stalls across India on the day of its release in
2005. About 2,500 pirated versions were captured
in Mumbai's Haji Ali, India's epicenter for fake
goods, in the first week after the official
launch. On Day 2 after the hysteria-wrapped
release of The Deathly Hallows, no pirated
version was reported there as yet.
book-piracy battle is a war against ghosts, with
pirated versions regularly surfacing soon after a
police raid. The pirate suppliers obviously don't
flaunt a postal address, and the pirated retailers
wage an urban-guerrilla sales war. Common
knowledge is that sidewalk vendors pay
hafta (bribes) to officialdom to ply their
itinerant trade that vanishes when the municipal
van appears to confiscate their goods and
reappears when the van disappears.
fact is also that many people cannot afford the
cover price of the originals," acknowledged
Himanshu Chakrawarti of Landmark.
Sodhi said: "It's a multi-faceted problem that
needs long-term solutions. Not enough mind space
is given to book piracy as much as even to music
and movie piracy."
rights have not been driven too deeply into the
middle-class conscience, and as yet no anti-piracy
campaign in India has tried to make the buyer feel
criminally guilty about buying a pirated copy and
made to realize that he or she is actually
stealing legitimate dues from the author and
India, though, isn't
Asia's busiest book-piracy market, according to
Akash Chitranshi. Pakistan and China are far
worse. "The Chinese pirates even bring out books
with best-seller titles but with fake text
inside," he said.
In 2006, more than
10,000 book-piracy-related merchants were arrested
in India during police raids. But unless the
pirated book buyer isn't also targeted for police
action, there will always be the
bootleg-bookseller curse closely haunting J K
Rowling and her tribe.