New document released to govern publishing practices

Concerned about copyrights and regulating publishing, the Egyptian Publishers Association has put together a document envisioned to be a reference for the judiciary on cases where there is no contract between publishers and authors.

On Sunday, 20 publishers added the final details to the 62 guidelines outlined in “The Norms and Rules of the Profession,” explained the association’s chairman Essam Shalaby. Authors were represented in the meeting by Egyptian Writers Union's member Sherif al-Gayar.

“Publishing norms haven’t been written down since the establishment of the publishers’ association in 1965,” says Shalaby.   

The initiative started in June, when six publishers met with the then newly-elected chairman Shalaby, demanding a written reference to resolve disputes both among publishing houses, and between publishers and authors. Although publishers have been working on this for seven years, it is only under the association’s new leadership did it has begun to materialize.

The document begins with a definition of the profession, which excludes all those who are not members of the association, although many of the most notable publishing houses, especially in the literary genre, are not in fact members.

Mekkawy Saeed, chairman of the prestigious Al-Dar, describes this definition as “illegal,” explaining that, “a publisher, according to the law, is an association which has a commercial registration and a tax card.”

Al-Dar has published about 300 books in seven years, most of which are literary works. Saeed sees the initiative as a way to serve member publishers only, disregarding the interests of small and literary book publishing houses. “The publishers’ association cannot force us to join it, as long as it does not pay attention to our interests,” he told Egypt Independent.

The trend of sidelining non-members goes back to the association’s former chairman Mohamed Rashad. This, Rashad says, is supported by the association's bylaw, which “confirms that practicing this career is only allowed for members of the association.” He explains that, “This helps improve the profession and punishes those who violate copyright law.”

“There are many unknown publishers who print dangerous books promoting violent and extremist values,” adds Rashad. “How are we supposed to face this? We don’t even know how many publishers or authors there are in Egypt.”

Another controversial item in the document guidelines concerns publishing test prep books, which are monopolized by member publishers. It states that, “Test Prep books are not classified as derived from the Education Ministry’s books, but as independent workbooks over which only authors and publishers have copyright.”

But Saeed of Al-Dar says that this contradicts with the following guideline in the document that states that lesson summaries and workbooks based on university curricula are “derived” from university curricula. As such, publishers of university test prep books would be punished for printing them without permission from the original publishers and authors.

He adds that this protects the interests of member publishers who print workbooks based on school curricula, yet penalizes small publishers, who print university test preps.

However, Rashad says, “It’s the Education Ministry’s right; publishers of test prep books cannot deny it.” But, he adds that the Education Ministry used to violate the copyrights of authors and publishers of schoolbooks.

“The ministry should be the first organization protecting copyright law, not violating it.”

Positive developments brought about by the new guidelines include granting authors the right to terminate a contract if a publisher does not carry out his obligations within a year and a half in the case of private publishing houses, and within three years when dealing with governmental bodies. It also obliges publishers to compensate authors for not publishing their work within the agreed periods by paying them 10 to 30 percent of the contracted money. Publishers would also be obliged to inform authors about the number of printed books, and any decisions to raise or decrease the number of prints agreed upon.

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