Life among the Pirates

Intellectual property rights don't stand much of a chance in the high seas of underground South American markets.

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    In March of last year, Rodrigo Rosales, the director of the Peruvian offices of the international publisher Planeta, got an urgent call from Madrid. Paulo Coelho’s people were upset. It seems the Brazilian writer’s latest novel, O vencedor está só (published in English as The Winner Stands Alone), had been seen on the streets of Lima in an unauthorized edition. Rosales was taken aback. Coelho is a steady bestseller in Peru (and everywhere) and any new title by him is certain to be pirated almost immediately upon publication, but this one wasn’t scheduled to be released until July. In fact, it hadn’t even been officially translated into Spanish.

    Though book piracy exists all over Latin America and the developing world, any editor with international experience in the region will tell you that Peru’s problem is both unique and profound. According to the International Intellectual Property Alliance, the local publishing industry loses more money to piracy than any other South American country, with the exception of Brazil—whose economy is more than eight times the size of Peru’s. A 2005 report commissioned by the Cámara Peruana del Libro (CPL), a national consortium of publishing houses, distributors and booksellers, came to even more alarming conclusions: pirates were employing more people than formal publishers and booksellers, and their combined economic impact was estimated to be 52 million US dollars—or roughly equivalent to one hundred per cent of the legal industry’s...

Originally published in Granta, December 2009