Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mr. Pringle Meets the Publishing Pirates

As I'm sure I've told you before, I'm a sucker for historical reprints of old books about life in Malaya. In these first hand accounts, I can easily slip back in time and take an enthralling journey through the country as it was long before I came here.

I've collected many of the books in the Oxford in Asia series (some of them received as payment for work done for the publisher - great trade off!) and am sad that the books are now discontinued.

Happy I was then to come across the Malaysian Heritage series of 12 classic books about the country in Kinokuniya the other day. Reader, I desired them.

True, they are nowhere near as aesthetically pleasing as the OUP books, which is something of a disappointment, but I care much more about the content.

Raman is also stocking the books and has featured them on his Silverfish website.

But it seems, the publisher, Synergy Press (a subsidiary of local publisher SA Majeed) may have been far less than scrupulous about obtaining permissions to republish the books.

One of the authors featured in the series, Robert Pringle, writes on Raman's website:
The publisher of the Malaysian Heritage Series did not get permission from anyone before reprinting my book, Rajahs and Rebels: The Ibans of Sarawak under Brooke Rule. This is unfortunate because I am in the process of arranging a legal reprint, with a Malaysian publisher, which will include a badly-needed new introduction commenting on the implications of this history in the light of what has happened since 1970, when it was published, and also correcting some errors in the first edition. That endeavor will obviously be complicated by the existence of this illegal edition which will inevitably reduce the prospect of further sales, even for a better product. No reputable bookstore should be selling this book. I cannot speak for other titles in the series.
Am wondering what laws in Malaysia cover copyright of books and what the author's legal rights are? I checked up on Wikipedia which told me that:
In most of the world the default length of copyright for many works is generally the life of the author plus either 50 or 70 years.
which would mean that this particular title was published illegally.

And that quite apart from the moral consideration: it's completely wrong not to ask for permission.

Mr. Pringle was hard to find? Nonsense, he responded within days to Raman's posting once his name was on the internet, and no doubt could have been reached through his publishers (this book was previously published by Cornell University Press and I believe the author's most recent book was published by Allen and Unwin.)

Rather, I think it's an extension I think of the let's-make-a-quick-buck-and-never-mind-the-rights-of-the-author syndrome.

Am looking forward to the opinions of the legal minds among my readers.

Raman, meanwhile, has withdrawn the book from sale and I hope that other bookshops have enough integrity to follow suit.


Poppadumdum said...

This is a clear case of copyright infringement under the Malaysian Copyright Act 1987. Doesn't matter if Pringle was hard to find, it still makes the publication an infringement of copyright.

bibliobibuli said...

Thanks a lot.

Jonathan Bailey said...

The only unanswered question I see in this story is whether or not they might have gotten a license to print the book from another publisher.

You see, Mr. Pringle might hold the copyright to the work, but if he gave a license to print the book to a publisher, which it appears he did, and they in turn are able to sublicensee that right, it could be a legal reprint.

Ok, Occam's Razor here says that it most likely is theft because a publisher that did that would be on the verge of intellectual bankruptcy but it could happen.

Just a point to consider.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks a lot, Jonathan. and yes, hopefully we will discover what the whole story is.

animah said...

He should send out a cease and desist notice to the publisher and write to all distributors and bookstores asking them to withdraw the book.
Also if my memory serves right, he can ask for an account of the sales of the book and be paid the profits. He should try suing for damages too.

cavingliz said...

Saw the books in MPH in Mid Valley today. Flicked through Expedition to Borneo and was disgusted to see Niah Cave written as Niag !!!

Rodney said...

Thanks Sharon for informing us about this!

bibliobibuli said...

animah - he has sent the letter now. and his publishers have also issued statements saying that they did not give their permission.

caving liz - i think the dates of original publication shown in the books are wrong too - not just of this book but of others in the series.

rodney - welcome! hey i wanted to leave comments on your redwhitespot post but livejournal wouldn't let me.

rodney said...

Ya, I undersand, livejournal is a bit 'technical' for me as well, I will need to ask May Lee about what to do about the comment part . . .

Anonymous said...

Mr Pringle ? wasn't he that peanut with the monocle ? :)

Anonymous said...

Oh wait, that was Mr.Peanut. Mr. Pringle was the guy with the nice moustache on the potato chip tubes :)