Kenya Digital Reading Summit 2015: Digital Rights in Book Publishing – Revisiting Authors Agreements

print book versus electronic book a visual overview zoe sadokierski

“In Kenya, the publishing industry is estimated to be about 12 billion Kenyan shillings a year (US $150 million) but 95% of that comes from the sales of textbooks. The sales of trade books has not been growing that quickly, I am afraid, but we are trying to change that. And bookstore sales are down as well. But as a small publisher, we have to respond to the market.” – Publishing Perspectives Interview with David Waweru, CEO of WordAlive Publishers on January 11, 2013.

“Our publishers—a good number of who are plain dishonest and shady individuals—are obsessed with publishing for the school market. They fight tooth and nail to have their books accepted as approved school texts. That is not a good thing at all because incidents of bribery have been reported in the process, which ends up putting dubious books in students’ hands. Outside of this there hasn’t really been a vibrant market for fiction. As a result writers have been bending over backwards to produce work that can fit in this mould. This in my thinking, isn’t healthy. Writers, as social commentators and critics, need the space to think creatively without inhibition. Some authors try to break out of this straight-jacket by self-publishing, but usually they don’t go far. Soon they encounter the biggest pest in the business, the book pirate, who is vicious in Kenya and operates with impunity, earning from what he didn’t sow in—we suspect—collusion with the law enforcers.” – Africa39 Blog Interview with Kenyan author, Stanley Gazemba on August 11, 2014.

“I love reading much more than I love writing. I suspect if I did not like reading, I would not be a writer. The well-written books inspire me to be a better writer. The badly written books teach me how not to write. Kenyan publishers are, sadly, not doing much to ensure that other readers and I get more of the former and less of the latter. Their inability to respond to submissions timeously; poor editing; unfavourable contracts; and poor marketing are but some of the problems beleaguering the publishing industry.” – Daily Nation, January 10, 2015: “Problem with Kenyan publishers” by Zukiswa Wanner.

Editor’s Note: The Digital Reading Summit 2015 themed “Immerse Yourself in the Digital Era”, has been organised by the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) and Worldreader and is scheduled to be held between 21-22 April 2015 at Pride Inn Hotel in Nairobi. The following day, April 23rd, is World Book and Copyright Day!

The business of publishing rests on a contract between creators (authors) and those who invest in bringing their work to market – publishers. In many jurisdictions (including Kenya) it is necessary that the contract adopt a written form and this is also the advisable way to proceed even where verbal agreements are valid. To avoid misunderstandings a written contract should always be issued at the conclusion of discussions and verbal agreement between the parties.

In the contract with the publisher the author licenses the rights of reproduction and distribution over a work, thus providing the publisher with the legal means necessary for publication. In Kenya, section 33(3) of the Copyright Act requires that any exclusive license between an author and a publisher must be in writing. An important Kenyan case in the area of book publishing and copyright law is Njeri Wangari & Another v. Oxford University Press (E.A) Ltd. [2012] eKLR discussed previously here.

Traditionally, publishers asked mainly for the right to publish authors’ book, sometimes in multiple formats and languages. Now many publishers demand broader rights, often including electronic/digital rights.

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