What’s with the pirated textbooks
School has reopened and there is no word on the situation involving the textbooks. Just before the start of the new term the Education Ministry with the approval of the government had decided that it would award contracts for the reprinting of those books deemed critical to the education system.
Reprinting of these textbooks was nothing new; it had been going on for years. The importers of these books, when the reprinting began, raised Cain. They appealed to the government to bring a halt to what was definitely an illegal exercise but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
Media practitioners identified the illegal printeries and confronted the then Education Minister Shaik Baksh who claimed that he was unaware of the illegal practice. But there were these books in school. Some managed to duplicate the original in terms of colour but the vast majority used in the nursery and primary schools were printed in black and white.
Reprinting the textbooks was a copyright infringement and Guyana was a signatory to the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Guyana had asked for some time to fully comply with the terms and conditions because there needed to be certain legislations.
Further, Guyana argued that because of its poor state it should be allowed to slowly accede to all the conditions of the TRIPS agreement. The deadline for that accession has long passed but one can only assume that the various authors and publishers could not be bothered by a country with a population of less than one million.
However, outside these shores everyone takes intellectual property seriously. Neighbouring Trinidad has provided many Guyanese with a wakeup call. Those who are pursuing legal studies at the Hugh Wooding Law School suddenly found that while they were allowed to use photocopy tests at the University of Guyana they could not even enter the country with them.
It is the same in just about every other country in the region. We had the case of an athlete from French Guyana who visited a store in the city and bought many pieces of clothing that purported to be the real thing—the brand name items that they were touted to be. On her return to cayenne she was stopped at the port of entry and given an ultimatum—either destroy all the counterfeit clothing or face a term of imprisonment on conviction.
We all may have seen images of wholesale destruction of counterfeit brand name watches, shoes, videos and many other articles. On one occasion a local shoe dealer had to approach the courts to seize a quantity of China-made counterfeit shoes that had been allowed into the country. These could not have entered any other country. There are the music carts that peddle counterfeit compact discs and DVDs for little or nothing. It is because there are no safeguards of intellectual property that local musicians cannot hope to make a living from the music industry.
Eddy Grant, a multi-millionaire who made all his money through music once said that had he been in Guyana he would not have been anywhere close to being wealthy. But he made his name in the United Kingdom and the rest is history.
In the Caribbean the popular singers and musicians get their due for their intellectual property and need to do precious little other than to keep doing what they do best.
But in Guyana we refuse to adhere to the principles of intellectual property. We access signals from American satellites free of cost and that has become the norm for television in Guyana. There was a brief challenge from Columbia Broadcasting Service (CBS) but the directors later concluded that the ensuing legal effort was not worth the while. And so we attempted once often to infringe intellectual property by printing textbooks. This time the furor was deafening. One British entity threatened legal action. The result is that those who had the books on sale had to put them in warehouses. And those printers who were gearing to make money had their hopes dashed.
The children appear to be going to school without the required books and one must now wonder what is happening in the classroom. Guyana could have accessed some of the learning aids by electronic means but that was not on the cards.
Meanwhile the Education Ministry is saying nothing.