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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

Government faces lawsuit for stealing author’s book

The author may sue for one or more infringements – if more than one copy was made – for loss of income.

As the Northern Cape government was yesterday investigating claims by author Sabata-mpho Mokae, that the provincial department of arts and culture made photocopies of his best-selling novel Moletlo Wa Manong – authorising a book club to enter it in a national competition – a copyright expert has warned that the department could face a lawsuit.

Denise Nicholson, a communications and copyright consultant, said the department’s action amounted to either copyright infringement, or intellectual property theft.

Mokae – a Kimberley-based academic, novelist, translator and lifelong student of Sol Plaatjie’s work – said simply: “I am violated and betrayed. They gave it to a book club that is going to represent the Northern Cape at the Funda Mzansi Championships.”

Officials in premier Zamani Saul’s office were locked in a meeting to investigate the department’s officials and did not respond to requests for comment.

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“Basically, the department copied the book without the prior permission of the author and infringed his exclusive rights,” said Nicholson.

“The author suffered financial loss as the department did not purchase the book, but copied it unlawfully. The department has funds, so there is no excuse that they could not afford to buy the book. It’s a disgrace because they should be upholding the law and encouraging the public to be copyright compliant – not infringing someone’s copyright themselves,” she said.

“By entering his book in a competition, the department could be guilty of misrepresenting ownership, making out that it is a government publication and falsely competing to win the department a prize.

“This could be a fraudulent act. The author may sue for one or more infringements – if more than one copy was made – for loss of income. But this is most likely to be an expensive, long and stressful route, as the department is bound to enter a notice to defend the matter – more as a delaying tactic than for valid reasons,” said Nicholson.

‘Copies made should be withdrawn immediately’

On whether Mokae could be accorded a legal recourse, Nicholson said: “The author or his lawyer should demand that any copies made should be withdrawn immediately. They would need to estimate the financial loss from this infringement and request the department to reimburse this amount, with a public apology in the media for the infringement and misrepresentation or attempt to win an award for the department at the expense of the writer.

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“Basically, the department needs to be told in no uncertain terms that this is a serious offence in terms of the Copyright Act. The Act ‘does not allow a whole work or a substantial portion of a work to be copied’,” she said.

Many people took to Twitter in support of Mokae. One user, Kim Heller, tweeted: “This is outrageous. Fellow South Africans and book lovers, please support this hardworking and brilliant author.”

– brians@citizen.co.za