I sometimes envy writers in our society who struggle so hard to have their writings published. I have been writing since the early 1980s through sheer conviction that what I do is for the sake of doing what I do best even without having to get paid for it. That conviction has led me to do extraordinary things and discover extraordinary people around the world.
Over time I managed to have my own writings published around the world. I also managed to give readings of my work in PNG, Fiji, Sydney, Hawai’i, Canada, and Minnesota, USA. The life of a writer is never one that is static, but it is one that is full of creative spirit and commitment to transfer human thoughts to print with as much honesty, passion, and integrity. Writing helps a writer to breath life where there is no life, no conscience, and truth making.
In the journey I made as a writer in this country I discovered interesting aspects of such a life. To write a good book takes many months or years before it is published. The best advice is to avoid rushing into publishing a book until it’s complete. Many of us who write creative fiction understand that to have a short story or poem published in a literary magazine it must satisfy the requirements of the editorial board. To have a book published we need to work with professional editors and publishers to have a book published. The costs of such services are factored into a publishing contract.
In my case I had decided three years ago to become a self-publisher. It was hard enough getting any of my books into the hands of publishers. As a self-publisher I had to find money to get my books printed. I did not have to worry about literary agents, editors, and publishers. I also embodied all of them. The challenge as a self-publisher is to have enough money to pay for the cost of printing enough print runs and to have the books sold to the targeted clients. A self-publisher publishes his or her own books, but can also edit, proof-read, and prepare manuscripts of other writers at an affordable price.
A lot of people have approached me to publish their works. I had turned them down because as a self-publisher I have no money to publish other people’s books. I depend on the money I make in advance from selling my books to clients. This helps me to pay the printer and other services associated with printing and marketing of books. Without financial base I can only limit the number of books I can publish.
I am also mindful of the PNG Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act (2000). Publishing other people’s work might get me into a lot of trouble with this law.
In recent times I discovered that two titles originally published by the Melanesian and Pacific Studies (MAPS) centre of the University of Papua New Guinea were illegally published by a new PNG publishing company. I immediately realized that neither I nor any other officials of UPNG had granted publishing rights to this company to re-publish these two books. This particular company had infringed the copyright of the original publisher and the writers. These books were sold to the Education Department with advance payments already made to this publishing company.
The issue here is very serious as it makes us (writers and honest publishers) cringe at the thought that the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act (2000) is toothless.
If it’s my own book I will sue this company. Section 3(3) of the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act (2000) explicitly states: “The provisions of this Act concerning the protection of literacy and artistic works shall apply to: (a) works of authors who are citizens of, or have their habitual residence in, Papua New Guinea; and (b) works first published in Papua New Guinea and works first published in another country and also published in Papua New Guinea within thirty days, irrespective of the nationality or residence of their authors; and that is enforceable as stated in Section 3(4): The provisions of this Act shall aply to works that are eligible for protection in Papua New Guinea by virtue of, and in accordance with, any international convention or other international agreement to which Papua New Guinea is party.” Section 4 (1) provides for all the works by Papua New Guineans protected under this Act.
I doubt if the publisher made reference to here or the officials in the Department of Education have read the PNG Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act (2000). If they had then they are required to comply with this law that protects the original literary works and publisher’s rights.
As a Papua New Guinea writer and publisher I am concerned about this intellectual exploitation. We hear so much money is injected into the Education Department to buy books for schools in the country. In turn it would help encourage and promote more local writers to publish their works. As for those with books already published the Department must continue to support them by buying their books for use in our schools. In that way the writers can make money to help them write and publish more books.
I also observe that even buying of books has become very political. The funding provided by development partners has strings also attached to them. All purchases of books are to be done overseas in the donor partner’s bookstores, companies, and agencies. In that way the AID money is trapped within the donor country.
In relation to arguments I have been making all along is that still our writers, publishers, and book retailers are pushed to the back stage as spectators of the last act in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: To Be or Not To Be. That is the question.
If a blind eye is cast on the thorny issues raised here I see no bright lights for struggling PNG writers and publishers in the future.