Kigogo, a Kiswahili play written by Pauline Kea, was approved late last year as a secondary school set book in Kenya for 2017. So it came as a shock when the book's publisher, Storymoja, learnt that the book was on sale, four weeks prior to its official release.
"The book was stolen from the printer, scanned and was on the streets within a week of the approval," said Muthoni Garland, author and co-founder of Storymoja.
It was a clear case of book piracy, defined as the unauthorised reproduction, sale or the use of copyrighted material. Printing of unauthorised copies is not new, as unscrupulous business people have been known to photocopy and sell school texts to students. But the scale and sophistication of illegally printed books in Kenya has industry players worried.
Simon Ngigi, the group managing editor of Longhorn Publishers, which distributes throughout East Africa, said in a TV interview recently that 30 per cent of their turnover has been impacted by copyright theft and that the company had incurred a loss of Ksh450 million ($4.327m) in 2016 from book piracy.
Darius Mogaka of Kenya's Ministry of Education is quoted as saying that a 2016 survey of school books showed that "half of the books used countrywide are pirated."
School books are the biggest targets because they make up 90 per cent of Kenya's book market and sales are virtually guaranteed. Yet the quality of the backstreet counterfeits is often appalling.
As if the clear case of theft of intellectual property rights were not enough, in many cases, pirated books are sold at the same price as the original versions, as few buyers can spot a fake. And the buyers are not to blame.
There have been cases of the fakes being of even better quality than the genuine publications. These are mostly school textbooks illegally published overseas, suggesting that book piracy is run by well-funded cartels.
The cost to publishers is that illegal books create a string of losses in the book supply chain.
"Most people think publishing equals only printing. But publishing is a huge investment in content creation, editorial work, engaging book designers, warehousing, marketing, legal and financial aspects," explained Ms Garland. Furthermore, the government loses value added tax on untraceable book sales, while honest distributors and bookshops suffer on low sales and, needless to say, authors lose out on royalties.
This year alone, 10 piracy cases are being prosecuted by the Kenya Copyright Board. "The biggest haul was of 10 million books by 10 publishers worth Ksh5.5 million ($52,884)."
A "Say No to Piracy" campaign has been launched by the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), the Kenya Copyright Board in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, the Anti-counterfeit Agency and the Kenya police.
In February 2017, the KPA introduced anti-piracy technology in the form of security check-tags fixed onto books to differentiate between genuine and illegal copies.