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CopyrightPart of this year’s Maun International Literature and Poetry Festival was a presentation by a representative of the Copyright Society of Botswana (COSBOTS), Patrick Matlapeng. 

Eventually according to Rre Matlapeng all writers’ royalties in Botswana will pass through COSBOTS’ hands, as per the law we were told, where they will take 3% of the money to run their organisation.

I am aware that COSBOTS is only finishing up with musicians and perhaps they have not consulted writers and publishers extensively, but I can assure you that if this is how they are planning to help us I for one say no thanks.

Currently anyone published with local publishers knows your royalties are rarely very good.

In my experience, quite often to get your royalties you must badger the publisher. So let’s say my royalties are due to be paid on the 10 of June.
In many cases on the 11th of June my job will be to call the publisher to remind them that they are now in breech of our legal contract.

Now if what I am understanding is true, what will happen now once COSBOTS gets involved, the publisher will then not pay me the royalties a day late (note this is after a year of selling, most publishers in Botswana pay once a year) but will instead pay COSBOTS.

This of course will delay my pay even longer and to add insult to injury, COSBOTS will take 3% of my money for adding stress to my life.

When I get my money after that is anyone’s guess.

If I’m to base it on COSBOTS’ track record with musicians I would say after three years. Not sure how I’m meant to live in the meanwhile.

Perhaps Choppies will accept air in payment for bread.

Before COSBOTS sets off to start “helping writers” I think they need to do some serious consulting with people who actually earn their livelihood from writing.

Another thing I found troubling is some of their knowledge regarding contracts as they refer to the publishing business.

I have had excerpts of my stories used in a few textbooks.

English textbooks might use many of such excerpts in a single book.

Normally you get a one-off payment. Mine were mostly used in South African textbooks and pay ranged from R800-R2000.

According to COSBOTS, even if a writer signed a contract that they would accept a one-off payment in lieu of royalties on sales, the publisher would be required to pay royalties anyway.

What this would lead to is publishers no longer paying one-offs in such cases and instead paying royalties.

Imagine the royalty percentage, something like 0.00000001%, you’d make P100 only after they sold a few truckloads of books.

This again will be harmful to writers, not helpful, and will reduce our already miniscule income.

How might COSBOTS help writers?

When might I be willing to sign up as a member? If they could audit publishers’ books on our behalf I’d do it.

That would be helpful in some cases where sales seem a bit wonky.

COSBOTS has already set up relationships with other copyright societies around the world.

They could use those relationships to help writers guard their copyright. I had a short story used by a Canadian website without my permission.

I learned from a Canadian writing friend who contacted their copyright society on my behalf that if I was a member of COSBOTS, the Canadian copyright society could collect royalties from the website owner and give the money to COSBOTS who would give it to me.

Something like that would be helpful too.

The defence of our copyright as writers is paramount without it we’re basically writing for free, but before COSBOTS embarks on efforts to assist us they must have a complete understanding of how the publishing world works and where their efforts can benefit writers or else I doubt they’ll find many writers on their membership rolls.




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