Best-selling author Harold Robbins may be pleased to know that his novel, "Her Confidential Lovers" is doing a brisk business in Indian bookshops, except that he never wrote a book by that title.
Similarly, Irving Wallace might be surprised to see his name splashed over the front of a boilerplate thriller called "The Conspiracy," which is being snapped up for 10 rupees ($1.05) a copy at sidewalk paperback stalls.
Indian book pirates, in a frenzy of competition, have added a new dimension to the timeless racket of copyright theft and have brazenly begun to market fake titles in the name of top U.S. and British authors.
A gullible reader may not discover the ruse until he is well into his bargain novel, and by then may be too embarrassed to admit it. If he returns to the bookstall, he may find it has moved to a new location.
According to legitimate Indian book publishers, about 2,000 titles a year are being pirated by shady printing companies, for an estimated loss to the publishing industry of at least $10 million a year.
"It's getting worse all the time. There is no limit to their boldness, and often it is very difficult to tell a pirated book from the real one," Rajan K. Mehra, chairman of the Indian Publishers and Booksellers Association's antipiracy task force, said in an interview.
Outright faking of titles under a well-known author's name, Mehra said, is less prevalent than pirating -- reprinting popular books without buying publishing rights from foreign publishers -- although it has become a growing business here.
Title-faking, he said, usually occurs when a book pirate is being hurt by underground competition, and wants to break into somebody else's monopoly on a big name. For example, if one pirate has cornered the market on illegally printed Ken Follett thrillers, another may stick Follett's name on an obscure manuscript and market it as a brand-new issue. Pirates routinely sell 20,000 or more such books before being detected, he said.
Zamir Ansari, who heads Penguin Overseas Ltd. here, said that a book pirate with fast offset photocopying equipment can produce paperback copies within hours of receiving an advance copy of the original -- and market it at a much lower cost than a legitimate publisher because there are no reprinting fees or royalties involved.
Usually operating out of small printing plants in teeming slum colonies across New Delhi's Yamuna River, the pirates -- many of whom cannot even read the books they print -- scour the bestseller lists in Time and Newsweek magazines for hot new books, Ansari said.
Often the pirates will obtain a review copy or advance display copy of a new novel from an operative in the United States or Great Britain, and produce illicit paperback copies even before the book's actual publication date.
Bookstalls along New Delhi's busy Parliament Street or Connaught Circle always are stacked deep with paperback reprints of new foreign bestsellers that have not even been issued in paperback in their country of origin. And the copies sell at far less than the cost of paperbacks in the United States -- usually for under 12 rupees (about $1.25).
Mehra blamed a lack of urgency on the part of the government, coupled with indifference on the part of foreign authors and publishers, for perpetuating the piracy business. Although Indian law carries a maximum one-year imprisonment for piracy, Mehra said, judges usually give less than the maximum $50 fine provided by the law.
Local publishers are often reluctant to get involved in lengthy and costly court cases, Mehra said, particularly because a legitimate publisher can obtain a warrant for seizure only of reprinted books that violate his own rights, and not the dozens of other illicit titles the pirate may have in his possession.
Textbooks, Mehra said, are especially lucrative to pirates, because one course requirement in New Delhi universities can mean the printing of 50,000 to 60,000 copies at below official cost. Compounding the problem, he added, is the import of thousands of pirated books from Singapore and other Asian publishing centers.
But Mehra complained that seeming indifference by authors and publishers was at the root of the problem.
"I cannot understand why an author like Follett or Robbins does not complain and protest. They're losing royalties. It is in their own interest to do something about it," Mehra said.
Ansari noted one prominent U.S. author did complain about piracy in neighboring Pakistan and got results. He said that when Henry A. Kissinger's most recent volume of memoirs was pirated, Kissinger wrote personally to Pakistani President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq and asked him to help.
Zia reportedly ordered an investigation, which led to a prominent publisher and vice president of Pakistan's publishers association, whose operation was subsequently shut by authorities.
In India, according to publishers, there have been few such break-throughs.