particular many Syrian publishers have been forced to leave their
home country and operate from other countries such as Lebanon,
Jordan and the UAE.
• If possible, consider acquiring rights in titles from Arab
publishers if they would fit your list – this is a region with a long
cultural heritage which deserves to be better known.
For Arab publishers seeking to work with foreign publishers
• Be aware that for many years foreign publishers were nervous
of operating in the region because of fears of piracy. Convince
them that you are an efficient and reliable partner, and business
• Thus far, the trade in rights has been largely from foreign
languages into Arabic, with titles ranging from children’s
storybooks, adult fiction (popular and literary) through to
academic titles. For foreign publishers new to the region, help
them to understand the realities of your market – fragmented
geographically with distribution challenges, relatively modest print
runs and low prices, and some sensitivities over content.
• Don’t feel that it must always be a one-way trade – if you find
compatible foreign publishers, they may consider buying rights
from you. Be selective and identify titles which you feel may
have real international potential; consider producing promotional
material in English which will be accessible to publishers in a
range of countries. Also consider translating some sample material
from key titles into English.
• If offering rights to foreign publishers, it will be equally
important to understand their markets – potential print runs and
prices may be higher, and they may wish additional subsidiary
rights included in the licence, as well as ebook rights.
• In 2011, the UAE Publishers Association published a handbook,
Buying and Selling Rights in Literary Works: A Practical Guide for
Publishers in the United Arab Emirates. There are separate versions
in Arabic and in English, with guidance on rights negotiations and
model licence contracts.
The active licensing of rights to and from the Arab World
has been expanding in recent years. The annual Sharjah
and Abu Dhabi Book Fairs have both sought to encourage
legitimate copyright licensing arrangements in a region which
was long associated with piracy and absence from membership
of the international copyright conventions. Both fairs now offer
financial assistance in the form of subsidy schemes - Sharjah offers
help with the costs of translation, while the Abu Dhabi scheme
subsidises the cost of fees to the licensor. This is however an area
where licensing arrangements are relatively new, so it is worth
bearing in mind a few key points.
For foreign publishers offering rights to publishers in
• Remember this is not a single Arabic language market; it
consists of many diverse countries. A book licensed to a publisher
in one country is not guaranteed distribution to all other countries
in the region.
• For this reason, print runs of licensed editions may seem small
– perhaps 1,000-2,000 copies, with prices lower than those in the
West. Ask potential licensees how they can reach markets other
than their home country.
• Do suggest licence terms which take into account local market
circumstances – western publishers and agents are sometimes
perceived as requiring unrealistically high terms.
• Be aware of cultural considerations – there may be elements
in western titles which would not be acceptable in the region,
or at least in some countries in the region. These might range
from a pig character in an illustrated children’s book, overtly
sexual themes or unacceptable political views. Don’t offer
content which could be offensive to local publishers and their
• Be aware that publishers in parts of the region are operating
under extremely difficult political circumstances – life for many
has been disrupted since the Arab Spring began in Egypt, and in
LYnette OWen is a copyright and
rights consultant based in london. she is
the author of Selling Rights (routledge) and
Buying and Selling Rights in Literary Works:
A Practical Guide for Publishers in the UAE.
dos and don’ts for CopYriGhT
liCensinG in the arab world