Mavericks from Moscow take pages out of the West's books: Cowboy publishers are flouting copyright laws. Helen Womack reports from Moscow

'HOW ABOUT this for cheek?' asked a Western literary agent, producing the first page of a Russian pirated copy of the best-selling novel The Shining on which was printed bold as brass: 'Altruist Publishers apologise to Stephen King for the violation of his author's rights. If you have any queries, purely concerning the translation of this book, please call Oleg on Moscow 170-7231.'

The illegally produced version of The Shining is just one example of thousands of popular Western books that are being brought out in Russia by cowboy publishers without the slightest regard for copyright. The same thing is happening with films and music. Western arts industries are furious but realise there is little hope of persuading the Russian authorities to make pirating a criminal offence while the Yeltsin government is so occupied with its political and economic problems.

For a pirate, Oleg, 26, who prefers not to give his surname, is rather charming. He is a science-fiction fanatic who began his dubious career before the days of glasnost by producing samizdat (underground) versions of Western books for the Moscow Sci-Fi Club. In those days he was a student, not of languages as you might expect but of computer technology.

Now this shambolic figure with fuzzy hair and cracked spectacles earns his living entirely by giving the people what they want to read. He drives his mother mad by playing loud rock music in the living room of their little flat out on Moscow's Ryazansky Prospekt while he pounds away on his computer, translating, with the help of others, up to a book a week. At present he is busy with the second volume of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen Donaldson, who has been compared to Tolkien. The murder thriller The Red Dragon, by Thomas Harris, looks as if it might be Oleg's next target.

Oleg, who earns about 40,000 roubles ( pounds 35) a month, is not losing much sleep over the fact that millionaire Western authors are not getting their full royalties. 'As a patriot of my country, I think I am doing something useful,' he says. 'If we were not publishing, ordinary Russian people would never get to read these books.' Russians are tired of 'gulag' authors such as Solzhenitsyn, whose work was highly prized in the days when it was banned, and want something more racy, he adds.

This is how the shady publication operation works. Sometimes Oleg translates a whole book by himself but often two or three translators are involved, each taking a chunk after they have agreed the overall style. They work at speed and Oleg, who is so ashamed of his spoken English that he prefers to conduct the interview in Russian, admits that '60 per cent of the translation is probably lousy'. They then pass their work on to the publishers, usually personal contacts working 'on the side' in official publishing houses. Altogether about 20 cowboy publishing houses are working in Moscow.

Where do they get the paper from in these days of shortage? 'That's no problem at all if you have money,' Oleg says.

In the case of Stephen King's The Shining, a woman called Katya did the translation. Oleg's Altruist group brought out an initial edition of only 500 copies, each of which sold from stalls in Moscow underpasses last summer for 300 roubles, then worth nearly pounds 2, although now a mere 26 pence. Clearly Altruist did not make a fortune from that project. But then bigger Russian publishers re-issued the book in a large print run and much more money would have been made. 'They used our translation but didn't pay us a kopeck,' Oleg says, laughing as he realises he could hardly be outraged about this.

Sometimes Altruist works on a large scale itself. For example, it has just published 100,000 copies of Robert McCammon's Stinger. The profit on a book can be as much as 10 million roubles. However, the cowyboy publishers rarely co-operate, and often there is duplication of books coming on to the market.

The pirates are not opposed, in principle, to paying authors but fear this would push up the price of books to levels the Russian public could not bear and thus put them out of business. 'Basically, either we publish illegally or we don't publish at all,' Oleg says. The other problem is that they have no idea how to contact Western authors. 'It would be great to talk to Stephen King but how do you go about it?'

Russia's black-market publishers have not been greatly harassed by racketeers who terrorise other businessmen to get a cut of their profits. 'You see there's not that much money in books,' Oleg says with a grin. 'We are in it for love of the literature.'

(Photographs omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform