In an unprecedented incident, Bangladesh Copyright Office granted the copyright of 260 "Masud Rana" books to its ghostwriter Sheikh Abdul Hakim on Sunday.
This gives him claim over royalties earned from reprint editions of the series.
That the wildly popular espionage-thriller series has been ghost-written for over four decades is popular lore -- most avid readers of the spy agent know that beyond the first few books, the original author Kazi Anwar Hossain was not the one writing the books.
Many readers say they could even tell just by reading which books was written by Kazi Anwar and which were not. The first two books Dhongsho-Pahar and Bharotnatyam released in 1966, for example, are the author's own work, and to date, the most beloved of the series.
Since then the series has continued by taking "inspiration" from internationally popular spy novels. They were ghostwritten, allowing the publisher Sheba Prokashoni, to churn out several each year. For the last three years, there were four books per year -- in 2016, there were 6, while 7 books were released in 2015.
"We have given the copyright to the ghostwriter Sheikh Abdul Hakim because beyond receiving a lump sum for writing the first book, he never received any royalty for any of the reprinting. There were no contracts at any point stating that Hakim would not hold copyright, or that Hakim is being given a one-time payment for writing the books," said Jafor Raza Chowdhury, registrar of the Bangladesh copyright office.
In addition to the copyright of 260 Masud Rana books, the office also gave Hakim the copyright of 50 books of the Kuasha series. Before this verdict he held the copyright of one Masud Rana book titled "Jaal" and six books of the Kuasha series.
"The complaint was first filed in 2010 but it had gone nowhere, so Hakim filed a fresh complaint on July 29 last year," Jafor said. Hakim had stopped working for Sheba in 2008.
Ekushey Padak winning author Bulbul Chowdhury, noted translator Shawkat Hossain, Masud Rana's cover illustrator Hashem Khan and former sales manager of Sheba Prokashoni Israil Hossain khan gave witness statements.
"We wanted to know what the relationship between the two [authors] -- we found that the relationship can be best described as writer and publisher and for 39 years they have been working together. Hakim was neither an employee or staffer nor did he have a freelance contract," said the registrar.
"September 11 was the first hearing. There were three hearings where Hakim and Anowar's lawyers came face to face," he added.
He said that Hakim can seek compensation to the copyright board. "Most Masud Rana books have had 6 editions but he only got a lump sum for the first edition and got no royalty from reprints. He used to get Tk 800 per part [of the series] in the beginning, and Tk 4000tk per part towards the end," said the registrar.
Besides being the ghostwriter of Masud Rana, Hakim is a well published author and writer of regular thriller novels in Prothom Alo's Eid special editions.