Friday, May 13, 2016

publishing hijinks in Germany

First, a fun one that the fantastic Tim Powers describes:
On Thu, 26 Feb 2004, timpowers1952 wrote:
>In German editions of my books, a weird thing happens -- where in my
>English-language text a scen will go something like:
>Joe hangs up the phone. "She's tied to the railways tracks! We have
>only minutes to save her! Go get the car!"
>-- in the German version it's:
>Joe hangs up the phone. "She's tied to the railway tracks! Wh ave
>only mintues to saver her!"
>Someone else: "Do we have time for soup?"
>Joe (anxiously): "What kind of soup?"
>The Someone Else: "Knorr's Soup. It's quick to prepare. We have all
>twelve tasty varieties."
>Joe: "Well -- okay."
>(They cook & eat the soup, remarking on how good it is.)
>Joe (looking at his watch): "Get the car!"
>In every book from this one publisher. I told Bill Gibson about it,
>and he found the same business in his German editions! I find this
>kind of charming; but I wish they'd let me write the dialogue, and
>choose where it's to show up. (Incidentally, it's not Knorr's soup in
>the books. I forget which brand it is.)
Apparently Pratchett and others had similar experiences - noted at the link above.
Although I described the example above as 'fun' it is only because Powers himself made light of it.  This next example of greed by German publishers really can't be giggled over.  When a media device is sold in Germany - a blank CD or perhaps an audio or video cassette, maybe even blank paper - it carries a surcharge that goes to authors or creators whose work you might end up copying.  Such money also went to the publishers.
The society that collects and distributes this money, Verwertungsgesellschaft Wort, has been remitting 30-50% of the royalty to publishers. Now, Germany's Supreme Court, the Bundesgerichtshof, has ruled that this was unlawful, and affirmed that the law requires 100% of the levy to be given to authors alone.
German publishers are claiming that this is their death-knell, without acknowledging the hardship they imposed on authors by misappropriating their funds. As Stefan Niggemeier points out, if publishers can't survive without these funds, that means the industry was only viable in the first place because it was stealing from writers.

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