German Publishers Whine Because They Must Pay To Authors Misappropriated Copyright Levies

from the no-wonder-authors-struggle-to-make-a-living dept

Techdirt has been writing for some years about the illogical mess that is the European copyright levy system -- effectively a tax on blank media that is supposed to compensate copyright holders for an alleged "loss" from copies made for personal use. Last November, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), Europe's highest court, issued an important judgment in this area. It said that Belgium's levies on multifunctional printer sales were incompatible with EU law because they failed to distinguish between private use and commercial use, and between legal and illegal copying. Along the way, the CJEU said that copyright levies must be paid to authors only, and not go to publishers.

As Boing Boing points out, the effects of that decision are now being felt in Germany. An organization set up in 1958, called Wort (literally "word" in German), receives a portion of the German copyright levies that are collected, which it has been sharing between both authors and publishers in roughly equal amounts. The CJEU's decision last November ruled that was illegal, and Germany's top court, the Bundesgerichtshof, has confirmed that position in a recent judgment (original in German). As a result, German publishers now find themselves obliged to pay their authors the copyright levies the industry received over the last few years -- more than €100 million according to the German site Übermedien.

That same article notes the cries of despair in the wake of this decision, as German publishers claim that they are doomed, and that the end is nigh for books in Germany, etc. etc. What's extraordinary is that there is no sense of regret that for years they have been depriving authors of considerable sums of money. That omission is made worse by the fact that publishers have been happy to use the difficulties that authors face in scraping together enough to live on as an excuse for demanding longer and stronger copyright. But as in the music and film industries, the problem is not that copyright is too weak or too short, but that many publishers -- like many recording companies and film studios -- have been only too happy to rip off authors while simultaneously claiming to have their best interests at heart.

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 2:01am

    To the surprise of absolutely no-one...

    The same money that was supposedly being collected 'for the authors' is now apparently causing much distress among the publishers now that they've been told that they actually have to give it to the authors it was being collected for.

    Why, if I didn't know better I'd almost think that the publishers had little to no interest in actually giving the authors their share, and instead simply used the levy as a source of free money, but I'm sure that could never be the case, and the consternation about having to give the authors their cut is just due to a temporary misunderstanding or mistake on the part of the publishers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 4:25am

    One does wonder how much money meant for the creators is just sucked up by these collection societies and never finds its way out of the coffers.

    With all of the technology, they sometimes can't find the people owed money (and make it a herculean effort for the creators to get it).

    Perhaps rather than blaming all of the external things - Google, Piracy, Mercury in Retrograde... perhaps it is time to look at how much money is actually being sucked up and how little flows out. To force them to fix their antiquated systems that would make Scrooges bookkeepers look high tech.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 17 May 2016 @ 4:44am

      Re:

      One does wonder how much money meant for the creators is just sucked up by these collection societies and never finds its way out of the coffers.

      In this case, we are talking about a German collection society. They'll take their percentages for "administration" and pass the rest on to "the artists". Of course, the fewer artists they "identify" and the higher the basic fees are, the less work do they have and the more power by funneling most of the money to a few "superstars" while making everybody else not even break even or worse.

      It's similar with grants: if you have a project costing $10K, don't even think of applying: the administration will hate to go to all that work and still have only a minuscule ratio disposed of. Ask for $10mil, and your chances are better. Administration loves doling out to a few superstars rather than lots of hoi polloi. They get power, influence, and less work.

      So yes: I expect that the collection societies collect the percentages they claim and pass the rest on to "the artists" modulo "administrative fees". It's just that they do a reverse Robin Hood, taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

      But I fully expect them, at least in Germany and by and large, to just grab what they declare to be grabbing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 4:37am

    While I am absolutely with the authors on this one ...

    ... I had my academic thesis printed for free - the publisher got the money from VG Wort's copyright fees. Saved me several hundred euros at the time.

    If publishers did indeed give more money to authors in the past, they will be in a tough spot now that suddenly they don't get reimbursed.

    For future contracts, it should not be a problem for publishers to adjust their conditions. Unless, of course, this makes authors realize just how much they pay for how little service they get from their publishers.

    Perhaps there lies the real problem the publishers have with the decision.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 5:44am

    You mean the money obtained via laws meant to benefit content creators has not been given to content creators?

    I'm shocked, I tell you. Shocked! I would never have seen this coming! Next you'll be telling me the money from HADOPI hasn't been paid to artists either!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      MadAsASnake (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 6:09am

      Re:

      When did HADOPI start bring IN any money?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 6:53am

        Re: Re:

        They did manage to convict and fine one person - the guy who was paying the ISP when his wife was caught. As far as I know the money from him hasn't been passed on to artists.

        The same could be said of New Zealand's version of HADOPI which, last I heard, has been disbanded.

        Which goes to show... something.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 5:59am

    These publishers are trying to sound serious but seriously. The end is nigh for publishing because they misappropriated copyright levies? I seriously doubt that. This sounds more like doom and gloom as these publishers try to scare everyone with doomsday scenarios, something that has proclaimed always by Democrats and Republicans in the United States.

    I seriously doubt that $100 million payback to these authors will harm the publishing industry in Germany considering that the payback will be divided between all of the publishing companies in Germany. LOLS

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 6:21am

    So jail the publisher execs until it's paid. Job done.

    Oh, wait, that would be rational.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 7:00am

    An organization set up in 1958, called Wort (literally "word" in German), receives a portion of the German copyright levies that are collected...

    How has Microsoft not sued them for trademark infringement yet? :P

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    techflaws (profile), 17 May 2016 @ 7:48am

    Actually, it's "VG Wort" = "Verwertungsgemeinschaft Wort" which means "collecting society". They collect the levies and distribute them unfairly (as expected).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 9:08am

    I don't see whatever commenting about how the authors were scammed out of the money they were legally entitled to because the law is the law. Why the sudden silence?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whatever (parody), 17 May 2016 @ 9:23am

    These publishers/lobbying groups worked hard to subvert the democratic process to get the laws that they want passed to protect those poor poor artists. They deserve that money. and now the artists want their money? If artists got paid what they're supposed to how are the these lobbying groups supposed to be able to afford to subvert the democratic process to buy politicians? How would they have any incentive to do so if there is less money in it? That money should rightfully go to the lobbying groups because they are the ones getting these laws passed to protect the artists. and they are the ones taking the corresponding bad rep protecting the artists from bad publicity. Otherwise the artists will lose out on much of their protection.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 3:56pm

    Google should be required to reimburse all affected German publishers for the money that's now being lost to the authors. On occasion, some money can go to the content creators, but that money shouldn't have to come from the people who publish their works. Since Google has money, there can be no valid reason for them to claim that they don't owe it to German corporations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 May 2016 @ 5:29pm

      Re:

      Because this is Google's fault how?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 18 May 2016 @ 5:09am

        Re: Re:

        They are clearly profiting from the author's existence.

        Copyright is a balanced approach: it tries to balance the interests of content creators with the interests of collection societies while making sure that there are no unaccountable benefits to outside parties like society.

        It's like running healthcare through consensus of leeches, vampires and tapeworms. While they are not really on the same page on several issues, they do agree about the dangers of exercise.

        I digress. How is that not Google's fault?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 19 May 2016 @ 2:30am

      Re:

      "Google should be required to reimburse all affected German publishers for the money that's now being lost to the authors."

      Specifically Google? No other company, no other search engine, none of the people actually pirating content, just Google? Why? Seems a strange demand, especially on an article about the fact that money has already been stolen from other places to give to the authors (I say stolen because a lot of the levy was on blank media not used for piracy).

      "On occasion, some money can go to the content creators, but that money shouldn't have to come from the people who publish their works."

      Why not? They've already been given the money they should be distributing. The article is about them keeping it for themselves, why should they not pay it as agreed?

      "Since Google has money, there can be no valid reason for them to claim that they don't owe it to German corporations."

      Oh, I see, "Google has money, give me some". Why hide your greed when you can just demand money from someone with more money? Why address your problems when you can just steal money from others?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2016 @ 3:30am

        Re: Re:

        Holy shit. That comment needed a /sarc tag to avoid being a work of Poe-etry?

        Item pairs follow, the 'a' item is my sarcastic remark, and the 'b' is the implied 'straight' remark.

        1a) 'money that's now being lost to the authors'
        1b) 'money stolen from authors is finally being repaid'

        2a) 'On occasion, some money can go to the content creators'
        2b) 'Middle men are useless, creators deserve all the money'

        3a) 'that money shouldn't have to come from [publishers]'
        3b) 'WTF!? Of course it should!' See 2b) above.

        4a) 'Google has money, [so they] owe it to German[s].'
        4b) It's a TD trope: 'Germans sue Google over everything'!

        Is it the parody Whatever that's throwing the dynamic off? Is Skeeter changing the line drawn between rant vs satire?

        I stopped commenting at the Guardian when others stopped being able to spot irony or sarcasm. Many couldn't sift the wheat from the troll, and almost as many seemed to be doing this as they became polarized zealots with hair-triggers and the need to vent so much spleen that sometimes they had to tap into their liver or pancreas to keep the geyser spouting.

        Then again, maybe my comment was in fact too close to an average comment made by a trollthoritarian. (Neologism alert! I claim all IP rights to... not be blamed for its existence.)

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 19 May 2016 @ 4:46pm

      Re:

      "Since Google has money, there can be no valid reason for them to claim that they don't owe it to German corporations."

      Whaa?

      Whether or not an entity has the money to pay is irrelevant to the question of whether or not they should be forced to pay.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 May 2016 @ 1:56pm

    German Publishers: we need to fight piracy because authors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 19 May 2016 @ 2:40pm

      Re:

      Well, authors are the worst enablers of illegitimate copying. Starve off the authors, and the copying problem solves itself.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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