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.