Sun, Jun. 20, 2004

Publish or Perish

CK - Washington.   In a decision of significant impact on publishers as well as translators, and possibly authors, the Supreme Court's First Civil Senate interpreted the obligation of publishers' contracts with translators under the publishing and copyright acts, on June 17, 2004, in the matter of the Piper publishing house and translator Karin Krieger, docket number I ZR 136/01. A press release and Transblawg, in English, set out the pertinent facts and conclusions.

The decision means more protection for translators, but also authors, who sign contracts with publishers promising not only per-page compensation but also a share in the profits in the event of a commercial success. Once the book meets the threshold for commercial success, the publisher may not defeat the element of conditional compensation by replacing the translator with another translator. With respect to authors, the decision would limit the flexibility of publishers in replacing authors and contributors in similar situations.

While individual results will depend on statutory construction, the court interpreted the statute to mean that works produced on demand, unless expressly agreed otherwise, would create a obligation for a reasonable effort at publishing the work. With respect to reprints, however, the court did not find an obligation that would require a publisher to exhaust the commercial potential of a literary work by releasing reprints, especially if the publisher can return the copyright for reprints to the translator, which is the rule the Publishing Act (Verlagsgesetz) already applies to authors. The decision which should appear soon on the court site does not impair the right of publishers to terminate translation contracts for breach.

Transparent Vicar

CK - Washington.   News reports indicate that his drive for transparency caused friction between Berlin vicar Wehr and his archbishop. Possibly as a result, Generalvikar Wehr has been appointed to lead the German-speaking catholics in Washington, beginning in the fall of 2004. By the time he returns to Germany, he may have become also a master in corporate governance, if he is not already, and an even pricklier thorn in the bishop's side.

Addendum: Berlin diocesan press release.

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