Are the authors so rich that they can give away their money?

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Next Saturday, the members of the Verwertungsgesellschaft Wort will meet in Munich’s Hofbraukeller. It’s about repaying the money that, according to the Federal Court of Justice, was wrongly distributed to publishers. The management of the VG Wort wants the authors to waive the money in favor of the publishers.

Around 179.000 authors received a check from the Verwertungsgesellschaft Wort (VG Wort) this year. The average amount should be between 500 and 1.000 euros, some receive less, some more. The amount of the distribution depends on how much the individual authors have published, in what form, and where.

The money is compensation for so-called private copying, which is regulated in copyright law in sections 53 and 54: anyone who copies, scans, stores or prints texts "for private use" pays a tiny fraction to the Verwertungsgesellschaft Wort for these uses. The society distributes the money once a year to the authors and publishers who are entitled to use it, according to an elaborate distribution plan.

However, users do not pay the levy for private copying directly – it is already included in the purchase price for computers, scanners, copiers, printers, memory sticks, smartphones, tablets, etc. contain. 6.25 euros of the retail price of a smartphone currently goes to the collecting societies. In 2015, such device levies accounted for around 90 percent of VG Wort’s income.

If the authors throw away their money already on Saturday?

1.000 euros is a lot of money for most authors. A thousand-euro check – measured against the average income of freelance authors – is equivalent to one 13. Monthly salary. Publishers such as Liz Mohn or Friede Springer would have a hard time making ends meet. But for freelance authors, an increase in their income from royalties – with fees often falling at the same time – is a boon.

Since Martin Vogel’s announcement on 21. April 2016 judgment of the Federal Court of Justice, authors have the prospect of a substantial increase in their subsistence level. The value of the annual VG Wort check could double.

Could! Because the authors only achieve an increase if they are more interested in their own interests. At the moment they are more likely to give the money they could get from VG Wort to the publishers. The VG-Wort leadership prepares such a "donation" just now. If the 179.000 authors are not careful, the money they are entitled to according to the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) is already gone again the next Saturday.

Two very complicated applications

In April, the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) ruled that only authors are entitled to the money paid out by the VG Wort to authors and publishers, because only authors contribute their own rights to the collecting society. Publishers who have wrongly received authors’ money in the past now have to pay it back, but…. and now comes the big BUT of this story… almost all of them fight tooth and nail against the authors getting the money they are entitled to quickly. (So they behave similar to the highly indebted Ireland, which generously refuses to pay back taxes to Apple.)

The VG-Wort officials have specially drawn up two highly complicated motions with which they want to prevent the authors from quickly and comprehensively reclaiming the money this coming Saturday. The grand coalitions in Berlin and Brussels are also working to undermine the relevant rulings of the Federal Court of Justice and the European Court of Justice through hastily drafted laws, and even the trade union officials, who are supposed to represent the interests of authors one hundred percent, want their members to forego part of their income for the benefit of the publishers. They hope that the publishers will make concessions to the authors in terms of copyright contract law.

Blanket powers of attorney for majority protection

For weeks now, people have been beating the drum within the trade unions for a decision to be taken at the decisive general meeting of the VG Wort on 10 October. September everything remains as wrong as it was: that the publishers continue to rake in the authors’ money and that, if possible, everything is prevented or delayed that could give the authors an immediate improvement in their material situation. Nationwide, union members are "informed" about what the VG Wort leadership has to say on the subject at so-called information events.

In non-binding resolutions, the concern is occasionally expressed that the donation to the publishers (= assignment of claims) prepared by the VG-Wort leadership is not entirely in conformity with the union, but concrete counter-motions that would prevent such a donation are preferred not to be decided upon. You leave the matter to the in-house lawyers. If you are a member of the VG Wort as a trade unionist and want to participate in the 10. September cannot travel to Munich at his own expense, may send his vote by blank proxy to the federal administration of the union. This will then ensure that the blank power of attorney gets into the right hands.

What game are the unions playing??

Apparently there is a legitimate concern that some authors in Munich might actually stand up and represent their interests independently. It would certainly not be easy then to convince such authors that a 500-euro check (combined with the vague prospect of improvements in copyright contract law) is better than a thousand-euro check.

They will therefore try to obstruct these "troublemakers" with all kinds of procedural finesse, they will invoke the concrete statutes to block any change in the sense of the authors. People will paint horror scenarios for the authors if they – against all reason – 1.find 000 euros in their account more useful than 500. They say that is selfish, short-sighted and dangerous. The device manufacturers, they’ll scoff, would sled with weak authors without strong publishers at the negotiating table. And publishers would collapse tomorrow without VG-Wort funds, just as the entire economy collapsed after the introduction of the minimum wage. The establishment of a solidarity fund of the publishers, with which the large publishers could help the small ones (without touching the money of the authors), will be rejected by the publishers’ representatives and declared to be an absurd idea.

As expected, this will all play out in Munich in one way or another. But what really bothers me after 43 years of membership in the German Journalists Union (DJU) is the question why the authors’ unions are playing this game. What do they get? Why do they not represent the material interests of their members – in the VG Wort and With the copyright? That would be their task. This is what they were founded for. And this is what union members pay dues for. They don’t pay their dues to have their rights horse-traded or to have decisions made to their detriment sold as reasonable and defensible.

Usual payment period: 30 days

The VG-Wort leadership not only wants to give publishers an extremely long time to repay the money they have wrongly received, it also wants to exempt rich press publishers from repayment. And it wants to provide sample forms that authors can use to voluntarily waive repayment of money. Publishers will present these "assignment forms" to their authors, and I would like to see the authors who then – left to their own devices – courageously confess to their publishers: Sorry, I’m young, I need the money.

It’s not part of VG Wort’s job to talk authors out of legitimate royalty claims or set up waiver forms. If things were above board, it would be the task of VG Wort to acknowledge past errors and to reclaim the money transferred to the publishers with reservations within the usual payment deadlines.

This approach would be the VG Wort the 179.000 authors guilty. Instead, it sides with the publishers and does everything in its power to make repayment to authors as difficult and protracted as possible. The legal supervisor of the VG Wort, the German Patent Office, is silent about it. The opposition parties remain silent. Tactics of the unions. And the authors? Are they really so rich that they can just give their money away?

This is a crosspost from wolfangmichal.en courtesy of.

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Wolfgang Michal is a journalist. His favorite topics: Developments, crises, upheavals and changes.

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