Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Can I Quote You on That?

I am wary of summing up pending German court cases - one reason why I'm steering a wide berth around the whole Suhrkamp bankruptcy/ownership/management thing. But here's one I now think I understand.

The newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is suing the online book retailer over their use of FAZ reviews on their website. The argument being - I believe - that this constitutes commercial use and they therefore ought to pay the newspaper. A number of critics found this rather disturbing, not least because they rarely see a penny from other commercial re-use of their work. Publishers, meanwhile, were up in arms.

What would this mean for book covers, if all of a sudden they weren't allowed to use quotes from newspaper reviews? Surely no paperback blurb is complete without several lines of critical praise? And what about publishers' websites? Would they have to delete those long lists of reviews attached to each of their books' pages? The German book trade association advised its members to take them down until the case comes to court.

Now the FAZ has clarified that it didn't mean publishers, silly, according to the trade mag Börsenblatt. Apparently it's fine for them to use quotes of up to 25 consecutive words without even asking first. Isn't that kind of them? So if you do it to sell books, it's OK, but if you do it to sell books, it's not OK.

What I find more disruptive for my own work, although I do understand why it's happening, is that German newspapers are increasingly putting their reviews behind paywalls. I do a job for the German literary translators' association that consists of tracking down online reviews of translations, feature articles about translators and our work, press and radio reports on literary translation, etc. and compiling a list of links once a month. And whereas all the major papers still put news online for free, the accessible reviews are becoming few and far between. So while I do use short quotes from press reviews, they're rarely from the FAZ anyway because they and the Süddeutsche Zeitung are the worst of the paywallers. It seems that news and click-bait comes for free but arts coverage is something we have to pay for directly. Ah well. I only hope the critics are making a living out of it.

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