German Flip-Flopping on Translator Compensation Angers Everyone

In German Buch News by Edward Nawotka

By Siobhan O’Leary

A recent ruling by Germany’s Federal Court of Justice has both German translators and publishers up in arms regarding translator compensation.

The Bundesgerichtshof has ruled that German translators are now entitled to claim 20% of the net income earned by the author of the original language edition for any ancillary rights sold, including German paperback and audiobook rights.

This reverses the October 2009 decision that granted translators half of the publisher’s net proceeds for licenses sold to third parties (i.e. following remuneration of other rights holders, including the author of the original language edition).

Given that the split for subsidiary rights is more often than not 60/40 in favor of the author, this arrangement could put a significantly bigger dent in some publishers’ pockets.

Buchreport notes that publishers that do not have their own paperback imprints — Munich-based Hanser Verlag, for example — would be hit especially hard by the ruling, as they would have to hand over a larger share of their revenue to translators.

In fact, Hanser is planning to appeal the decision if it does not change, fearing that retroactive payments to translators would cripple many publishers. Hanser alone could face translator claims in the seven-figure range.

This new ruling does not alter the other guidelines set by the court in October 2009. As we reported earlier, translators will continue to receive a guaranteed fee — an advance of sorts, usually calculated per page — and when a title sells more than 5,000 copies, the translator will also be entitled to 0.8% net receipts for hardcover books sold and 0.4% for paperbacks sold.

Translators are equally as unhappy with the decision. Following the ruling, the Verband der deutschsprachigen Literaturübersetzer (VdÜ) [Association of German-Language Translators] released a statement saying that this change does not really address the bigger issue of overall translator compensation. Publishers and translators still need to sit down at the negotiating table and reach an agreement in light of the legal framework set forth by the federal court, noted VdÜ Chairman Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel.

Source: Buchreport January 20 and February 2.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.