Karin Krieger wins case against publisher at Federal Court of Justice

I ZR 136/01
LG München I – 7 O 15999/99 ./. OLG München – 6 U 3739/00

Robin Stocks at Carob reports very early on yesterday’s Federal Court of Justice judgment in favour of Karin Krieger.

He gives a translation of the Yahoo news report (in German). Krieger translated novels by Alessandro Baricco, a sort of watered-down mental pornography (I base this on one reading of Silk) that sells rather well and I believe is actually read (something one doubts about Lawrence Norfolk, whose Lemprière’s Dictionary appeared in a much-discussed German translation):

bq. After differences with Krieger, Piper Verlag announced in 1999 that it was withdrawing all works she had translated and having them retranslated prior to their reissue. This applied to three books published in German in the late 1990s – Silk, Castelli di Rabbia (Land aus Glas or Country of Glass in the German) and Novecento – plus two that had not yet been published: Ocean Sea and L’anima di Hegel e le Mucche des Wisconsin. Most of these were indeed subsequently republished in new translations.

I remember that one of these books appeared in a new translation but was advertised with the same quotes praising the German translation that had actually been made with reference to Krieger’s translation.The original point at issue was that there is a standard term in literary translators’ agreements that if a book sells really well, then from a certain point on the translator shares in the profits. If I remember rightly, Krieger did not even claim all the profits she was entitled to, but the publisher gave her none and set about removing her translation from the market. The real source of information (in German) is the German literary translators’ association, VdÜ. Here’s their pre-appeal summary, and they have other materials on their site:

bq. Die nun anstehende Verhandlung hat eine lange Vorgeschichte. Karin Krieger hat für den Piper-Verlag fünf Bücher von Alessandro Baricco übersetzt. Nachdem der 1997 erschienen Roman „Seide“ ein Bestseller wurde, forderte Karin Krieger unter Berufung auf den § 36 des alten Urheberrechtsgesetzes eine angemessene Erfolgsbeteiligung. In einer außergerichtlichen Einigung willigte der Verlag zwar zunächst in eine Nachzahlung in Höhe von 1 % des Nettoladenpreises ab 30.000 Exemplaren ein, griff aber dann zu einem – bislang – einzigartigen Mittel, um die finanziellen Folgen zu umgehen. Er kündigte an, alle fünf Baricco-Übersetzungen von Karin Krieger vom Markt zu nehmen und durch andere zu ersetzen. Bariccos Roman „Novecento“ erschien in identischer Aufmachung und mit derselben ISBN in einer anderen Übersetzung als der von Karin Krieger. Die Klage gegen diese Mißachtung der Urheberrechte der Übersetzerin war in zweiter Instanz vor dem Oberlandesgericht München erfolgreich, doch der Piper-Verlag ging in Revision.

bq. (When Silk became a bestseller, KK, relying on section 36 of the old Copyright Act (Urheberrechtsgesetz) claimed a reasonable share of the profits. There was an out-of-court settlement in which Piper first agreed to a supplementary payment of 1% of the net publication price from 30,000 copies on, but then used what till then was an unknown means of avoiding the financial consequences – Piper said it was going to remove all five of Krieger’s Baricco translations from the market and replace them by others. Baricco’s novel Novecento appeared in identical get-up and with the same ISBN in a different translation from Krieger’s. KK took legal action against this failure to observe her translator’s copyright and was successful in the second instance at the Munich Oberlandesgericht (Higher Regional Court of Appeal), but Piper appealed to the Federal Court of Justice).

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