back to article Strict copyright laws do not always benefit authors

A stricter, more author-friendly copyright regime does not guarantee higher pay for authors, according to a new study which surveyed the earnings of 25,000 writers. In fact, it found that copyright law could exacerbate risk for authors. Writers in Germany earned less than those in the UK, despite the fact the country's …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't see any explanation here of why "copyright law may exacerbate risk"

    The only thing I can think of is "moral rights", which I have heard exist in mainland Europe and are inalienable, i.e. non-transferable. That means that it can be, in effect, impossible for an author to sell his or her work in a definitive, irrevocable fashion: there's always the possibility that the author might come back later and object to the way the work is being used and the purchaser will be ordered by a court to stop distributing the work. Obviously that discourages purchasers, and although it's expressed as an additional "right", it is actually a restriction on authors as they are prevented from doing something that would be able to do in the UK or the USA.

  2. Gavin Jamie

    Shome mishtake shurely

    "The bottom 10 per cent in the UK earn just eight per cent of the money paid, but they earn 12 per cent in Germany."

    So the bottom 10% get 12% of the cash in Germany (or 2% more than if every author got the same).

    The top 10% get 41%.

    The middle 80% must get more than the bottom and less than the top so at least 96%

    A grand total of 149%

    With accountants like that no wonder they have trouble making money.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Language debate: Deutsch vs. English

    This article is completely flawed! How can one possibly make a comparison between authors earnings between countries with a different native tongue. Those authors who publish in English have a potential market of up to one billion, whereas those who publish in German have a market of less than 15% of this!

    Of course, I have made the assumption that German authors are more likely to publish in German. Then you have the issue of translated works. And then there's the differences in living costs, making the comparision of £xyz vs £abc impossible - one should of course take into account the higher lower living costs of the two countries.....

    Source wikipedia:

    Total English speakers:

    First language: 309 – 380 million

    Second language: 199 – 600 million

    Total German speakers:

    Native speakers: ~ 100 million

    Non-native speakers: 28 million

  4. Chris Miller

    English v German

    If you write fiction in English, your potential marketplace is 400 million with English as a first language and well over a billion if you include second languages. I can't remember the last time I saw a book on sale in Britain that was translated from German, but I guarantee that every German bookshop will have translated copies of the latest Harry Potter.

    I'm not claiming this is either good or bad, it's just the way things are - but I don't see how they've made any allowance for these fundamental differences in this survey.

  5. Chris

    Moral rights?

    Moral rights aren't just for mainland Europe, they're part of the Berne Convention and so apply to the UK as well - you'll have seen so at the start of a book where the assertion in on the imprint page. While some parts of Europe seem to not allow you to abrogate your moral rights (which is fair enough if it's seen as a natural right that you can't choose to give up, and would be unfair to allow that) authors can always sign up to promise-not-to-sue agreements, so in effect it's much the same.

    As for the other comments, I agree totally. As presented, it's a useless study.

  6. Charlie Stross

    A writer's viewpoint

    Not to put it too bluntly, these conclusions do not follow from the (reported) survey findings, because they're not comparing like with like: the British and German book markets differ in other respects than simply copyright law.

    English language rights are traditionally sold in two tranches -- North American rights (US and Canada) and UK and Commonwealth (excluding Canada). On a population basis alone, the UK and Commonwealth sector has a comparable number of native speakers of English to German speakers (in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland). When you throw in a proportion of British authors who (like me) also sell to the US/Canada market, it should be unsurprising that the revenue stream is fatter. It's hard for non-English speaking authors to gain a toe-hold in the English language market because most English language editors aren't multilingual and won't read submissions in foreign languages (much less pony up the not inconsiderable cost of translating a book). Basically, network externalities are on the side of the English speakers.

  7. Malcolm

    Come on!

    So UK authors earn over 60% of all UK earnings, do they? Come on! ("the top 10 per cent of authors earn 60 per cent of all the money earned in the UK"). This is really shoddy work, surely the author, or Ed, could have engaged their brain before letting this one through? If they had read the original report, which took me all of 2 minutes, it seems quite clear that the top 10% of authors earn over 50% of all _authors_ earnings, not of the grand sum of all earnings in the UK! They are making a point about the inequality of earnings within the profession. The entire creative industry as a whole only makes up 7-8% of UK GDP (from the original source:, how could that possibly translate into such a massive percentage of total earnings?

    I know that Potter lady makes a bob or two, but this is just so obviously not right that it makes me wonder about the copy/paste standard of some of these articles.

  8. peter Silver badge

    German novel publshed in English

    Patrick Süskind's /Perfume/ was written in German and is available in English. Good book, too.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Shome mishtake shurely

    "So the bottom 10% get 12% of the cash in Germany (or 2% more than if every author got the same)."

    Hmm, really I don't know where the bit in the brackets comes from, so I hope you don't mind if I ignore it...

    "The top 10% get 41%.

    The middle 80% must get ..."

    stop there, and rewind... it's pretty easy to work out what the middle 80% get...


    Don't know what you were trying to say, but can I have some of what you're smoking ;)

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shome mishtake shurely

    Wait, I shuddenly see what you did there, you read the sentence as meaning the 10% of total authors who had the lowest earnings, not the total earnings of authors whose earnings where in the lowest 10% per cent...

  11. Dillon Pyron

    Exclusive rights

    In the mid 70s, Ben Bova's rag paid me more for exclusive rights. I still own the copyright, but I can't publish the sucker anywhere for money. I've thought about putting it on my website as a free e-book. A small e-book (it was a short story. Originally long enough to be a novella, but he didn't want to publish one by an unknown).

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    English has a bigger market, but that doesn't automatically mean more money for sellers

    because there are more people trying to sell as well as more people buying.

    In fact, the number of new novels required by the English market is probably roughly the same as the number of new novels required by the German market, while there are more people writing novels in English than in German, so, in a free market, one might expect English authors to be paid less - though that analysis would be just as oversimplistic as the one that says "bigger market => more money for authors".

    By the way, though I have read some good German novels, both in translation and in the original, I find there is relatively little good fiction in German considering how the German-speaking world has produced such a high proportion of the world's greatest music, science and philosophy.

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