Mystery of the Year [OT]

Cidu Bill on Jul 11th 2017

How did a story of mine, published in 1980, come to be included along with stories by Edgar Allan Poe and Guy de Maupassant in a German-language audiobook anthology released in 2002?

Answer: Because they didn’t have to pay any of us royalties. 

Ein Moment, mein Herr! They didn’t have to pay Edgar and Guy royalties because they’re long dead and their stories are out of copyright — but why didn’t they have to pay you royalties?

Answer: They used the “don’t bother asking for permission, figuring it will take him fifteen years to notice” loophole.

Now consider: they had to pay a translator.  They had to pay a reader, not to mention the cost of producing an audiobook. They couldn’t have given me a couple of bucks? Or Euros, or whatever the Germans were using in 2002?

What’s funny is that to the best of my knowledge (and of course that is now suspect), this is the only story of mine that’s ever been translated into a foreign language, first in the 1990s (in a French anthology, with permission), and subsequently in German in 2002 — and it’s the least logical story to be translated, because it’s firmly anchored in New York City c.1980.

This might not be completely coincidental, though, because I have a feeling they Germans lifted it from the French anthology — meaning the story has been translated from French to English to German and is probably an unholy mess.

And no, before anybody suggests it, I can think of no possible way IBB could have signed over reprint rights to the Germans.

Filed in Bill Bickel | 20 responses so far

20 Responses to “Mystery of the Year [OT]”

  1. Anker S. Jul 11th 2017 at 05:13 pm 1

    I had a look at the German copyright laws. It seems your case is waterproof, but don’t immediately try to bring it to court in Germany. First you must admonish the perpetrator, that he must at once stop selling, distributing or using your copyrighted work. Thus he is given the opportunity to settle the case (and agree on a suitable payment) with you.
    Before you do that the best thing is to contact a German lawyer specialising in copyright infringements. Best is if the lawyer is practising in the same area as hte publishing company.
    The lawyers fee is regulated by law to a rather low percentage of the amount in question. For an advisatory consultation the fee is mostly between 192 and 400 Euros, which will be refunded to you should the case go to court. If you settle out of court the costs are offen shared by the two parties dependent on the achieved agreement.

  2. Cidu Bill Jul 11th 2017 at 05:22 pm 2

    I don’t think the company that produced the audiobook even exists anymore. And the monetary damages would be minuscule.

    I’ve actually had my work blatantly plagiarized more times than you’d think. This one, though, is kind of cool.

  3. Cidu Bill Jul 11th 2017 at 05:32 pm 3

    Okay, getting goofier… the women narrating the story (crime fiction) is a legitimate actress, who was one of the leads in a German television crime drama which I’ve actually heard of.

    Man, they certainly could have tossed me a few bucks.

    And, you know, done this all legally in the first place.

  4. narmitaj Jul 11th 2017 at 07:19 pm 4

    One of my short stories was apparently transcribed into and published in braille for “The National Library of the Blind”, though I was not asked permission and have not seen the resulting item.

    Another story was translated into French for an sf magazine, Galaxies (no 31 in the old series, in 2003). They did seek permission, and sent me a cheque for 500FF (about £50) which I never presented to a bank as I figured the various charges would make it largely worthless.

    More recently I did some writing for a German publisher (written in English but for translation into and original publication in German, strangely enough). They did it all by the book, paying me half in advance etc as agreed and keeping me up to date with foreign rights sales. Their attention to legal detail extended to the author photo of myself that I took (using a timer and a tripod)… I had to sign a couple of forms, if I remember right, one asserting I (the author) had the permission of the photographer (me) to send it in, and another as the photographer, granting rights to them to use it in publicity etc.

    Oddly, though, when I got my first draft of the work in on the contracted deadline day and made some comment about wanting to make sure I hit that deadline, they said “oh, don’t worry too much about deadlines, we are not Americans!” I would have thought keenness on meeting deadlines was some sort of stereotypical German trait, but there you go.

  5. Arthur Jul 11th 2017 at 07:55 pm 5

    One of my short stories was apparently transcribed into and published in braille for “The National Library of the Blind”, though I was not asked permission

    It’s my understanding that they don’t need your permission.
    For instance, see https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr16/issue1/f160106.html

  6. James Pollock Jul 11th 2017 at 10:12 pm 6

    If this was a multinational publisher, by which I mean specifically one which reaches the US as a market, you can sue them here (although presenting the judgment for collection against assets held overseas is… a challenge.)

    As for translation into Braille, you can find the list of rights you can sue to protect if you have a registered copyright at 17 USC 106, and you can find the carve-out for translation into Braille at 17 USC 121.

  7. Winter Wallaby Jul 12th 2017 at 01:29 am 7

    I was once contacted by a French magazine and asked to write an article for them on a particular topic. I told them I knew enough about the topic to write the article, but stressed that I didn’t know any French. The person who had contacted me reassured me that it was fine, people at his magazine spoke English, and they would translate the article into French.

    After the article was done, they didn’t pay me. The original guy who contacted me was nowhere to be found, and every time I tried to call or e-mail someone at the company to get paid, I was told (in French), “Sorry, we speak French here, we don’t know what you’re saying. What is this ‘payment’ you speak of?” My wife, who has studied French, called them, and the woman at the magazine spoke French very rapidly, and said that she couldn’t understand my wife.

    After several months of this, I wrote them an e-mail saying that I was contacting a lawyer, after which I would be seeking the original payment plus reimbursement of legal fees. The same woman who hadn’t known English before wrote me back an e-mail (in English) within a day, apologizing for the “mix-up,” and they paid me later that week. But if had called my bluff, I would have just given up; I wasn’t going to go through all the work of suing a foreign company.

  8. Kilby Jul 12th 2017 at 06:18 am 8

    I don’t know what the original title of Bill’s story was, but the translated title is “Jemand müsste” (”Someone had to”), and the CD is still available here from Amazon-DE.

    I think Bill would have an easy time getting a little satisfaction from the publisher (maybe not a lot of money, but at least a sincere apology): the publisher “DHV” still exists, and now belongs to Random House. In addition, there’s the “HR2″ on the CD’s cover: that means that German public media was involved (in this case “Hessischer Rundfunk”), and they are fairly well-known for following the rules.

  9. Kilby Jul 12th 2017 at 07:10 am 9

    P.S. I think it’s unlikely, but is it possible that the French company sold their rights to the Germans?

  10. VoodooChicken Jul 12th 2017 at 10:41 am 10

    Now write THIS story about following the story

  11. DemetriosX Jul 12th 2017 at 02:47 pm 11

    I’m kinda curious how Bill found out about this. Spot it in a store while you were here? Or maybe Kilby found it?

    In any case, considering that a) the publisher is a Random House subsidiary, and b) one of the state networks has their name on the thing (not sure what Kanal 4 is), I think you could get somewhere with as little as a stern letter.

  12. Cidu Bill Jul 12th 2017 at 04:19 pm 12

    DemetriosX, I stumbled across it on Amazon.de, and I really can’t re-create the steps that led me there.

    Spotting it when I was in Germany would have been the coolest thing ever.

    The reality is, we’re not talking about any significant money: when they translated this into French, I think I got $20 — and this being pre-Amazon/eBay, it ended up costing me about $30 to get hold of a copy (I recently bought another copy for my cousin, for something like $7).

    And Kilby, the French company only bought the right to include it in an anthology, not to pass it along to others.

    Though you guys have given me a lead: the story was originally in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and they’re the ones who made the deal with the French publisher, later notifying me and sending me half the payment (which was both contractually correct and certainly fair). It might not be a terrible idea to write to the magazine’s “Subsidiary Rights” department and dump this on them: it’s certainly in their interests to make sure stories in their magazine, for which they own a share of the reprint rights, aren’t illegally used by other people. Not that a share of the rights to a 37-year-old Bill Bickel story is significant, but there’s a principle involved.

  13. Cidu Bill Jul 12th 2017 at 04:24 pm 13

    Oh, and Kilby, the story’s original title was “Someone Oughta” — so when I saw the story title on the listing for the German CD, I thought that unlikely as it was that my story had been lifted for a German audiobook collection, coincidence was even more unlikely.

  14. Boise Ed Jul 12th 2017 at 05:04 pm 14

    Not only a principle, but (I would imagine) some curiosity, as well.

  15. Cidu Bill Jul 12th 2017 at 05:08 pm 15

    I’m not sure whether many businesses will expend time and effort for the sake of curiosity.

  16. Meryl A Jul 18th 2017 at 02:30 am 16

    Robert, some years ago, contacted an embroidery magazine I subscribe to and offered to write an article on miniature punch needle embroidery. They said that they do not publish articles without a matching project. So he went and designed a Jacobean style flower in punchneedle for them. They then said, oh, we had an article on miniature punch needle about 10 years ago, but we like the design so can you write an article otherwise related to the design.

    So, I was contracted with to write an article on the differences between Jacobean work (which is a style of design) and crewelwork (which is the type of thread - a specific yarn called crewel yarn).

    When it came time to publish the article and project they barely allowed the explanation of the difference and cut out all the photos which I had to show the difference - so that only crewel work in the Jacobean style was shown, none of the other “see this is also crewelwork although not Jacobean design” or “see this is also Jacobean design, although not done in crewel yarn” were cut out. I managed to argue enough that they added back one photo of Jacobean work done with silk thread.

    Also to make the entire piece more confusing to the reader, it was put into an issue on miniature needleworks due to his punch needle project.

    Not sure if they have the right to republish it free, but we each got to keep the copyright to our piece so I can use it again at some point with better photos if the opportunity presents itself.

    And this is the only article I have had published that I have been paid for.

  17. Kilby Jul 19th 2017 at 07:12 am 17

    @ Bill (15) - The story just got a little more interesting. I just noticed that there’s a misspelling (”Bill Blicker“) in the names that Amazon-DE provides as search links, but the it is correct in the product description. I missed that entirely when I first read the page; see the link @8.

  18. Cidu Bill Jul 20th 2017 at 02:14 am 18

    Yes, I saw listings in two different places, one for “Bickel” and one for “Blicker,” which only heightened the mystery.

    But since the German title of the story was certainly consistent with the original title, and apparently “Bill Blicker” had never written anything else in either English or German, I decided there was a 97% chance this was my story.

    At least they spelled my name correctly on the CD, though of course the reader pronounced it wrong. Which, you know, wouldn’t have happened if somebody had contacted me and asked.

  19. Kilby Jul 20th 2017 at 04:47 am 19

    @ Bill (18) - I’m curious enough that I’ve added the CD to my shopping list. After I listen to it, I’ll forward it to you.

  20. larK Jul 20th 2017 at 03:36 pm 20

    So wait, do you not pronounce it “BIK-ill” or “BIK-l”? Or else, how did the German guy pronounce it?

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