Pearl-Diving Still Legal

In Germany, most of the articles in the Feuilleton (arts & culture) sections of major newspapers are not posted on the newspapers’ websites, for reasons I’ve never really understood.  This means if you want to read reviews of books and movies from major German newspapers online, you’re pretty much out of luck.

That’s why the website Perlentaucher (G) ("pearl-diver") is so useful — it collects and indexes short summaries of the major-paper book reviews, so you can get an idea what the papers are saying about various new books and films.  Call it a culture aggregator.  Perlentaucher then sells its abstracts to online book-sellers such as buecher.de.  Two major German newspapers sued Perlentaucher a few years ago, claiming that the website was appropriating their intellectual property without compensation.  Perlentaucher, for its part, claimed it had a right to quote and summarize already-printed material, and then do what it wished with the end result. 

Perlentaucher won about a year ago in the District Court of Frankfurt, and the newspapers appealed.  Now, early today, the higher court (the Frankfurt Regional Court) has also announced a verdict for Perlentaucher (G).  The newspapers are going to appeal, so the story is — ludicrously enough — not yet over.  Yet the interim judgment would seem to reassure bloggers that they can quote or summarize printed matter without fearing a lawsuit.

I heard an interview with DeutschlandRadio Kultur this morning with the editor of the feuilleton of the Frankfurter Rundschau.  Her newspaper’s actually grateful for the extra publicity Perlentaucher brings to its culture pages, so it’s not a part of the lawsuit.  She noted that most of the people who write for the Feuilleton are freelancers who maintain some rights to their work, so the legal situation’s a bit more complex.

However, the moderator asked her a good question: why don’t the newspapers and perlentaucher get together and simply arrange some sort of equitable agreement about the rights to use the abstracts?  Aren’t the newspapers behaving here like the music industry — desperately fighting a futile rear-guard action to stop a new medium, instead of thinking of innovative ways to profit from it?  The Rundschau woman was sympathetic to this argument, but noted that relations between the print and the internet camps are apparently so rocky now that there’s no chance of a settlement.  (You’d be amazed how much doesn’t get done in Germany because people in key positions decide they can’t stand each other, but that’s another story).

So the legal battle goes on.  But in the meantime, Perlentaucher will keep finding those pearls for us.  I wish them the best of luck in their continuing legal odyssey…

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