Heinrich Riethmuller, chairman of the Borsenverein, the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, used the opportunity of the Frankfurt Book Fair opening ceremony to make a direct plea to German chancellor Angela Merkel to “stop the bargain sale of authors rights”, saying the introduction of a controversial new law - the Copyright Knowledge Society Act (Urheberrechts-Wissensgesellschafts-Gesetz) - "endangers the very existence of publishing houses and booksellers".
Riethmuller was speaking at the opening ceremony of the Frankfurt Book Fair on Tuesday evening (10th October), at which both French president Emmanuel Macron and chancellor Merkel gave speeches. The Copyright Knowledge Society Act, due to come into force in Germany in March 2018, will bring in new regulations on the use of copyrighted material in education and science.
The French and German leaders spoke first, paying tribute to literature and the unifying and enriching role it plays on the world stage, as well as to the relationship between their countries. Macron thanked the Frankfurt Book Fair for its choice in making France Guest of Honour at this year's 69th book fair, saying the gesture welcomed all users of the Francophone language.
He advocated that young people should speak at least two European languages, bringing in Russian, arguing, we “shouldn’t be afraid of cultures that are adjacent to us”. “Europe has been brought up in this multilingualism which has made our culture strong,” he said, before paying tribute to the work of translators of whom he added “no software can ever replace” and to whom “we owe so much”.
Macron also discussed the “intimate relationship” between France and Germany, each bringing out the best in the other, using the example, “Who ever understood Baudelaire better than Walter Benjamin?"
Merkel, taking the podium, said she was “grateful” Macron had reintroduced bilingual schools in Germany as one of his first measures, in turn promising the German government would “spread the French language in Germany as well we can."
“Books open doors into lives and experiences we would never experience without the book,” she said. “It invites us to start dreaming, it broadens our horizons and helps us to understand cultures, also our own, and to see what we have in common and where the differences lie. We need the spiritual creative impulses of literature in all areas of our lives.”
She continued: “The book needs certain basic conditions: politically speaking, for example, fixed book prices, reduced VAT for e-books, maintaining book shops - that’s why we present a book shop award every year - and of course protecting copyright which is fought for very fiercely.”
But Reithmuller raised a point of contention in his speech, telling Merkel: "We must remind ourselves our industry is based on a highly unique commodity - books. The books we peddle are the pillars of democracy and freedom ... But our industry needs a secure framework to maintain our mandate and make an effective contribution to the success of our society. This is especially the case in an industry comprised almost entirely of small companies - there are no big returns to be found here. Instead this is a sector where people, publishers and booksellers, work with great passion for their craft and yet for large parts this seems no longer to be of any of any importance.
"The magic formula used by man as a justification for increasingly drastic cuts to the rights of copyright holders, authors and publishers is the notion of 'free access'. It remains unclear as to who it is who is ultimately supposed to be investing in the writing of literature and science works. A publishing industry financed by the private sector acts as a guarantor of independence, diversity and innovation. If publishers receive market appropriate remuneration are they able to invest in new innovative ways of publishing literature and distributing and reading books."
"The Copyright Knowledge Society Act as whisked through by the government of the last period was a step in the wrong direction," he continued in a personal appeal to Merkel. "This law threatens the opportunities of science authors to publish their works and endangers the very existence of publishing houses and booksellers."
The German chancellor responded: “Copyright in the digital world is in a very difficult position at the moment and I would like to express here that those who create literature and culture have to receive an adequate price because this shows our appreciation for the work which many others are not able to do. I’m deeply convinced of this.
"I want to ask you to join me in fighting for reconciliation between digital and respect for cultural values ... Over previous legislative periods we have not passed any law at all - which means we are eroding the right of those who should be granted a copyright ... I will try to find a European solution, but, I will need your support in doing so.”
Other speakers at the opening ceremony included Juergen Boos, director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Volker Bouffier, minister-president of Hesse, and Peter Feldmann, mayor of the City of Frankfurt am Main.