Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Germany: Scavenge for thrown away recyclable bottles in Munich and get the book thrown at you

In the U.S., we value bottle and can scavengers so highly that we dedicate articles in the New York Times to their enterprising spirit. Germany is different.

Some German DAs seem to be underemployed due to a lack of homicides, or maybe they are frustrated because white collar crime is notoriously difficult to prosecute and, consequently, not good for their statistics?

The only other explanation for a recent court case in Munich would be some deeply troubling issues of a prosecutor. Which is impossible in the state of Bavaria, where only brilliant people get to go after criminals.

Discarding any futile musings about motives, let's simply describe how a couple in their mid-60s found themselves in court because they had fished 18 glass bottles out of a recycling container with the intent to monetize them because the disputed bottles had a deposit on them.

A resident overlooking a set of big, clunky glass bottle containers where Germans discard glass bottles that have no deposit on them observed the couple in the act of angling for bottles.

The socioeconomics of the situation are clear: the couple is not wealthy, but neither are the resident observers because ten feet by ten feet by ten metal containers that accept bottles are never placed close to richer homes.
The persons who discarded the bottles either did not know there was a deposit on them, unlikely in Germany, or did not care to take them back to the store to collect 9 cents per bottle.

According to the press, the residents called police upon seeing the nefarious activity. After the cops, a DA got involved and fined the couple, who then appealed.

At this point, the nominal value of the haul of about 1.50 dollars has caused the state to spend several hundred in prosecution costs and the couple several hundred for a lawyer (unlikely they are eligible for legal assistance, and German lawyers don't normally work pro bono).

Next came a court hearing (another few hundred right there), in which the judge showed remarkable restraint, saying that discarding the bottles voided any monetary value, and that residual value of the glass could not be determined.

The DA did not agree with letting the couple go - and appealed.

The appeals court rejected the DA's handiwork.

The blogster figured this rare case of judicial restraint deserves a write-up. After all, people do still go to jail in Germany over unpaid parking tickets worth 5 Euros.

The low parking ticket fines in Germany are an altogether different cultural phenomenon.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Germany is killing the free press - how Frankfurter Allgemeine produces fake news

Warning: Please note that you may be contributing to the demise of the free press by reading this post.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) enjoys a reputation as a somewhat sedate centrist daily paper. Its reporters and editors do get rather emotional when they feel capitalism is under threat - for example - when the government gives poor people a raise of 5 Euros a month, which is already eaten up by inflation before it takes effect.

The other is Russia, of course.

Now, in May 2017, we can add one new subject: dismantling German press freedom through an insidiously boring change of copyright law for scientific/academic publications.

According to FAZ, getting the German press freedom to crumble, is pretty straightforward.

1. Allow libraries to digitize books and let them give away up to 15% of every book for academic purposes "without reasonable compensation".
2. Allow these same libraries to give away individual articles from newspapers or magazines for educational/academic purposes without charging users.

See, there is nothing like a small change to copyright law to drive private business into ruin.

If you know Germany a little, you would have wondered about compensation, because Germany is not known for letting copyright owners go without compensation.

This is, after all, the country that brought us GEMA, the music industry copyright org known for its litigious ways.

Of course, they have a similar body for the print media, Verwertungsgesellschaft Wort VG Wort), equally relentless in its pursuit of cash. Now, VG Wort did suffer a setback last year when courts nixed its distribution model, which involved splitting royalties between authors and publishing houses.

Doom was narrowly averted when the VG came up with completely voluntary sharing of royalties. So, authors' contracts can now have a provision saying the author voluntarily gives 50% of the VG Wort royalties to the publisher.

Since it is well known that publishers and authors are equals, and no publisher would ever take advantage of or exploit writers, we can only applaud the expeditious use of voluntary agreements between peers.

Long story short: the FAZ writer circumvented the compensation question by saying "without reasonable compensation" and "without charging users".

Since he cannot possible ignore the law's provision of "adequate compensation", or "fair compensation" in the words of the justice minister himself, our FAZ gentleman takes the easy way out by calling it "a pittance".

Making the transition from implied absence of compensation to "a pittance" would certainly be worth a lot of money in terms of intellectual achievement as expressed through copyright.

To be sure, that's where he goes next. Lump sum payments ignore that the effort involved in the works in question is not the same, punishing high quality works, and thus leading to loss of quality and tabloid style academic writing.

Let's not forget, outrageous prices of academic works, magazines, and textbooks were the reason for the proposed changes. The FAZ gent acknowledges as much and then blames a few international powerhouses for that, saying that smaller German publishers' profits are "more modest", without providing numbers.

So, enjoy the imminent demise of Germany's free press!

For German speaking readers, we add two screenshots of the article in FAZ. Two, because they changed the lede quite significantly when the internet began to make fun of it.

This is the original version, with "Kaka", as per Twitter's @presroi:

This is the cleaned up one from later in the day: