Unless you’re an author in Germany, you may never have heard of the ominous VGWort royalties collection agency. And unless you had to interact with them, you may not be aware of their shady, or at least highly questionable, business model. As a published author, I’ve had a pretty bad experience with VGWort lately, since they flatly refused to include my Python Book (Das Python Praxisbuch) in the list of books that are entitled to some royalties.

What is VGWort

VGWort is a royalties collection agency that is theoretically working on behalf of authors. Their job is to collect money from institutions like public or university libraries and to redistribute it to authors of published books, as an indemnification for unlicensed photocopies etc.

Whatever we may think of Copyright in general, this is the way it is. VGWort collects some money from libraries into a big pool, and redistributes a flat amount of that money to every author of a book that is registered with them… and keeps the rest of it to finance its own overhead. What authors get is not a big amount by any stretch: it could be anything between 50 and 250 Euro per book, as a one-time payment.

Why didn’t VGWort pay for the Python Book?

Normally, as part of the publishing process, publishers in Germany automatically register new books with VGWort on behalf of their authors. Or, at least, they should. This is what happened with my Perl Book 1st Edition in 1997: I was really surprised to get a check back then from an agency I never heard of before.

For some unknown reason, the publisher of my Python Book, the German branch of Addison-Wesley / Pearson in Munich, failed to send the registration data of this book in 2008 to VGWort on my behalf. I waited patiently quite some time, and finally asked A-W in 2011 why I didn’t hear anything from VGWort, and if VGWort was still out there at all.

It came out that Addison-Wesley didn’t register the book at all with VGWort on my behalf: they only bulk-registered all their new books to get their own 30% part of the royalties (sic!). They’ve hinted at a new page on their website, informing their authors that they had to register their books with VGWort themselves if they wanted to get VGWort royalties. Of course, I wasn’t aware of this back then, because that was not Addison-Wesley’s modus operandi I was used to, and because I don’t think that they’ve mentioned it in the contract. Whatever, I was never informed beforehand that this was necessary.

Anyway, I was now supposed to create an account with VGWort’s online registration system T.O.M. and register my Python Book retroactively.

Creating an account with T.O.M. went smoothly: in fact, the system even remembered me as returning author, which was quite nice. Registering the Python Book proved impossible though, “because it was too late.” This is the reply I’ve got from one of their employees, a certain Nora Münster:

ungültiges Erscheinungsjahr

Sehr geehrter Herr Hajji,

Ihre Meldung kann in der kommenden Ausschüttung nicht berücksichtigt
werden, da nach unseren Richtlinien nur noch Beiträge in
Fachzeitschriften und Fachbüchern ab dem Erscheinungsjahr 2010 und
ganze Bücher ab dem Jahr 2009 meldefähig sind.

Bitte vergessen Sie nicht, bei jeder Antwort oder Nachfrage die
Originalmeldung als pdf-Datei anzuhängen oder Ihre Karteinummer
mitanzugeben, die Bearbeitung ist sonst nicht möglich.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen
Ihre Abt. Wissenschaft
i.A. Nora Münster

Which means:

Invalid year of publication

Dear Mr. Hajji,

your registration for the upcoming distribution was rejected,
because our statutes permit only the registration of Entries
in journals and books starting 2010, and of whole books
starting 2009.

If you have any question or reply, please don’t forget to
attach the original registration as PDF file or to mention
your author-ID; otherwise, no processing would be possible.

Friendly Greetings,
your Science Department
Nora Münster

In other words, they’re hiding behind some bureaucratic drivel to deprive an author of his royalties. Isn’t that lovely? I wish I had invented a similar business model to live off the back of hard working measly paid authors. On second thought, no, scratch the last sentence: I wouldn’t have wanted to act as unethically as this greedy bureaucratic bunch back there at VGWort.

No resolution in sight

Of course, I’ve sent Nora Münster’s reply back to my publisher Addison-Wesley / Pearson in Munich, and I’m still waiting for them to come up with a creative solution that would limit my losses. After all, they’re in my opinion morally responsible for this cock-up, and ought to do something about it. It’s not like I’m asking a fortune: remember that we’re talking about a measly 50 to 250 Euro range here, for a book with a retail price of 59 Euros!

Writing a high quality book is a hard and long undertaking. Getting “robbed” of royalties by this ominous bureaucratic monster VGWort, and having a publisher feeling sorry, but still washing its hands and failing to undo the damage up to this day is just the right motivation to keep writing and feeding the beast, isn’t it? To top it all, it’s not the little money that I’m after, it’s a little appreciation for the hard work I’ve put into this book and it’s about fairness and justice; both of which are missing in this case, IMHO. Like every author, I consider my books children, and like every parent, I hate it when my child gets a blatantly unjust treatment.

So next time you hear someone talk about royalties collection agencies acting on behalf of artists, authors and creators, remember that not everything that glitters is gold, and not everything that sounds good is actually good. There’s something deeply rotten going on here, and I wouldn’t wonder if I was not the only author with such a bad VGWort experience.

2 Comments

  1. ernst

    Hi,

    maybe you should write letter to or an article on tp or heise.de. Might be interesting to see, if some publicity could change bureaucratic procedures. AddisonWesley probably has dozens of lawyers, but they may not be interested to sue, because of the costs, which might be much higher than the value of such an VGWort cheque.

     
  2. Thank you for the suggestion, Ernst.

    Well, I certainly could blow the whistle a little bit louder. But, frankly, why bother? It won’t change VGWort’s despicable behavior at all.

    Of course, if someone would relay this to other sites so that authors are forewarned, I won’t stop him or her. ;-)