Why Reprobel and Martin Vogel matter to picture agencies

23 April 2016

As a consequence of the November 2015 decision of the European Court of Justice in the copyright Reprobel case, the German Supreme Court has ended a decade of practice in Germany allowing for a 50% split between publishers and rights holders.

Because practices are similar, the VG-Wort v. Martin Vogel decision of the German Supreme Court affects German picture agencies as well.

A short article in English on the VG Wort v. Martin Vogel Supreme Court decision to be found here.

As noted by the authors: “This landmark decision may have substantial ramifications for the operation of collecting societies. Any distribution to entities which have no entitlement of their own right under copyright, but rely on assigned or transferred rights and claims, may be affected. The argument not only applies to VG Wort and literary works, but in principle to any work protected by copyright and the distribution of the respective royalties. Film and record producers, however, different from publishers under German copyright are granted a neighboring right in their own right for which they too are entitled to receive copyright royalties.


  • VG Wort published a dry statement aknowledging the Supreme Court’s decision. Intensive lobbying will be necessary, both in Germany and at EU level, to establish a “neighbouring right” for publishers, allowing them to participate in the distribution of the collected fees.
  • Julia Reda, member of the European Parliament, author of the Reda report proposing to overhaul copyright protection in Europe and suppress in in a number of areas, welcomes a decision which will simplify the distribution of rights
  • The Börsenverein, representing German book publishers, reacted promptly, forecasting a chain of bankrupcies from smaller book publishers dependant on these monies.
  • VG Bildkunst, collecting society for visual art in Germany, takes the point that “picture agencies are as much concerned by the decision as publishers”. Therefore Bildkunst has decided to stall all distribution of fees to picture agencies. A special FAQ section on the consequences of the VG Wort – Martin Vogel decision has been opened here on their website.
  • German Pricture Agency BVPA’s reaction has been published here

Consequences outside Germany

  • National Courts within the EU rely on the decision of the European Court of Justice as defining the European legal framework. As such the Reprobel decision, although it primarily addresses a point of the Belgian law, is applicable all though the EU or may be referred to in legal battles. What has happened to picture agencies in Germany may happen in other countries as well.
  • Publishers will push at EU level for the instauration of a neighbouring right special to them. This is why the participation in the EU public consultation on the role of publishes in the value chain and in the panorama exception is important.