Opera house is 'charged $9,000 to quote newspaper reviews'. Surely not…

Opera house is 'charged $9,000 to quote newspaper reviews'. Surely not…


norman lebrecht

February 08, 2012

We reported last week that lawyers for two major German newspapers had run amok, demanding heavy fines and costs from artists who quoted from favourable reviews on their websites. It’s the newspapers’ valuable copyright, you see.

Well, it has just got one degree worse. According to a comment on a German chat site, the Frankfurt Opera is facing demands of 7,000 Euros for blazoning quotes from reviews in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. I have sought clarification, but none has yet come through.

Perhaps Roland Gerschermann, the newpspaper executive behind these measures, might like to come clean on Slipped Disc.

At a time when newspaper sales are going through the floor, one can hardly think of a cleverer way of alienating core users and readers.

(Here’s one where the quotes have already been blanked out)


  • This can not be done. And if it’s done, can not be right.

  • AndrewF says:

    Surely it constitues fair use?

  • Emil Archambault says:

    I thought that if you did a “fair use”, and included a reference to the source, you could quote?

    Plus, they got free tickets to the premiere, so I wouldn’t pity them too much. Unless the newspapers are trying to fire their critic? So they alienate the opera house, which stops giving them press tickets, which is a reason to stop having a critic?

  • Financial difficulties at the newspaper? Need for a quick and dramatic return on their arts reporting?

  • In the states, Stanford University has an excellent overview of “Fair Use”:


  • Doug says:

    What they need to do is start charging high end soloists these fees. 7,000 € is a drop in the slush bucket of those overpriced pretty faces. How much do they get per gig? 40-50,000? From a purely business perspective, it’s worth they pay off. Nice racket they have going. Kind of reminds one of the m….

  • Fritz Curzon says:

    F*** **f ! You may quote me!

  • Carolyn B. says:

    Does the paper not realize that every time it is quoted with the usual attribution it is free advertising?
    Maybe, it should be turned around and the opera house and artists should charge the paper, except that leads to corruption, of course, as does this draconian charge . The website, opera house, or orchestra that does purchase the license to quote ,will be known to have bought it, and, therefore, its current authoritative reviews
    will be negated as paid for-and suspect.
    I suggest, the opera houses and websites just bypass the paper, and/or, it can simply paraphrase in the program notes if what it said is so unique and defining of an artist, or production. The websites provide worldwide advertising, and can file a class action lawsuit for fees for advertising. It works both ways. Thus, if an outlet which is not punitive is
    quoted on websites and the others are ignored, then, the one quoted will receive incalcuble promotion and advertising beyond their dreams and budget.The longer this continues the more important the critic and paper will become.

  • Simon says:

    Just a few additional remakrs on this – we are not talking about quotes of one or two phrases, but rather two or three paragraphs (i.e. often 50% or more of the entire review).

    German copyright law allows quotes under certain restrictions, especially the fair length of the quote. Roughly spoken, it’s OK to quote the amount of text necessary to illustrate your point, but not more. Thus, quoting one or two phrases making clear that the review is favourable would not be a problem. However, the Frankfurt Opera’s website quotes far more extensively, see http://oper-frankfurt.de/de/page20.cfm . This is why they are in conflict with German copyright law.

    I don’t want to judge here whether it is fair and appropriate, but this legal regulation should be a well known fact to any PR professional in Germany. So I can’t understand why a large public institution like the Frankfurt Opera commits such a beginner’s mistake.

  • I think the Frankfurt Opera should give FAZ a Hausverbot and grant large, exclusive interviews to competing papers.

    • Simon says:

      I don’t think this will work. German mainstream media usually act in concert when it’s about “someone else against the media” – not only in copyright issues. And btw, the most important competing paper, the SZ, is reported to have damanded fines from Frankfurt Opera as well.

      • We wouldn’t know until they try. The SZ obviously would march in lock step with FAZ, but how about the Frankfurter Neu Presse, or one of the local theater magazines? Maybe Die Zeit which is more progressive than FAZ . Or maybe TAZ-Berlin. In any case, the policy evokes utter contempt in the international community. If there is no remedy, it would demonstrate how fundamentally different German values can be from other Europeans.

        • Simon says:

          They won’t try because they need the press. German media, especially print, are very determined in pursuing their own interest and I don’t know anyone who successfully played them off against each other in such issues. Look at the current debate on Federal President Wulff: All the quality papers supporting a campaign of tabloid Bild.

          And no, you can’t base your PR-strategy on theater magazines and off-mainstream papers only.

          • That’s what I mean. This FAZ policy is new, provocative, and breaks entirely from international norms. It is also inconsistent with German norms. And yet the Opera “won’t try” to challenge authority even in an important principle. It doesn’t speak well for Germany.

            All the same, I’m not convinced by mere declarations that a paper like the Frankfurter Rundschau or some others wouldn’t break ranks, since it is FAZ that is acting in a provocative and one-side manner, not the Frankfurt Opera. The opera for example, could take a more moderate approach and *not* do the Hausverbot, but also not grant FAZ any interviews while giving them to the Rundschau. I think many journalists understand that papers depend on symbiotic relationships with cultural institutions, and that the behavior of FAZ is violating that fundamental principle. It also flies completely in the face of jouralistic traditions of public service.

          • GW says:

            This has absolutely nothing to do with reporting on the Wulff case. This is a business-side effort to create additional revenue streams, on the other side of the Chinese wall from the editorial side of the paper. I rather suspect that this is a case of the FAZ (and possibly VG Wort) testing the legal waters more than anything else In any case, the impact of the Internet on paper revenues is serious and the last decade in German media, including fee-supported public radio and television, has been all about increasing revenue. (As a good example of the latter, the CDU-near Intendant of one station has insisted that the using the back catalogue of the stations recordings has priority over making new recordings, regardless of quality or content, thus the orchestra has been reduced to having one, soon-to-be-retired Tonmeister, a first step towards no recordings or broadcasts at all, thus a possible first step in phasing out the station’s orchestra altogether.)

            William, major houses in Germany are more or less stuck with the FAZ as the only superregional paper which has not gutted its music reviewing. Die Zeit has never had a serious commitment to music, the Rundschau is a shadow of its former self in tabloid format with no obligation to review everything anymore, SZ is in serious financial trouble, and the locals, like the FNP, have no reputable critics on board. It’s the FAZ or nothing.

  • Yes, GW, you’re right in many ways. I understand the importance of FAZ and SZ, but my experience is that Germans can be pretty eclectic in their newspaper habits. When I lived in Munich, people often read the Abendzeitung cultural section as a variant to the SZ. It was less pompous, more to the point, and often a lot more fun and insightful. I also wonder how much importance Germans place on opera reviews. The public often defies the papers.

    Germans also have a particular (and very healthy) fondness for their local papers. And those little papers often have pretty good cultural reporting – at least compared to their American counterparts. I often read the Schwarzwalder Bote which really keeps abreast of major opera productions in Germany and beyond. Anyway, I hope Germany’s opera houses won’t cave into FAZ and SZ. It is a serious mistake to allow those papers that much exclusive power.

    And that’s not to mention that the FAZ and SZ cultural views are often bone-headed. Munich, for example, is sometimes so weird and insular it seems like a kind of musical Albania behind the Hops Wall. One often sees that same sensibility in the SZ, so it is unfortunate that it pretends to speak for the country.