Court as "film critic"? No "fairness compensation" for German dubbing actor

Our readers may (or may not) know that many English-speaking blockbusters will be dubbed into other languages when shown in some non-English speaking countries. Die Sueddeutsche Zeitung now reports on a claim for additional compensation brought by German "dubbing actor" Marcus Orff, who lent his voice to Johnny Depp for the German language version of Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Berliner Kammergericht (case reference 24 U 2/10 of 29 June 2011) had to decide on Mr Orff’s claim for additional compensation based on §32a of the German Copyright Act (UrhG) which provides for a so-called “fairness compensation” in cases where there is a disproportion between the fee paid and the success of the work or creation. Bearing in mind the success of this particular movie franchise at the German box office, its related DVD releases and the TV licensing of the films Mr Orff took the view that his fee of roughly 18,000 Euros was not a fair consideration for his contribution: as the German voice of the lead actor he had made a decisive contribution and should be paid a supplemental fee of 180,000 Euros.

The Berlin court found that, while there could theoretically be cases where a fee received was disproportionate to the success of a film and where an artist could thus demand such a supplemental fee, this was not the case here. The court stressed that a dubbing artist, who lends his voice to a lead actor, has no claim for a supplemental fee as “fairness compensation” where the dubbing actor's actual contribution is of merely ancillary importance to the film. According to the court, this will apply where the film consists mostly of technical effects, has numerous supporting actors and where the lead actor appears only infrequently. Looking at the German version of the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Berlin court found that it mostly consisted of technical effects and had numerous extras and supporting actors with the actual contribution of the main actor -- and thus his German voice -- being comparatively small. Overall, the court held that Mr. Orff’s contribution to the films was not insubstantial but certainly covered by the fee already paid by the film production company.

Mr Orff (who is also the German voice of Ralph Fiennes, Sean Penn and Michael Sheen) has already announced that he will appeal against this decision, this in particular since he was already the second dubbing actor hired to dub Mr Depp after the initial dubbing actor’s efforts had been regarded as insufficient. Mr Orff feels that he has given the character his own personality.

This Kat can't help but adding that the court's assessment of the content of the film as consisting of mostly special effects (and rather little acting) might surprise some of the viewers. Meanwhile, Merpel read with interest that Mr Depp again has been given a new German voice for the 4th instalment of “Fluch der Karibik” which by the way translates into “Curse of the Caribbean”.
Court as "film critic"? No "fairness compensation" for German dubbing actor Court as "film critic"? No "fairness compensation" for German dubbing actor Reviewed by Birgit Clark on Monday, August 15, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. Unfortunately I don't read German and I know very little about that country´s copyright law.

    That being said, why does an actor have a claim under a copyright law? An actor is not an "author" of a movie but an interpreter.

  2. @Francisco: I think is this a claim under "performers" rights, isn;t it Birgit? Can someone please confirm that a dubbing actor is a performer? Too lazy to check the section myself.

  3. The name is Off, Marcus Off. I am sure he would be even more p..... if he knew that a German lawyer has blogged about him with a wrong name.

    Kind regards,

    George Brock-Nannestad

    (P.S. Carl Orff was a composer with rights)

  4. § 32a UrhG refers to authors only, but is applicable to performers via § 79 (2) (2) UrhG.

    In addition, performers may be considered authors if their creative contribution to the work is so great that it amounts to their own intellectual creation. Determining whether that is the case can of course be very difficult.

    I've only had a brief look at the judgment, but as far as I can see, the only issue in dispute was if the compensation received was adequate, not if the dubbing actor qualified as an author.

  5. Herr Off/Orff has little need to worry. So long as the Germans insist their foreign language films are dubbed rather than sub-titled he will always have plenty of work.

  6. Thanks Evilape and Monica. "interpreter" is the spanglish word for performer.

    Every day I thank God that I live in a country where foreign movies and tv shows are subtitled.


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