Is an actor's voice protected by copyright

At first glance, this is an almost absurd argument between a lone warrior and a Hollywood corporation. But it could become important for the entire film and television industry. And that's not just because Off doesn't actually go into the field all alone.

The Interest Association of Dubbing Actors (IVS), an association with almost 300 members, gives him backing, for example, taking on the defense and legal costs - so far, according to Off, around 20,000 euros. Marcus Off is the first voice actor to justify his lawsuit with paragraph 32 of copyright law, the so-called "fairness paragraph". It was introduced with the 2002 copyright reform. It is about "fair remuneration". Paragraph 32 enables an author to assert a subsequent claim against his contractual partner if there should be a "noticeable disparity" between the agreed consideration and the income from the use of the work.

In January, the translator of a non-fiction book reached the Federal Court of Justice in such a way that the publisher concerned had to combine its fee with sales-related remuneration in order to guarantee an appropriate share in the success of the book. A judgment with an impact on the publishing scene. Does the film industry now also have to adjust to a model judgment and countless additional demands from voice actors?

Marcus Off, who comes from Ɯberlingen on Lake Constance, in any case deduces from the law that his contribution to the million-dollar Pirates of the Caribbean was by no means adequately remunerated. But are dubbing actors at all authors? For Disney, the case is clear. In the response to the lawsuit in September 2008, the film company stated that voice actors like Off should not be treated differently from news or radio speakers. It went on to say at the time: "In a certain way, voice actors even make a smaller creative contribution, since they simply imitate the voice and language of an actor who has already performed the text as part of a dramaturgical work."

In this context, it is perhaps good to know that Off only dubbed the first part of the blockbuster series after Disney disagreed with the interpretation of the booked Depp speaker David Nathan. Off stood in for Nathan. So the task doesn't seem to have been that easy. But did this mean that Marcus Off managed to create his own creative act? No one from Disney wants to comment on request. Even copyright experts find it difficult to give a straight answer.

Ingo Jung, attorney for commercial legal protection in a Cologne law firm, has dealt with copyright issues in the dubbing industry. He says: "As a rule, the performance of the voice actors has no work character." However, if the voice actor puts his stamp on the figure he has dubbed, he creates his own recognition value in a creative act, which is based on his artistic achievement. Then a work that is relevant to copyright and worthy of protection can be assumed. According to the judgment of June 29, 2011, the judge at the Berlin Court of Appeal saw himself "in a position without expert help" to assess this complicated situation.

The members of the Senate, which is constantly concerned with copyright issues, as can be seen from the written justification, belonged to the audience interested in the disputed as well as other films. In other words: The judges at the Supreme Court are apparently film buffs, more than that: curse of the Caribbean fans. In the reasoning for the judgment they stated without doubt: "He (Marcus Off) could no longer make his own contribution to the original acting performance of Johnny Depp, since the films have already been completed when they were dubbed." It almost sounds like they played along themselves.