So, if you haven’t heard about the recent (for certain values of recent) issues with the Hungarian SF magazine Galaktika, here are some links to fill you in:
In summary, Galaktika is a Hungarian SF magazine, and is, moreover, a revival of a highly respected older publication. And it turns out, they’ve been publishing translations of a lot of English-language science fiction stories. Stories they yoinked off the web, translated into Hungarian, and published without asking the authors for permission, let alone paying them.
I gather some authors who have discovered this have been hesitant to make noise about it, because if Galaktika folded, Hungary wouldn’t have any other prominent venue for short sf. I’m going to be straight with you, though–for various reasons, some of which would be impolitic to detail here in public, I have come to the conclusion that while this sort of thing seems reasonable on the surface (if a big magazine went down, that would be bad for writers!), when you look closely you start to see how skeevy it is (therefore writers should be willing to make Sacrifices to keep this magazine (or book publisher, I’m biting my tongue) going! If you really value the field and writers you won’t demand to be paid or treated with any kind of respect or courtesy YOUR WRITING CAREER IS ON THE LINE so do what we tell you and don’t complain or else).
And the sheer volume of stories Galaktika has stolen–yes, stolen–has become more and more apparent. And it so happens that SFWA’s Griefcom got involved,
and they were unable to make much headway, it seems,* and felt compelled to make that public statement linked above.
It just so happens that one of the stories Galaktika stole was mine. No, they did not ask, and no, they did not pay.
Now, the story of mine they took was a tiny flash piece. Not huge, to me, in the scheme of things. But you know what ticks me off more?
Their really inadequate excuses for these thefts. Editor in chief István Burger is quoted in the SFWA statement as saying:
When I decided to revive Galaktika more than 10 years ago, I went to the leader of one of the most respected literary agencies, to ask for his advice how to get permissions for the stories we plan to publish in the magazine in the future. I had no experience at all in this respect.
Our conversation had a very friendly atmosphere, the leader of the agency was happy that such an aknowledged magazine was revived. Finally we had a verbal agreement, that – as we plan to have a serious book publishing activity as well – we can consider short stories in Galaktika sort of an advertisement in which authors are introduced to Hungarian readers, so that we could publish their novels afterwards. The money we would pay for the rights for the novels contains the price of short stories. So agencies don’t have to deal with rights of short stories for $10 which is as much work as to get the rights of a $1000 novel. During this conversation it became obvious that agencies don’t want to deal with $10-20 so I didn’t want to bother the others with similar requests. Of course in case of longer stories and novels we made contracts.
I hope that it is obvious now that there were no intentional stealing at all, as we made an agreement in time for the use of stories. Now I regret that it was only a verbal agreement, but at that time we both acknowledged it.
Yeah, the fact that the verbal “agreement” wasn’t on paper means nothing. There can have been no agreement that mattered if the rights-holders of the stories concerned weren’t involved. Having a tape-recording of the conversation notarized by God Herself would change nothing. (I’m willing to believe the conversation actually happened, by the way, and that if so Mr Burger’s description of it is spun hard enough that the anonymous literary agent might only barely recognize it.)
Let me be absolutely clear about this: this excuse is utter bullshit. If Mr Burger actually believes this, he has no business trying to run a magazine.
Look, the thing about Galaktika publishing books too is completely irrelevant. My books are published in Hungary, translated into Hungarian–by Gabo, not the publisher that owns Galaktika. No story of mine in Galaktika was ever going to be an advertisement for a translation of my books. If I’d wanted an advertisement I would have bought an ad.
And I’ve been asked several times–sometimes personally, sometimes through my agent–for permission to translate short stories. Sometimes specifically in order to promote the translated editions of my novels! My agent is not too busy to deal with such things, and neither am I. And besides, let’s say I and/or my agent didn’t want to deal with such a small transaction? Well, tough cookies. That doesn’t mean you just get to take what you want anyway.
As for the claim that Galaktika was somehow an advertisement for the authors being stolen from–well, that’s suspiciously like the claim that “exposure” is a valuable commodity that writers should be more than happy to get in lieu of actual money. Sadly, one cannot eat exposure, or pay rent with it. And while any author is of course within their rights to allow a magazine to publish their work without payment, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with any given writer choosing to do that with any given story, the key words there are writer and choosing. Editors can’t just print anything they want without paying or asking permission because the author will get exposure and besides the magazine can’t really afford to pay.
(Here’s an extra-credit question: If the magazine can’t afford to pay writers even a token amount for a story, how in the world do you know it has any readers to speak of, to provide that oh-so-invaluable exposure?)
So, the TLDR of this is this bit from the SFWA statement: “SFWA formally recommends that authors, editors, translators, and other publishing professionals avoid working with Galaktika until the magazine has demonstrated that existing issues have been addressed and that there will be no recurrence.” The folks running it have demonstrated what is either bad faith or astounding ignorance. And writers are not obliged to put up with theft and mistreatment in exchange for dubious exposure, or because somehow the magazine or publisher involved is crucial to the field. How crucial is it if they’re not paying you? Seriously. That’s some abusive shit right there.
Aspiring writers, remember–people die of exposure. Exposure is not payment. If your work is good enough to be published, it’s good enough to be paid for. And nobody needs publishers who demand the rights to your work without pay while justifying it as somehow good for you. Nobody.
*In comments at the annleckie.com blog, John Johnston III, chairman of SFWA’s Griefcom, objects to my characterizing the situation as SFWA being able to make no headway. “Actually Griefcom has made and almost certainly will continue to make a great deal of “headway” on the Galaktika situation, and that blog post was a part of the process.” Well, he should know, because he is, as I’ve said, chairman of the excellent Griefcom. I knew that going public with a situation is something Griefcom generally avoids, and only resorts to when it absolutely must, and I oversimplified that as “making no headway.” I apologize to the good folks on Griefcom for my mischaracterization. They do a lot of excellent work for writers.