The Galaktika Situation

by Cat Rambo, President of SFWA

 is currently Hungary’s only printed magazine of local and of translated SF. Its fiction is edited by Attila Németh; its editor-in-chief is István Burger who, together with his wife Ms. Mund, own Metropolis Media, a book publisher issuing multiple SF books per year.

The magazine sells approximately 1,000 copies a month and is financed by Metropolis Media. Galaktika is useful to Metropolis Media as a brand name whereby to publicise the company’s book output.

Within the past year, in large part due to independent investigations within Hungary by Bence Pintér, SFWA became aware that for at least a decade Galaktika had been translating stories by a large number of foreign authors that Galaktika had taken from the internet—on the pretext that all these stories were therefore in public domain, contrary to copyright law. The authors of those stories were never asked, nor sent copies, nor paid anything. It appears that the translators were paid; otherwise foreign stories wouldn’t have continued to appear in Hungarian.

As initial protests arrived, Mr Németh promised to rectify the matter by contacting pirated authors, mailing them copies, and paying them at the “usual” rate ($20-30) for stories translated into Hungarian.  Meanwhile, various literary agents were already on the job regarding stories by their clients, asking for higher claims for payment.  As the situation became more public, Mr Németh handed the matter over to his employer István Burger for a public statement.

Mr. Burger claimed the following in July of 2016:

A few months ago Galaktika magazine found itself in a very unpleasent situation because of an unfortunate verbal agreement.

So far we did not say anything as we thought that the artifically created waves will calm sooner or later. However some literary agencies – because of a newspaper article – believe that the publisher of Galaktika has intentionally stolen intellectual rights for years.

As the owner of the publisher house I decided to step into the spotlight and tell the truth, how and what happened exactly, how it became possible that Galaktika seemingly abused the intellectual property of others.

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.

Mr. Burger’s statement, unfortunately, seems to be at odds with what Griefcom knows of the situation, and fails to identify the “leader of one of the most respected literary agencies” that he claims gave him blanket permission to not notify or pay dozens of authors.

SFWA has refrained from comment so far due to hopes that Galaktika would resolve outstanding issues, but so far this has not been the case. It has taken the Hungarian agency representing one leading U.S. agency months to arrive at an agreement with Galaktika calling for a per-story fee of $75 covering 37 stories by 16 authors; this agreement was finally signed by István Burger on 7th September 2016, and apparently the money is on the way to the Hungarian Agency.  Meanwhile, the same agency is still working on finding a satisfactory arrangement with other clients whose authors are involved, although no other agreement is in the works yet (as of mid-September 2016). Some clients of the Hungarian Agency reportedly are inclined to give Galaktika a post-publication license; others want to review legal options that their own clients can undertake; others are working with other U.S. agents to explore a possible collective response.

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. Authors should check to determine whether or not their works have been published by Galaktika on the magazine’s website at SFWA recommends that members work with their agents and publishers to address the issue before passing it to Griefcom. At the moment SFWA has three active grievances against Galaktika (plus a fourth which the Grievance Committee cannot act upon since the author has not supplied necessary information).

SFWA is saddened by the need for this statement, given Galaktika’s once good reputation.  Back in its glory days between 1972 and 1995, the former incarnation of Galaktika at its peak sold 94,000 high-quality copies in a country of 10 million people, compared with 120,000 copies of Analog in a United States with twenty times as many inhabitants.


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