sebastian on Tue, 25 Jun 2002 03:01:43 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> suhrkamp calls back walser.pdf, releases walser.php


     Dear Nettimers,

     the following might give you some ideas about how to react to buggy
     cease-and-desist letters sent out by internet-illiterate law firms.

     The software that has released under the GPL can reverse-
     engineer any given e-book and help you circumvent some restrictions
     that the concept of "intellectual property" poses to free speech.



Suhrkamp calls back walser.pdf, releases walser.php

Martin Walser's fame as a German national hero dates back to 1998, when
he was awarded the prestigious Peace Prize at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
In accepting the prize, Walser not only suggested that a "routine of
accusations" against Germans had developed, and declared that he felt in
himself "something that begins to resist the permanent presentation of
our shame", but also stated that Auschwitz had become "a routine threat,
a tool of intimidation that can be used any time, a moral stick or
merely a compulsory exercise", and critizied the "exploitation of our
disgrace for present purposes", an apparent reference to financial
claims by Jews who survived the Holocaust. Walser's speech was
applauded, and later defended, by almost the entire political and
cultural establishment in Germany.

In May 2002, just weeks after prominent members of the German Liberal
Party had denounced Israel's policies as "Nazi methods" and accused the
Central Council of Jews of formenting anti-semitism with their criticism
of such comparisons, Suhrkamp Verlag announced the release of Walser's
new novel "Death of a Critic". A few days before, the Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) had refused to publish it serially, and had
quoted some of the anti-semitic stereotypes that the book is dripping
with. The critic who falls victim to Walser's alter ego is obviously
modeled after Marcel Reich-Ranicki, former literary editor of the FAZ,
who is a survivor of Auschwitz, and whose entire family was killed
during the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. But Suhrkamp argued that the
German public had the right to judge for themselves, citing the
"tradition of enlightenment" that the publishing house felt obliged to.

So much for the background. On June 15, 2002, an unspecified person
named "" was served a cease-and-desist order by Luebbert
Briessmann Rauch, the lawyers of Suhrkamp Verlag, claiming he or she had
made available for download the PDF version of "Death of a Critic"
(scheduled for release on June 26), which Suhrkamp itself had started to
mail out for promotion two weeks before. (Ironically, the file they were
mistaking for Walser's novel was Bruce Sterling's "The Hacker Crackdown:
Law and Disorder at the Electronic Frontier") The charges and penalties
Luebbert Briessmann Rauch were trying to collect from the unspecified
person were: EUR 100,000 in case the non-existing PDF did not disappear
and he or she sent them some legalese within 5 hours, up to EUR 50,000
since (which is registered and hosted in the U.S.) was
violating the "Kennzeichnungsanforderungen" of the German "Teledienste=
gesetz" (sic!), and a legal fee of EUR 1,201.80 for the delivery of the
cease-and-desist order. Furthermore, they announced an unspecified
person named "" was going to be charged with a criminal
offense before the Munich District Court, claiming he or she had
referred to Mr. Walser as an "asshole" in a comment on a mailing list.
(Both their letter and the reply they received from New York are
documented at

The fact that "humanity won't be happy until the last copyright holder
is hung by the guts of the last patent lawyer" has already been stated
elsewhere. But until then, humanity may at least regularly be amused by
their blatant incompetence. So instead of spreading paranoia (like most
"internet experts" in Germany do since the weblog
was served a similar cease-and-desist order by the same law firm, just
for linking to another copy of the said PDF), has decided to
come up with something productive. Today, we are proud to announce the
release of walser.php (, a 10,000-
line php script that is able to generate the plain ascii version of
"Death of a Critic". The script can be redistributed and modified (and,
of course, linked to) under the terms of the GNU General Public License,
but may not be run without written permission by Suhrkamp Verlag. Of
course, reverse-engineering the writings of senile German revisionists
is not the core business of, so walser.php includes
makewalser.php, a utility that can produce an unlimited number of
similar (both free as in speech and free as in copy) php scripts for any
digital text.

On June 19, Suhrkamp has apparently withdrawn their charges against the
incriminated weblog, and the fact that they haven't replied to e-mail
so far (in fact they didn't even take a look at the 1x1 pixel gifs
included, and it's hard to imagine they're using mutt or pine) indicates
that they may have decided to stop wasting the time and bandwidth of as well. Even mainstream media that ran the story had to admit
that spamming journalists with e-books was probably not the best start
to a campaign against piracy. Still, there is one question that remains
wide open: When visiting, weren't their lawyers one click away
from the works of Adorno (also copyrighted by Suhrkamp, in fact one of
their best-selling authors, and also the one who explained how the
"tradition of enlightenment" leads directly to the gas chamber)? We have
two concurring explanations for this. One is that their lack of
competence is just way beyond our imagination. The other one would be:
They really don't care, as long as it's a Jewish critic.

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