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Germany's Jack Sparrow sues Disney in dubbing dust-up

Published: 09 Aug 2011 15:21 GMT+02:00

In what could be a watershed for Germany’s legion of dubbing artists, Marcus Off, 53, is demanding €180,000 for his voiceover performance – about 10 times what he was actually paid, the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Tuesday.

Off has been in a dispute over the issue with the German arm of Disney since 2008. His case is now about to reach the Federal Court where he will argue in effect that he is the part creator of the hugely successful films and therefore is entitled to a share of the massive profits.

“Doing voiceover is acting, plain and simple, even if you only hear the voice,” Off told the paper.

Off’s voice has featured in hundreds of foreign films dubbed into German for cinema and television. He is the German voice of such stars as Ralph Fiennes, Sean Penn and British actor Michael Sheen.

The actor did the German voice for Johnny Depp’s memorable character Captain Jack Sparrow in the first three instalments of the "Pirates" franchise, which have been seen by an estimated 19.5 million people in German cinemas.

Indeed the films have been a phenomenal success worldwide, grossing more than €2.1 billion. The second installment, "Dead Man’s Chest," is the fifth highest-grossing film ever, according to the website Box Office Mojo.

Off claims that his contribution has been important to the films' success in Germany.

He was paid a total of €9,306.14 for his performances in all three, plus a further €8,650 for dubbing the DVD bonus material and TV ads. These sums are well above the standard rate for voiceovers.

Disney has refused his demands and has used another voiceover artist for the fourth film, "On Stranger Tides," prompting an internet petition by Off’s fans in Germany.

The case will soon go to the Federal Court, though Off has already lost a case before a Berlin court in June, for which he had to pay legal costs.

The outcome could be a precedent for the sizeable dubbing industry. Unlike many European countries, Germany foreign films and television are dubbed into German rather than running in their original language.

The IVS dubbing artists association, which has nearly 300 members, is supporting Off in his claim and is paying his legal costs, up to €20,000, according to Off.

Off is basing his complaint on a paragraph of the 2002 copyright law, called the “fairness paragraph,” which deals with adequate compensation. The paragraph enables an author to press for an additional claim from the publisher of a work if there is a “demonstrable discrepancy” between the agreed payment to the author and the eventual earnings from the work.

The federal court ruled in January that a publisher needed to ensure the translator of a non-fiction book was adequately compensated based on the sales of the work.

Off argues that he has not been adequately compensated given the massive success of the "Pirates" films. The question, then, is whether a voiceover artist can be considered on par with an author.

Disney does not believe so. In its original response to Off’s complaint, it argued that voiceover actors should be considered no differently than news or radio announcers, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

“In some ways, voiceover speakers make even less of a creative contribution, because they simply imitate the voice and speech of an actor who has already given the text a dramaturgical value,” Disney argued.

However, Off was brought in for the first installment only after Disney had rejected the interpretation by another German Depp-dubber, David Nathan, suggesting the issue is not entirely straightforward.

The Local/djw

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

17:41 August 9, 2011 by catjones
The german government has impounded the pirate ship and parrot.
17:54 August 9, 2011 by frankiep
The 'Pirates' films have been successful in Germany (and worldwide) because of the story, the scenery/costumes, and Johnny Depp. Change any of those things and the series is no where near as successful. Marcus Off (who?) may have done the German dubbing of the films, but take him away and replace him with anyone else and notice the lack of anyone caring. For him to say that he has been an important part of the films success is quite a stretch IMO.
18:13 August 9, 2011 by storymann
frankiep, I totally agree,he was lucky to have a part. Who cares who Marcus Off is,he is a crybaby who agreed to the work and the price but now that it is a bigger hit than he perceived, he thinks he should get a bigger piece of the pie..sure. and I am sure he wouldn't have accepted less if the movie was a flop.
18:24 August 9, 2011 by marimay
You're just a voice over, get over yourself.
19:16 August 9, 2011 by Der Grenadier aus Aachen
Slow news day, huh?
19:40 August 9, 2011 by Gretl
We need a "like" button!

"Like" Catjones!
22:20 August 9, 2011 by LiberalGuy
It's usually the writers who get screwed over in films. Not the voice actors
02:13 August 10, 2011 by Bushdiver
The way I see it is if Off wasn't satisified with the amount offered to do the voice over then he could have declined the job. No one forced him to take the job. He took the offer, did the job, got paid and should now shut his mouth. He's not a star and the film would have done just as well with someone else doing the voice over.
07:09 August 10, 2011 by lordkorner
Sounds to me like the man is a bit "Off".I have nothing but contempt for dubbed movies and the fact that this guy does the voices of Sean Penn and Ralph Fiennes,two of the finest actors out there,but with two very different styles ,shows how pathetic this dubbing business is.
07:12 August 10, 2011 by Shirazz
One truth in life. No one is irreplaceable.

I'm a voice over-er. I'd do it for less than Marcus any day and would adhere to the contract. Do the best for the job, no fuss, no ego.
09:31 August 10, 2011 by blackisleboy
I´m afraid you are mistaken frankiep "take him away and replace him with anyone else and notice the lack of anyone caring.". German audiences did indeed notice that a different actor voiced Depp in the latest film and they didn´t think he was as good as the actor in the other films. Voice acting is especially important with characters like Jack Sparrow whose voice is so memorable and a poorer performance does affect your enjoyment of a film. I am not a native German speaker but even I noticed the different voice and after having seen the first three films with a different voice over artist, the latest part did not live up to those standards.

Whether or not Mr Off should get more money is a totally different matter - I just wanted to show how important voice over artists really are to the overall enjoyment of a film.
09:41 August 10, 2011 by wood artist
Hmmm. Whatever happened to the idea that you honor the contract you signed. If you didn't like the pay, negotiate something else or don't accept the work. While he may well have contributed to the success, he was paid what he agreed to take for the work. End of discussion. Unless the job description didn't accurately reflect the work expected, or changed during the production, I'd say he gets paid what he and the company agreed to in the contract.

wa
12:49 August 10, 2011 by Lazerman
I am a Voice Over Artist, so allow me to give you a different perspective. This issue is a big one, for there is ACTING involved in any voice over, a Performance is given, it is not just reading the script. HE is acting as JACK SPARROW for the German audience, so in my opion he is the star of the movie in Germany.

SO Saying that, I would say, figure what would be the fair payment for the actor for the success of the film in Germany, but defiently not the WORLD sales, for no one heard his voice outside of Germany.

We as Voice Artists are a small part of a large picture, but in many cases the Voice can become the part. Imagine anyone else doing the voice of Bart Simpson other than Nancy Cartright, or Eric Cartman being done by anyone else than Trey Parker.

It is a balancing act, and he should have negotiated a better deal when he was dubbing the second one after the first one did so well, so to be suing after the fact is just plain unprofessional.
14:19 August 10, 2011 by frankiep
I don't think that it is a good comparison to compare cartoon characters like Bart Simpson and Eric Cartman, to motion picture characters. In the first, the characters are much more well known and recognizable than the actors who give them their voices. Motion pictures however rely heavily on star power of the actors themselves. Perception plays a big role as well. People don't say to themselves "I can't wait for the next show/movie featuring the voice of Nancy Cartwright or Trey Parker" but they do say "I am really looking forward to seeing the next Johnny Depp movie".

In the case of dubbing, it is similar. I am willing to bet that very few people even knew the name of the guy who dubbed Johnny Depp's voice into German. It could have been a completely different person from the beginning (granted, switching people in the middle would be distracting in any circumstance) and it wouldn't have made a bit of difference to audiences as long as he wasn't absolutely horrible at it.

Try releasing a 'Pirates' movie in Germany (dubbed, of course) with Johnny Depp on the screen and someone other than Off doing the dubbing. People will still flock to see it. Try releasing a dubbed 'Pirates' movie in Germany with Off doing the dubbing but without Johnny Depp on the screen and count how many empty seats there are in the theaters.
15:03 August 10, 2011 by archilochus
To have a thorough review of voiceovers and dubbing with respect to voice quality and acting, a new book is recommended: J. Kreiman and D. Sidtis, Foundations of Voice Studies: An interdisciplinary approach to voice production and perception, Wiley-Blackwell. You'll find informative material in Chapter 10.
15:33 August 10, 2011 by catjones
Voiceover is just another form of plagiarism. It must be stopped.
18:23 August 10, 2011 by Jack Kerouac
"Prompting an internet petition by Off's fans in Germany..."

Yes, because voiceover actors have so many fans!

"Off claims that his contribution has been important to the film's success..."

Right, and Johnny Depp had nothing to do with it. Neither did the writers and directors of the scrrenplay. Get a clue, Off.
01:07 August 11, 2011 by wood artist
@lazerman

I think your points are well taken. Clearly the job is more than simply reading words on a page, attempting to make them more or less match the lip movements of the actor on screen. Voice work IS acting, just as actors in silent movies were acting...different, but the same.

However, he appeared in only the German release of the film (and maybe Austria I suppose) so world-wide profits can hardly be attributed to his work. And, as you observe, the time to have this "discussion" was probably after the first movie, when the success of the franchise was obvious. After-the-fact contract re-negotiation always seems a bit bizarre.

wa
16:24 August 12, 2011 by ydebond
Why Dub in the first place!

People go to movies to hear and see the REAL actors!!!
17:54 August 16, 2011 by heidelgirl
Can't say that Marcus Off is what lured me into reading this article...
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