Hungarian bookseller evades huge fine due to missing comma

February 08. 2024. – 04:07 PM



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In July 2023, after the Consumer Protection Office hit the Líra bookstore chain with a HUF 12 million, (32,000 euros) fine over the display of a book for young adults, the company immediately took legal action. The fine was imposed on the basis of the homophobic, but supposedly child protection-oriented law, according to which Líra was guilty of failing to cover the Heartstopper youth novels with transparent film. Under the current Hungarian legislation, books dealing with LGBTQ issues in any form must be wrapped in transparent film and cannot be included in the section of books intended for adolescents.

In court, Líra based its strategy on a missing comma, the presence (or lack) of which changes the meaning of the sentence in question. According to, it worked.

The wording of the law states that all products for children that depict homosexuality "should be marketed separately from other products only in sealed packaging." Since the legislator did not put a comma in front of the word "only", this way, the Hungarian sentence means that only books kept separately should be wrapped in transparent film. The laconic reasoning of the Metropolitan Court explained the ruling in favour of Líra as follows:

“A comma is a comma. The rules of the Hungarian language are at least as widely known as the laws governing the legislation about legal relations of society. There was no doubt in the court's mind as to the meaning of the sentence in question, and no alternative interpretation could be found.”

This means that the court did not examine whether the Heartstopper books contain sentences promoting homosexuality (according to Líra they do not). According to, the court also said that if there is no infringement, there can be no sanctions, so the other cases cited by Líra will not be assessed in the future.

Krisztián Nyáry, the creative director of Líra Könyv Zrt. told the newspaper that they welcome the decision, as they had been arguing from the beginning that the wording of the law was incomprehensible. They also have other cases before the court on the issue, and he hopes the ruling will have an impact on these too. When asked whether he expects the ominous comma to be inserted in the legislation, he said:

"I'm not an oracle, I cannot say."

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