Music Business

What’s wrong with the Petition against the German Music Collecting Society GEMA

Yesterday I came across this petition on the website of the German Bundestag. It is a petition to the parliament that has been signed by over 83,000 people yet. The main point is to check whether the German music collecting society GEMA is operating accoding to the German constitution. The idea behind it is that the fees for hosting a concert are too high for small concert organizers and that at the same time only a small portion of the royalties actually reaches the composers.

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Image by Bullard

So far so good. I am somewhat surprised that the petition does not address the most apparent problem that concerns *all* collecting societies alike (ASCAP, BMI, GEMA etc.)

At a time when most classical performers are trying to market themselves via websites and social networking platforms, the ability to stream their own recordings becomes crucial. After all, you want to showcase your talent, so that more and more people will take notice of you and come to your concerts. Streaming music from your website is technically no big problem anymore, but this is where the GEMAs, ASCAPs, and BMIs of this world come into play.

Say you recorded three CDs with 15 works by 3 different composers. You host your website in the US. 2 composers are registering their works with ASCAP, one is registered with BMI. In order to stream your own recordings from your own website you would have to pay annual fees in excess of $600 to ASCAP and BMI. And this is the amount you pay if you don’t make a single $ on CD sales. If you earn money, ad even if it is only a tiny amount, you will have to pay much bigger amounts!

Why that? None of the collecting societies offers licenses for individual works or for all works by one composer only. If you want to stream one work, you have to get a comprehensive license that would allow you to stream all (!!) of the works that have been registered with that collecting society. That includes millions of works: all of Van Halen, all of Frank Sinatra, all of Motörhead, all of Björk, all of Steve Reich, all of …. and also the 15 works that you wanted to stream from your website.

How crayz is that? Let me know what you think.

Here is a link to the petition again.

PS: if you are composer and you wanted to stream recordings of your own music, you would have to buy the comprehensive license, too!

PPS: I think composers should definitely get paid when their music is played, downloaded, and streamed. I am just questioning the practice of not making the purchase of licenses more flexible.


8 comments for “What’s wrong with the Petition against the German Music Collecting Society GEMA”

  1. While, as a member, I have plenty of my own complaints about GEMA I believe that you are misinformed in this instance. GEMA does allow members to place their own work on their own sites without a license fee. This own-use license can be filed online and any any number of works can be specified (the number of works is specified, not the particular titles, so that a web site could contain an entire catalog or cycle through a repertoire.) While I must admit that it does feel a bit strange applying to place my own music on my own website, the issue here is whether or not _third parties_ are using your music and compensating you for it; this licensing procedure clearly separates my use from any third party usage.

    Posted by Daniel Wolf | July 1, 2009, 9:05 pm
  2. Thank you for pointing this out, Daniel. While you are right about the own use license, the main issue I raise still remains. Forcing third parties into a general licence is problematic, to say the least.

    Thanks for your comment!

    Posted by Matthias Röder | July 1, 2009, 9:20 pm
  3. As for third-party users, the GEMA offers licenses for small numbers of items used in non- or low-profit web broadcasts, for example podcasts. For example, the license to podcast an intro, an outro and five songs is 10 Euros/month.

    Posted by Daniel Wolf | July 1, 2009, 10:03 pm
  4. I think you must be referring to the podcast license. If not, please post the specifics of that license for us. :-)

    The podcast license is funny. You have to do talk-over moderation (play the music in the background while talking for the intro and outro)
    You are also not allowed to play more than 50% of the pieces.
    Episode cannot be longer than 30 minutes and, most importantly, epidsodes cannot be about a specific artists and should not contain the title of the work nor the composers name in the episode’s title.

    Also please remember that I was talking about work-specific licenses for streaming and downloads, which to my knowledge do not exist, but would be extremely important for artists in the classical music sector.

    Thanks again for your comments! Looking forward to discuss this further!

    Posted by Matthias Röder | July 2, 2009, 1:49 pm
  5. Well said Matthias! It seems to me that at the very least, there should be some sort of special, non-profit license. If you’re a small concert organization or a single performer who doesn’t make money off the stream, then how are you to pay royalties?

    This makes me think of orchestral rental fees as well. Sure, if you’re charging for tickets, you should have to pay a rental fee, but what about community or university orchestras? I remember as an undergrad we frequently opted to perform older works simply because we couldn’t afford the exorbitant licensing fees charged for, say, Shostakovich.

    Posted by Evan Cortens | August 20, 2009, 6:19 pm
  6. Evan, I believe that you’re confusing the license fee (which, for an orchestral piece, is covered by the blanket license a college or university pays each year) with the rental fees for performance materials. Some of these may well be too high, but extracting and printing a set of parts usually represent a substantial investment by a publisher (and in many cases, the composer her- or himself) with amortization only over a period of decades.

    Posted by Daniel Wolf | August 24, 2009, 10:50 pm
  7. Hello Daniel, agreed, I was unclear in my terminology: I did mean the license fee, rather than the rental fee. I’m not familiar with the intricacies, but I do know that as an undergrad, we would often rent parts for, say, a Beethoven symphony than for, say, a Shostakovich symphony because parts for the latter were significantly more expensive. I believe that it was the additional license fee charged.

    Of course a composer should be able to, at the very lease, recoup the costs of a composition; certainly I believe they should be able to make money too. It has just seemed to me that, at times, the significant fees one must pay to play newer music serve as a deterrent, and as such, orchestras (especially low-budget ones) opt to perform out-of-copyright music instead.

    Posted by Evan Cortens | August 24, 2009, 11:23 pm
  8. Evan,

    the extra costs were for the rental, which is an entirely separate line item for publishers from licenses. Think about it this way: the parts for a Beethoven Symphony were, in many cases, engraved in the 19th century, and the costs for the engraving, printing, binding, marking, erasing, etc. have now been paid for many times. Even with relatively cheap Soviet-era copying and printing, the Shostakovich may have only recently begun to pay for itself, a new work by a composer with an uncertain performance history ahead of it begins its publication career as sheet music well in the minus. Most new orchestral works get only a single performance and thus will never recoup their material preparation costs. Even today, with computer engraving, there has been some savings on note entry, but editing and layout remain labor intensive and labor is even more expensive. (I run a _very_ small publishing operation; I just got a set of parts back from a major radio orchestra and had to spend about 20 hours erasing, repairing, and replacing damaged parts (yes, the contract said the parts had to be returned in good condition, but who is the stronger party here?); for the rental fee I got, I estimate that my time is worth about three dollars an hour.)

    Of course the cost of sheet music, either purchased or rented, is sometimes a deterrent to performances; when all else is equal, people prefer to pay less rather than more. But if more musicians and organizers understood these costs, perhaps there would be less reservation about paying them.

    Posted by Daniel Wolf | August 25, 2009, 9:52 am

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