We've discussed a few times the legal fight in Germany between YouTube and the overbearing collections society GEMA. German law is a bit bizarre in that it has very little regard for secondary liability protections, and often seems to default to blaming third parties for the actions of their users. On top of that, GEMA is incredibly powerful and controlling in Germany. When I was there a few years ago (in part to discuss this case), I had musicians explaining to me that they had "secret websites" because GEMA wouldn't let them offer their own music for free. The GEMA/YouTube dispute centers around the fact that GEMA wants YouTube to pay a fixed fee every time a video that includes a GEMA-covered song is played (and GEMA has actually suggested the fee for each stream should be identical to the cost of a download -- no joke). After suing YouTube/Google, GEMA refused to negotiate, making Germany the only modern country in the world in which a collection society didn't work out a deal with YouTube (and meaning that Google started blocking tons of music videos in Germany).
Unfortunately, the court has now ruled in the case, and the results seem ridiculous. It has said that YouTube is liable when users post videos (third party liability concepts still just don't make sense to German courts). Even more ridiculous, however, is that the court has said that YouTube's famous ContentID system is not enough. Instead, it must also install a keyword-based filter to block GEMA songs from being uploaded. Keyword-filters? Really. We've done this before a bunch of times and it doesn't work. At all. Keyword filters are really stupid ways to deal with these kinds of things. First off, they tend to block all sorts of legitimate content. But, more importantly, users figure out how to get around them in less than an hour. They just start coming up with easy-to-decipher substitutes. Comparing a keyword filter to ContentID is like comparing a human strapping on wings to a modern fighter plane. One of them works and can actually get the job done. One of them just makes you look like an idiot.
The only "concession" the court appears to have given YouTube is that it only expects such filtering to work going forward, rather than having them search the archive. That, of course, is barely a concession at all. If I remember correctly, this particular court, in Hamburg, is somewhat notorious for siding with copyright holders, so I wouldn't be surprised to see an appeal on this case...
We've been writing about German music collection society GEMA's bizarre fight against YouTube for a few years now, in which all major music videos are blocked from YouTube in Germany because GEMA is suing YouTube and refuses to even discuss a potential license until the lawsuit is over. As we noted recently, this is even frustrating the labels who feel that GEMA is costing them serious money in not just doing a deal to make videos available. While researching something else on Twitter, I came across this telling tweet, from an individual in Germany talking about how they had to use a Chinese web proxy just to watch a new Sting video, and properly notes just how screwed up the world is when people in Germany are relying on Chinese web proxies just to watch music videos. I'm still trying to figure out what good this does anyone... other than GEMA.
We've detailed a few times the ridiculous standoff in Germany, where the incredibly aggressive music collection society GEMA is involved in a big lawsuit against YouTube for posting videos with music in them. YouTube has done licensing deals with collection societies around the globe, but GEMA refuses to even sit down to start a conversation until after the lawsuit happens. Because of that, all GEMA music in Germany is barred from YouTube entirely. This leads to some situations in which totally licensed videos are banned in Germany. This has been going on for years and years with no change.
GEMA, of course, says that it's doing this to "protect" the artists. But as I've pointed out in the past, many, many artists in Germany don't believe that at all. In the past we've noted that GEMA tried to ignore Creative Commons licenses as well as barred members from offering their music for free (two years ago, when I was in Germany at a music conference, I had multiple artists explain to me they had an "official" website where they would "sell" music to keep GEMA happy... and an "unofficial" website where they'd offer their music for free. The whole thing is crazy.
In fact, it's gotten so crazy that apparently even the major labels are getting sick of it. TorrentFreak has the news of a top Sony Music exec, Edgar Berger, who runs their international business, talking about how the internet hasn't been a problem at all, but has created tons of new opportunities. The ones creating the real problems for the industry? GEMA. Because the music is blocked "to protect the artist," it appears that the labels and artists are missing out on large revenue checks from YouTube's ContentID...
“There is absolutely nothing to complain about. The Internet is a great stroke of luck for the music industry, or better: the Internet is a blessing for us,” Berger said.
“You can not blame the Internet for harmful excesses. On the contrary. It has brought us tremendous new opportunities,” he added.
But with these new opportunities come new rivals from an unexpected corner. According to the Sony boss, music rights collecting agencies are now preventing innovation in certain countries.
In Germany, for example, most YouTube videos by Sony artists are blocked due to the music rights group GEMA, and not because Sony wants it that way. When asked why Sony’s music is not available on YouTube in Germany, Berger responded bitterly.
“It’s not because of us. You must direct this question to the German collecting agency GEMA, they licensed the copyright very restrictively.”
Quite a contrast from the "old" story, right? Here's a situation in which technology and business model innovation via Content ID are creating massive new revenue opportunities for the entertainment industry -- and the old school system of excess protectionism is denying them that revenue.
For years, we've covered how GEMA, the German music collection society, has a habit of demanding royalties for Creative Commons music it has no rights over. We've heard of it happening multiple times, and now it's happened again, and the details are even more ridiculous than usual. In this case, a music festival/dance party in Leipzig planned to use only Creative Commons music. Not only that, but the organizers appeared to go above and beyond to make sure this was done properly, not just making it clear to the DJs, the public and all attendees, that only CC music would be used, but they also let GEMA know. In response, GEMA demanded the full list of all artists whose music would be played, including their "full names, place of residency and date of birth."
After all that, GEMA still sent an invoice for 200 euros, claiming that they weren't positive everyone on the list wasn't covered by GEMA, and because there were a few pseudonyms, those musicians might be covered by GEMA... and thus the organizers should pay up. And, under the rather ridiculous current law in Germany, the organizers have the burden to "prove" that all of the artists are not covered by GEMA, rather than having GEMA prove that any particular artist is covered. That means, even if the organizers were correct and none of the artists are covered by GEMA, it still doesn't matter, because the organizers have to go out and prove that each individual artist is not under GEMA's umbrella. And people wonder why the Pirate Party is getting so much attention in Germany.
What is it that we often hear from supporters of stricter copyright laws? Oh yeah... it's something along the lines of "no one should be able to profit off the work of someone else without the proper rights." So I'm curious if those folks will equally condemn German collection society GEMA for trying to collect licensing fees for some music that was released under a Creative Commons license and by artists who are not currently GEMA members (some left in disgust).
This isn't new, of course. Two and a half years ago, we wrote about GEMA refusing to recognize Creative Commons licenses from Jamendo, and insisting that people still had to pay them. Similarly, in this case, even after it's been pointed out to them that the tracks were not under GEMA's purview, the organization insisted that the artists probably just "forgot to register the tracks," and asked the producers of the album to provide more proof that the songs weren't covered. Talk about entitlement.
After one or two (or more?) years of being blocked on German Youtube, the full-length noncommercial Sita Sings the Blues movie is once again viewable in Deutschland:
I assume this is because last week I posted this video, complaining about why my 100% legal and painstakingly and expensively licensed movie was blocked in Germany:
Apparently many Germans are none too pleased with GEMA themselves, as indicated by interesting comments here. Some industry shills weighed in as well, but it looks like popular sentiment is against them. The story was shared widely, including in Der Spiegel and the New York Times online editions.
It's not clear how an American YouTube user is supposed to contest takedowns in Germany. When I was in Berlin recently, it was suggested I find a German lawyer to take some sort of action. At the very least, I would need someone in Germany to contest the takedown on my behalf. I imagine that would have been a slow and possibly expensive process. Then I thought of making this video. Although it took some work (writing a statement -- yes I know it's an imperfect statement, I did the best I could with the knowledge I had -- shooting the video, recording the audio via a separate mic, transferring files, editing, compressing, etc.), it was less work than managing an international legal process. And it got results fast! Better still, it contributed to ongoing debates about GEMA and Intellectual Pooperty in general.
My thanks to everyone who helped spread the word about this, and especially people in Germany who checked the Sita Sings the Blues URL and confirmed when the movie was blocked, and when it was unblocked.
Nina Paley, who regularly writes for Techdirt (as well as plenty of other publications) passed along this video she put up about how her movie, Sita Sings the Blues is blocked by YouTube in Germany, thanks to GEMA, the music collection society in Germany.
Since I know a little bit about the ongoing fight between GEMA and YouTube in Germany, I asked Nina if it was okay to do a post, discussing some of the details. We've written about GEMA a few times before, and last year, I went to Berlin and interviewed YouTube's Patrick Walker on stage at PopKomm/All2gethernow, specifically discussing YouTube's ongoing fight with GEMA. The details are a little different than what Nina suggests in the video, though she's absolutely correct that this is very much GEMA's fault. Even though Nina has a paid-in-full license with the various music companies that say displaying/performing her movie for free in Germany is entirely legal, GEMA has taken a ridiculous hardline stance with regards to YouTube. It believes that YouTube needs to pay it ridiculous sums of money for every video on the site that includes any GEMA-licensed music.
Other collection societies around the world have made agreements with YouTube, and worked out reasonable royalty rates for performances. Except GEMA. If I remember correctly, GEMA may be the only major remaining collection society which has not worked out a royalty rate with YouTube, and instead has been fighting a battle in German courts against YouTube. Because of that, and because of some clearly ridiculous court rulings, which suggest that YouTube (rather than its users) are liable for any infringement on the site, YouTube is blocking all videos that it comes across that include GEMA music.
Thus, I believe that the reason Sita Sings the Blues has been taken down is not, as Nina suggests, because of a direct takedown notice by GEMA (though, that's possible), but more likely because of YouTube needing to avoid liability from crazy German court rulings and GEMA's overinflated belief in what a "reasonable" royalty rate would be. Now, notice the key part here: the artist in this case wants the video to be online. Nina is pissed off that it's offline. She's paid quite a bit of money to the various music publishing entities to have the rights to show the movie worldwide, and the one blocking that is GEMA.
This is not an uncommon occurrence in Germany, unfortunately. Because of the way the laws work in Germany, those who have deals with GEMA effectively give up all of their own rights on such things. When I was in Germany, I spoke with multiple artists who were freaking out because they couldn't give away their own music, because GEMA didn't allow it. Aritst would show me their official webpage, without free music, and then their "secret, unofficial" web page with the music they wanted people to download. GEMA, which seems to be run by people entirely out of touch with how music works today, simply insists that no one can give away music for free... because then GEMA doesn't get to collect money. Furthermore, for those who try to get around GEMA and used alternative licenses, GEMA has been known to ignore such licenses, and insist that people still need to abide by GEMA's rules.
This is not a healthy situation. You basically have an out of touch bureaucracy that thinks it gets to set all the rules, even if they don't match the reality in the marketplace. Because of that, artists are suffering. And the fact that YouTube is blocking Sita..., despite it being fully licensed and perfectly legal in Germany, should really wake some people up to the fact that GEMA is not helping artists at all. It's stifling them massively.
We've discussed a few times how the German music collection society GEMA often appears to be one of the worst of the worst when it comes to copyright maximalism. Its latest move is particularly egregious. While it used to allow pre-schools/kindergartens to hand out sheets with music to the children for singing for free, its policy recently changed, so that
the schools now need to pay up (found via Slashdot). In the last few weeks, GEMA started sending out notices to these facilities, warning them to either pay up or no longer hand out sheets with music on it to students. This seems reminiscent of ASCAP demanding that Girl Scouts pay up for singing songs around the campfire. These collection societies have really gotten desperate lately, and now they're trying to shake down kindergarten students for cash. How nice of them.
In general, we're no fan of collection societies, which have some pretty serious unintended consequences, often harming up and coming musicians while funneling money to the largest acts. However, I can't recall a collection society as aggressive and as expansionist as GEMA in Germany. When I was in Germany earlier this year, I had multiple musicians tell me how all-controlling GEMA is. Basically, if you want to use GEMA for just about anything, you effectively abdicate pretty much all of your rights to your music to GEMA. Two separate musicians showed me how they had secret websites where fans could download their music, because GEMA wouldn't let them give away their own music for free under a Creative Commons license.
So, I'm not too surprised to hear reports that the Turkish government is now scrambling to try to copyright its own national anthem after hearing that GEMA tried to collect royalties on it. The story is a bit confusing but it appears that GEMA, in standard collection society fashion, demanded that a Turkish school in Germany pay up for performing music. The school responded that the only music that was performed was the Turkish national anthem. This is where some of the dispute comes in. It appears that GEMA believes other covered music was also performed, and its asking for royalties from that and saying it never meant to collect for the Turkish national anthem. However, the school insists that was the only song performed -- so it went to the Turkish Culture Minister to ask for help. At that point, the Turkish government realized that there simply was no copyright on the song.
Now, here's where the Turkish government also went wrong. It could have just declared the Turkish national anthem in the public domain and told GEMA to shove off. But, instead, it took the backwards-looking step of trying to retroactively copyright the national anthem. Of course, that may open up a different can of worms. The report at Spiegel notes that, technically, the heirs of the songwriter (who died in 1958) might actually be more entitled to the copyright and any royalties than the Turkish government.
So, by rushing to secure the copyright, Turkey may end up with more trouble on its hands. It's difficult to believe that a copyright makes sense for any national anthem. Just put it in the public domain and let anyone sing it.