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.