GEMA Feels It Isn't Killing German Nightclubs Fast Enough, Moves Towards Charging DJs Per MP3 On Their Laptops

from the perhaps-GEMA-could-cut-out-the-middleman-and-have-clubgoers-empty-their-wallets dept

GEMA's ongoing efforts to destroy as many music venues as possible in the name of “performance rights” continue unabated. If anything, GEMA's approaching some sort of event horizon in terms of PRO insanity.

Recently, GEMA was given permission by the German parliament to assess levy increases of up to 1,400% on some of Germany's most iconic underground clubs, threatening their continued existence. The reason given for granting GEMA its exorbitant requests was, unbelievably, that it was too difficult to assess performance rights fees accurately. GEMA's new “simplified” rates are based purely on the size of the venue and the length of the event — it has nothing to do with whether or not GEMA represents the artists played.

There has been a little pushback on the extra fee assessed to events that run more than five hours — as they often do in underground clubs — but GEMA has decided that because it gave an inch, it's fully justified in taking a mile. FACT Magazine brings us the news that GEMA is adding a brand new fee to the mix, bizarrely aimed at DJs who utilize laptops and play MP3s rather than records or CDs.

It now appears that GEMA are attempting to knuckle down even harder on club performances. So far this has only – to our knowledge – been reported on German language websites, but at the heart of these newly proposed set of changes is a tax (or “laptop surcharge”) on DJs playing music from laptops, to the tune of 30% for every music file under five minutes with an increase of 20% for each additional minute. What we’re unsure about is whether this only refers to files that are played, or all music on the offending laptop – we’d presume the former, but the post on Tanith implies the latter (“e.g. 10,000 mp3s on the DJ laptop would [require] 1,300 Euros”).

The gist of it, as far as can be made out via Chrome translation, is that venues will pay an additional 30% surcharge on top of the already jacked-up fees if the featured artist uses a laptop. This fee can be waived, however, in exchange for a per track levy. According to the Tanithblog, GEMA is charging a “duplication” fee for each MP3. MP3s under five minutes in length are assessed a 13-cent per track fee. Each additional minute brings with it a 20% increase in price.

It's unclear at this point whether GEMA is assessing this fee for each track played or each track on the hard drive. Considering its “difficulty” with accurately tracking music played, I would assume GEMA will opt for a levy on the contents of the drive, which will be less “onerous” and result in larger fee assessments. If this new fee is levied only on the tracks actually played, this means GEMA has access to actual tracks used during the event, and therefore should charge only for covered artists. But GEMA won't do that. Instead, it will go for whichever fee is larger and easier to assess. Considering 10,000 tracks is probably “traveling light” for any respected club DJ, a 1,300 Euro assessment is probably on the low end.

This is stupid, short-sighted and completely GEMA-like, the last of which is probably the greatest insult of all. Supposedly, this additional “laptop surcharge” was negotiated by representatives of the nightclub industry itself, giving the appearance that GEMA is actually working with club owners to work out mutually beneficial licensing. FACT points out that, in fact, this is just business as usual for the PRO megathug. (The info sheet from DDU and DDO is available here.)

The proposal has reportedly been negotiated with the German Discotheques and Nightclubs unions (DDU and DDO). Dean Driscoll, of German-based promotions company Tailored Communication, explained on Twitter this morning that these unions are “sub-branches of GEMA populated solely by GEMA members.”

It's a rigged game, with GEMA selling out the artists it represents by systematically running venues into the ground. This latest fee is another example of its outsized sense of entitlement and zealous pursuit of every possible revenue stream. The audacity of leveraging a new fee simply because of the technology involved has nothing to do with helping its artists and everything to do with cutting itself in on the ongoing migration of DJs to laptop-driven live sets.

As some commenters at FACT point out, this sort of per-MP3 fee has already been deployed in Hungary and Poland, so it's not the first time DJs have been charged for the contents of their laptops. Another commenter notes that Hungary's version is a per file fee, so if GEMA follows suit, DJs will be charged for every music file on their hard drive (unplayed or not) along with files on removable drives and burned CDs. There's no indication that the PROs assessing this MP3 surcharge have any interest in determining if the tracks they're collecting on are actually under their purview.

In the real world, this is called running a protection racket. Out in the PRO world, it's just business as usual. 

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Companies: gema

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Comments on “GEMA Feels It Isn't Killing German Nightclubs Fast Enough, Moves Towards Charging DJs Per MP3 On Their Laptops”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Will any of this tax go to the actual artists or will is just line GEMA’s pocket.”

Since there’s no way to figure out which tracks are by which artist (and if they’re mixes, a single track could have excerpts from many artists), GEMA won’t bother with “redistributing” the money…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Has any money from ANY copyright enforcement (suing children, IFPI demanding fines from The Pirate Bay, Megaupload shutdown, taxes on blank CDs) resulted in ANY artist even getting a little richer ever? As in, money “stolen” from artists was “rightfully returned” to them?

What do you think, given the track record of all copyright enforcement agencies? I’m surprised artists haven’t simply just declared all of them fired. With a success rate of a big, fat, resounding ZERO it’s horrific that organisations like these can still stay in business.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Will any of this tax go to the actual artists or will is just line GEMA’s pocket.”

Judging by the way these things are usually done and the way non-“chart music all the time” clubs tend to work – some of the money will go to artists, but probably not the artists whose music is on those laptops. It’s just another free ride for the major labels.

Zakida Paul says:

These collection agencies are the biggest parasites going. They collect royalties but they never pass them on to the people who should be getting them which means they are making money from someone else’s work (something pirates are accused of every day, go figure).

There is a desperate need to legislate against these parasitic organisations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Response to: Zakida Paul on Dec 4th, 2012 @ 11:07am

Which creates a desparate need to create organisations that make sure that legislation gets enforced and more organisations to control the enforcers and more useless eaters in the chain between between content provider/creator and consumer that have to be fed with what the ideas of the original creator can earn. So even higher prices, driving investment up, makes it harder to get in on the market further consolidating the established major players that want to lock it down completely and share the monopoly.

The new useless eaters will want to consilidate too, so theyll push for new legislation and expansion of their powers which will make people like you call for more legislation to curtail that and the cycle keeps going until the entertainment industry is so stifled all we can do is fight overthe rights to the beatles catalog because it ll be impossible for the new beatles to make it beyond Ringo’s garage.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re:

Money doesn’t grow on trees. Therefore, in order for the rich to fatten their wallets, they must find ways to redistribute it from the middle & lower class. In this instance, an extortion scheme is put in place by a mafia-like agency pretending to be “protecting the artists”. They get swim in piles of cash that they didn’t rightfully earn. It’s a form of theft.

Anonymous Coward says:

most OS’s ship with default sounds…like the Ding for email or otherwise. does the DJ have to pay for those sounds too? how about if a DJ cues up 2-3 songs from somewhere (external hard drive, bluray disc, etc). is that a work-around for now?

what about a bunch of people dancing with just headphones, sharing playlists, and just drinking the local drink? is that a work around?

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Have an Aereo-style workaround – remote server streaming the music. And plan for when GEMA move the goalposts.

Still, an aggressive ‘explanation’ campaign to club-goers would help as well, especially if it can be highlighted that GEMA a) probably aren’t paying much, if anything to the artists, and b) most likely aren’t even covering the tracks covered.

By the way, this is actually equivalent to charging nightclubs tax for all the alcohol on the premises, rather than effectively on any alcohol drunk…

Anonymous Coward says:

Real World: You pay for a product, it’s yours for life.

GEMA World: You pay for the music, then get to pay again and again every time you use the music, just for carrying the music around. The more music you carry around, the more you have to keep paying for every time you use any one of the pieces of music you already paid for.

Real World Effect: You feel free to buy lots of variations of the same product, such as video games to add to your game collection.

GEMA World Effect: You feel forced to buy only the bare minimum of the music you can get away with. Or to buy lots of music but hide them in all sorts of different ‘baskets’ that you’re forced to make sure are hidden in another location whenever using some of the music you purchased.

Free market capitalism in action, GEMA style!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Don’t forget:

Real world: DJs promote music to hundreds, sometimes thousands of people at a time, often in venues designed to be suited to hearing the music in optimum conditions. Free, high quality promotion at no cost to the artist or their label, with the potential to lead to purchases from some or many of the crowd on music or merchandise.

GEMA world: The DJ might possibly not have paid for one of those tracks (and the artist might not get a tiny cut of the night’s revenue), so we’ll assume he didn’t and thus force him (and/or the venues) out of work.

blaktron (profile) says:

Umm, easy solution: Play them out of the cloud and bring no music into the club. Its so obvious that it invalidates this entire argument.

Also shows how ridiculous the idea of charging people for bringing in supposedly legal tools in order to do their job.

Its like a union somewhere charging me for every script i take to a client site that i might possibly run.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Question for the DJs

How do you obtain the music? Do you have to pay for the music an then pay again and again to use it, or do you get free rein to obtain the music however because it’s going to get payed for several tens of thousands of times over?

I’m going to guess the former because it’s the lest logical method, but damn that’s a hell of an investment.

Mr. Applegate says:

Re: Question for the DJs

Typically (at least in the US), and as I understand it (from talking to a few of my DJ friends). They buy the music, and provide a performance list to the venue. The venue then settles up with ASCAP, BMI… This makes sense because the DJ would not know how many people were in attendance…

TroutFishingUSA says:

Re: Re: Question for the DJs

I think you’re describing the system implemented in the UK. I’m in the US, and I’ve never been asked for a playlist or setlist. Never as a DJ, a turntablist, samplist, or as a traditional performer. Ever.

(Oh, how I wish it were so. Because magically, any music by another performer would “mistakenly” get listed as one of my own compositions. Cha-ching!)

It’s my understanding that fees in the US are disbursed based on radio airplay in the region, which is a disgusting fucking practice. Especially in NYC where probably 80% of the bars are playing music that would never show up on the radio.

rangda (profile) says:

Re: Question for the DJs

I’m “retired” (still DJ as a hobby with a web presence but no longer play out). These days my music is pretty obscure, so it’s either free from Soundcloud/the artist, WAV’s mostly from Juno Records, or vinyl that I rip. None of the artists I currently play would be registered with GEMA (or any other collection society).

When I played Raves in the 90’s I bought 95% of my music but did get a few promos from the artists or labels here or there. If fees were paid to any collection societies it was done by the promoter without any input from me on what tracks I played.

When I played clubs in the 80’s I was in a record pool. You payed a flat amount per month to get promos; how many you got depended on how important a DJ you were but it covered most of the top 40 music I needed for 1/4 to 1/2 of retail. If I didn’t get something from the pool I was on my own to acquire it. The clubs I played in paid the BMI/ASCAP fees (which were flat fees based on venue size) again without any input from me on what tracks I played.

Pete Tongs says:

Re: Re: Question for the DJs

“The clubs I played in paid the BMI/ASCAP fees (which were flat fees based on venue size) again without any input from me on what tracks I played.”

This is still the way it works in the US. Clubs are charged different fees for different types of planned performances (and even different types of music!) but nobody monitors how many tracks are played and for how long.

Old Dog learns New Tricks says:

Simple solution to entire problem

GEMA is an organisation of people. Hence, take each person involved in policy (starting from the head honcho on down) and at each venue effected, introduce that person to the venue attendees and let the individual eloquently explain the policy to the venue attendees for a pleasant rational discussion.

I’m sure that the GEMA people will be able to put in perfectly understandable and reasonable terms why the policy is there and why the attendees will need to pay additionally to support their favourite venues.

Everyone will walk away joyfully with no angst because they will personally understand that GEMA just has to do this for society’s sake.

See simple.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Two possible ways:

Option 1:
DJ has their entire computer searched for .mp3 files by a ‘neutral’ company before each event they DJ at. The fine is then calculated off of that.

Option 2:
Since option one would take effort, and probably be just a bit too blatant for most to accept, they’ll instead just set up a ‘reasonable’ fee(say, 1000 euros per event, separate from any other fees/fines they are already paying) that the club has to pay, which will be charged to the DJ, to have a DJ in attendance.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

> I don’t understand how they (GEMA) knows how
> many songs a DJ has on their laptop

Seems to me, the DJs will keep their music library on some computer at home or office, and then just burn playlists for each events and copy them over to the laptop. That way they can only be charged for what they bring to the venue, not their entire library.

Anonymous Coward says:

the best bet would be for all venues to close. yes, they would make no money but equally, GEMA wouldn’t either. perhaps then there would be some serious discussions as to what are reasonable fees to charge and also proof that the artists were being paid the correct amount and in a timely manner. if there was no agreement, i wonder how long it would be before there was a serious shit storm from the public, a second serious shit storm from government, a third serious shit storm from the artists?

gorehound (profile) says:

Germany must have a serious Protest over this.Organize your people and go out and PROTEST BigTime !
Do not take this bullshit lying down.
Clubs should do a short shutdown with full publicity as to why.The same time they do that there needs to be many street protests.
And make sure to Boycott GEMA and do the same to any Artist who signs with them.

Time for you guys to Fuck Some Shit Up to put it bluntly.This whole News Story is sickening.

rangda (profile) says:

Being a retired DJ this hits home pretty hard. My main archive has ~25,000 tracks only a small percentage of which are on my performance laptop. Checking my laptop my Traktor collection I have 2,121 tracks on the laptop; this includes some stems of tracks for live remixes. Times range from a few seconds to a long of 21:58. I’d say about 1/3 of what is on the laptop is 5 min or less and about 1/4 is 8 minutes or longer.

If I were paying their proposed fee structure for my laptop based on what I used to get paid when I gigged out (vaguely adjusted for inflation), I’d be owing them a substantial amount of money every time I performed.

For those who have suggested streaming, neither of the big players in the DJ software world (Serato SSL or Traktor) support such a thing. There is a company with a streaming front end in closed beta, but it works by putting copies of the files on your laptop in a “secure” locker so I’m sure you’d still have to pay for those files. Track selection from such services can also be pretty problematic; there are numerous styles of electronic these days and DJ performances can vary greatly in musical content.

Leon says:

Re: Re: Re:

Oh they’d get you for the temporary storage once they caught on to this trick. The files would have to be buffered into memory to play and you’d likely want them temporarily on disk so you can cue them up and adjust for beatmatching and especially for backspinning, beat juggling, scratching and other turntablist tricks without fear of glitches.

Violated (profile) says:

The Destroyer

GEMA is out to destroy the music world in their ignorance.

Web services won’t deal with them due to their unreasonable prices so of course GEMA is losing a lot of money. GEMA then compensates for this loss by jacking up the prices in their other income areas causing much more damage in the process.

Then the Government instead of reigning in this monster and forcing them down to some EU average instead lets this clown-headed monopoly have their way.

There are not many about in the music world who are not pissed at GEMA when even the CEOs of record labels actually want GEMA to cut deals so their music appears on YouTube and such.

I can only believe if GEMA keeps this up that the whole music world in Germany will strike until GEMA gives in. One day a week would be a suitable start.

matthias says:

chrome traslation...

I’m sorry, but it seems your chrome-translation hasn’t been very accurate (and there is some additional information in the jpg-leaflet on the site). What the article from the Tanithblog says, is the following:
There has been some kind of extra laptop-fee of 30% in the past, which every club had to pay if the DJ doesn’t use the original CDs but has copied the files to his laptop; but this policy has been abandoned. It is now substituted by an annual fee of 0.13? for every song a DJ has copied from the original CD (for songs under 5 minutes, 20% more for every additional minute) +25% GVL (no idea what this is) +taxes, and this has to be payed by the DJ.
The idea behind is, that the DJ of course has to pay additional fees for duplicating the files from the CD (or vinyl or whatever) – so, the fee has to be payed for every track on the laptop, regardless of whether it is been played or not, but it doesn’t have to be payed for every event. It would make sense to charge this fee once for duplicating a file, but this doesn’t seem to be enough for the GEMA, so they have made it an annual fee.
Nevertheless, the part about DDU and DDO is correct. GEMA has negotiated with those two completley unknown organisations of clubs and DJs, which essentially don’t represent much active DJs or owners of nightclubs but mainly some GEMA-related folk.

Tex Arcana (profile) says:


“Money doesn’t grow on trees. Therefore, in order for the rich to fatten their wallets, they must find ways to STEAL it from the middle & lower class. In this instance, an extortion scheme is put in place by a MAFIAA-like agency pretending to be “protecting the artists”. They get swim in piles of cash that they didn’t rightfully earn. It’s JUST PLAIN theft.”

Fixed for truth. Because we all know the 1%ers anre incapable of actually working for a living–they’d rather just legalize stealing from the masses.

And there’s just one way to stop them, and it involves pitchforks and torches…

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