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
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.