GEMA is killing the music industry. Despite needing artists to survive, GEMA seems particularly hellbent on destroying any venue these artists might use to make money in its quest to secure even more money. It takes a certain level of diabolical shortsightedness and greed to "elevate" yourself above the rest of the PROs into "Most Hated" status. Considering other PROs have done such endearing things as shakedown the Girl Scouts and non-profit charities for spare change, GEMA has its work cut out for it.
Maybe it's the famous German industriousness that has provided GEMA with the impetus to turn Youtube into a massive collection of "Sorry, this content is not available in your country" messages. Maybe it's some form of corporate sociopathy that has turned it into a self-destructive monster capable of destroying artists' futures in the name of artists' "rights."
The latest move by GEMA has sparked protests, a claim that most other PROs can't make. GEMA, in its infinite
wisdom greed has decided that the underground music scene just isn't paying its fair share. The fix? Raise rates 1,400% and if a few clubs go under because of the hike, well, that's just part of the price of doing business.
GEMA, the organisation responsible for collecting mechanical copyright fees on behalf of some 65,000 artists in Germany, have announced a price hike which could spell the end for some of Berlin's most revered clubs. If the changes go unchallenged, the legendary Berghain - facing a fee hike of 1,400% - will shut after its NYE party this year; the similarly monolithic Watergate is likely to go the same way, claiming its mechanical copyright fees will be increased from €10,000 per year to €200,000.
As is par for the course in instances like these, it's all about "fairness" and "putting money in the pockets of artists." But like every other PRO, GEMA exists to collect fees and redistribute them to the artists, starting at the top
. Those most heavily represented by chart success, airplay and radio exposure get the largest chunk, with little to nothing reaching those artists operating outside the mainstream (like, say, THE UNDERGROUND), many of whom may not even be registered with GEMA.
Ostensibly, GEMA is attempting to streamline its fee structure, but doing so in such a way that the most direct beneficiary is GEMA itself. On top of that, an additional levy targets underground clubs, and their lengthy events, nearly exclusively:
In the new scheme, commencing 1st January 2013, the complex existing system of eleven different fee structures is being replaced with just two: monthly charges will be calculated as a percentage of ticket price and relative to the size of the venue. There will, however, be a 50% surcharge if events last longer than five hours, and a similar increase after another three hours. Der Spiegel calculates that, "for an average Berlin club with 410 square meters of space, charging €8 entrance and running two events per week from 10 p.m. until 5. a.m, the price paid to GEMA will rise from the current €14,500 to some €95,000 - an increase of 560%". It seems evident that these plans favour venues (such as bars and gig spaces) with shorter opening times, placing a disproportionate financial burden on clubs. Legendary spots like the Berghain, renowned for the kind of marathon all-weekend sessions largely prohibited in the UK due to stricter licensing, will fare the worst.
GEMA has it all figured out, though. You can nearly hear the condescending smirk wrapped around this statement by Regional Manager Lorenz Schmid.
"The way I see it, [clubs have] been paying far too little in the past. I see no problem for a club manager if he has to pay €1.20 out of €12".
Of course you
think it's manageable. You're the one collecting
the fees. When you're on that end, it all seems like a drop in the bucket. Those on the other side see it differently. It's another unexpected cost to factor in, and when you're running a club that caters to the underground, you don't really enjoy the sort of profit margins that more mainstream events and entities do. GEMA is killing off some of the few outlets for underground artists in order to further reward the top of the heap. Makes sense. Fortunately, the underground scene isn't taking this lying down.
The Berlin community isn't taking the change lying down: on 25th June, 5,000 gathered to protest outside GEMA's summer party; on the 30th, more than 2,000 clubs across the country stopped the music for five minutes to raise awareness of the new fees... High profile artists including Alec Empire, Blawan, The Black Dog, Mike Paradinas and Steffi have spoken out against GEMA's plans. The German patent office are apparently investigating the legality of the scheme, but they won't reach a decision before the fees come into effect - which may be too late for many of Berlin's clubs.
There is also an online petition, which you can sign here
. Given the historical importance of Germany's underground club scene, as well as its contribution to Germany's tourist industry (more than 35% of visitors cite the city's nightlife as a major reason for their visit, according to the Guardian
), it would be incredibly disappointing to see it killed off by a rent-seeking agency looking to further reward the top 5% of artists. Maybe this backlash will highlight the stupidity of destroying outlets for artists in the name of "protecting" artists.