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German labels criticise GEMA over YouTube

By | Published on Monday 27 June 2011


Reps from both Universal Music and Sony Music in Germany have criticised, in interviews with US trade mag Billboard, their country’s publishing rights collecting society GEMA over their continued legal squabble with YouTube.

As much previously reported, GEMA has, in the main, taken the hardest line of all the collecting societies when it comes to licensing new digital services, leaving some popular European music platforms, including Spotify, unable to launch in the German market. Digital start-ups say GEMA is asking for far too high royalties for music streams, while the collecting society says it is simply looking for viable business models before licensing its songs.

The record companies, in the main, have good relationships with YouTube (although there was a wobble with the YouTube/Warner deal at one point), and indeed Universal and Sony are basically in business with the web firm via their VEVO venture. On the publishing side, where the performing rights YouTube need are generally licensed collectively, there have been some issues – including a falling out with PRS For Music in the UK – though, in the main, deals have been done

GEMA, however, has a long running dispute with YouTube and its owners Google, and has been publicly critical of the web giant in the past, which it sees as wanting to profit from music-based services without properly compensating rights owners. That ongoing feud has turned legal on various occasions, and earlier this year the Society put in a claim against YouTube’s US division via the Californian courts, albeit in relation to twelve specific songs it represents.

Quite why Billboard has focused on this issue now isn’t clear – the US legal claim was made in April – though it’s possible there are concerns that the escalated litigation is hindered ongoing licensing negotiations between YouTube and the German publishing sector. Certainly Billboard didn’t have to dig hard to find supporters for the YouTube side of this squabble within the music business.

Edgar Berger, CEO of Sony Music Entertainment in Munich told Billboard: “I suspect that some members of GEMA’s supervisory board have not yet arrived in the digital era. We want to see streaming services like VEVO and Spotify in the German market. [These platforms] must not be blocked by GEMA any longer. Artists and music companies are losing sales in the millions”.

Meanwhile, Frank Briegmann, President of Universal Music Germany said: “Germany is a developing country in the digital music market. GEMA apparently has not yet understood the new developments in the international music market”.

Tough words. Of course, presumably, the Sony and Universal publishing companies are influential within the GEMA camp, so perhaps Berger and Briegmann should be doing some lobbying within their own wider companies on this issue. Perhaps they are.

Either way, GEMA’s Alexander Wolf insists that the escalation of their legal action relating to those aforementioned twelve songs does not hinder his society’s ability to negotiate with YouTube on a wider licence, but adds that the web firm has done nothing to address some fundamental concerns – including access to full video play stats and financial rewards based on the impact of music content on YouTube’s wider business performance and not just ad revenues sold alongside specific pop promos.