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German DJs in dispute with GEMA

By | Published on Wednesday 10 April 2013


A dispute between the German DJ fraternity and Germany’s often controversial publishing rights collecting society GEMA resulted in two protests outside the rights organisation’s offices in Dortmund and Munich last week, the latter also supported by the German Pirate Party.

DJs are protesting a recently announced new licence that GEMA has introduced. The rights society is now demanding that DJs who play their sets off laptops or similar devices pay a royalty into the collecting organisation, seemingly to cover the ‘mechanical copy’ said DJs are making of any songs they rip from CD or transfer from another device to the computer they perform with. While in Germany such copies are exempt from royalty payments if for personal use, the minute said copied songs are played in public that exemption does not apply, says the rights body.

Under the new licence GEMA is asking for 13 cents for each copied track, although bulk track options are also available. Nevertheless, Billboard reckons that an average DJ with, say, 15,000 tracks on his or her laptop would face an annual licence fee of 1500 euros. Which is fine for superstar DJs who make way more than that for every gig, but a major arse for the many DJs who barely make any money from spinning records in clubs.

Despite protesting alongside Pirate Party supporters, who advocate widespread changes to copyright laws, many of those DJs opposed to the new GEMA licence insist that they support the principles of copyright, but they specifically object to the new licence for various reasons.

The principal reason is that GEMA already receives royalties from club promoters for the performing rights that exist in the songs DJs play, and that any mechanical rights should be bundled into those licences. Though some are also critical of the price levels GEMA has set for the new licence, while others say that they aren’t convinced that the rights owners of the songs they are playing will actually see their cut of any money DJs pay into the system.

GEMA, though, disputes the suggestion this is “double taxation”, while also defending its methods of distributing royalties it collects back to the publishers and songwriters who own the rights in the songs that are copied or performed in public. Quite how the dispute will pan out remains to be seen, though some are predicting some grass roots DJs will give up rather than pay the fees, or switch back to playing CDs and vinyl, where no copying takes place so no licences are needed.