German music rights group GEMA is known for its strict copyright regime, but sometimes they take things too far. The group recently claimed money from the organizers of a dance event where only Creative Commons music was played. The organizers informed GEMA beforehand about their royalty free status, but the group suspects foul play and demands cash.
Music royalty collection agencies are known for going to extremes as they go about their business and the practices of Germany’s GEMA are a good example of just how far these merciless outfits can go.
The group recently sent an invoice to the organizers of a dance event where only Creative Commons licenced music was played.
The organizers of the event had informed GEMA beforehand that they would only play royalty-free CC music, but the music rights group isn’t buying this ‘excuse’.
After inspecting the list of tracks that were played, GEMA sent a 200 euro invoice to the organizers. The group claims that some of the artists on the list are very familiar to “pseudonyms” that are also registered with GEMA.
Since German case law dictates that the burden of proof lies with the people who hosted the event, the organizers now have to prove that these artists are not associated with GEMA. This is a problem, since these netlabel artists are often hard to trace, and some are not even known publicly by their full names.
An absurd, unworkable and totally outdated situation.
The process may have made sense 15 years ago when nearly all artists were members of royalty agencies, but not anymore. Today there are hundreds of thousands of creators who publish their work under Creative Commons licenses, and many of them are musicians. Why should they have to prove that they are not related to a royalty collecting agency?
Unfortunately GEMA’s ‘mistake’ of claiming money from Creative Commons content is not an isolated incident. Just a few weeks ago the group demanded money from the nonprofit organization Musikpiraten for publishing a CD with Creative Commons licensed tracks.
At the time GEMA used the same arguments, but the claims turned out to be a mistake.
Michael Koch, singer and guitarist of “the.princess.and.the.pearl,” was one of the people who had to prove that he was not a member of GEMA. Kock cancelled his membership earlier because it did more harm than good.
“We don’t think highly of GEMA. I used to be a member, and our band actually lost a couple of gigs, because the organisers of small festivals were unable to afford the GEMA fees, of which hardly anything flows back to the band in terms of royalties,” he said.
“The fact that we, as non-members, must prove that our music has not been composed by a GEMA member, demonstrates that the society has too much power – and that it abuses it ruthlessly,” Koch added.
German Pirate Party chairman Christian Hufgard recently filed a complaint through which he hopes to reverse this backwards situation, and put the burden of proof on GEMA instead of the artists and organizers of music events.