Simply searching for the terms “unavailable in Germany” reveals the scale of the problem. Thousands of complaints, from the man in the street right up to record label bosses, show that the licensing dispute with collecting society/anti-piracy group GEMA has hit in every corner.
It is a complex battle with a simple disagreement at its core. In 2007 the entities reached a licensing agreement for YouTube to use works from GEMA’s extensive repertoire. Two years later negotiations to extend that deal broke down when GEMA’s long-term demand of around €0.12 per stream was rejected by Google.
In May 2010 GEMA sued to have YouTube block certain titles so that they could not be viewed locally. In April 2012 and after much legal wrangling, the Regional Court of Hamburg ruled that YouTube could be held liable for the “infringing” videos and must therefore take measures to render content unavailable in Germany.
And herein lies the problem. YouTube is a constant source of frustration for German users thanks to the blocking of thousands of videos as a result of the GEMA dispute. When local users try to access popular videos being enjoyed by their fellow Internet users (GEMA claims that YouTube overblocks unnecessarily) they are greeted with a message informing them that they should blame GEMA, not YouTube, for the inconvenience.
Time and again, users are informed that videos are blocked due to GEMA not granting the necessary music rights. As a result, GEMA has become very unpopular indeed.
Trying to remedy the situation, GEMA applied for an injunction to force YouTube to change the messages, claiming that they misrepresent the situation and damage GEMA’s reputation. YouTube alone is responsible for blocking the videos, claiming otherwise is simply false, GEMA argued.
Yesterday the District Court of Munich agreed with the music group and issued an injunction to force YouTube to comply, stating that the notices “denigrate” GEMA with a “totally distorted representation of the legal dispute between the parties.” Changing the message to state that videos are not available due to a lack of a licensing agreement between YouTube and GEMA would be more appropriate, the Court said.
“For almost three years, YouTube has misled the public with these blocking messages and unlawfully influenced public opinion at the expense of GEMA,” GEMA CEO Dr. Harald Heker said in a statement.
“The decision sends an important and positive signal: It’s not GEMA preventing the enjoyment of music on the Internet. It seeks merely to license YouTube, like all other music portals. Our concern is that the artists participate in the economic exploitation of their works and can earn a livelihood in the future.”
YouTube parent company Google said it was studying the decision.
“We need to examine the reasons for the judgment, before we can make a decision about what to do next,” a spokesperson said.
Once the judgment of the District Court of Munich is made final, YouTube faces fines of up to 250,000 euros per breach.