Established in the early 1900s to help defend music author copyrights and distribute royalties, the Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte (society for musical performing and mechanical reproduction rights) collects payment on behalf of musicians whose music is played in public in Germany – on the radio; over bar, café or store speakers; in film and TV soundtracks; covered by another artist or performed by themselves live.
It’s not just for German music. GEMA works as the German arm of most other such societies around the globe, including America’s ASCAP and BMI and England’s PRS, effectively overseeing all copyrighted music within the country.
It’s everywhere. All public events that include music, from street festivals to open mics, must either pay GEMA the appropriate usage fee or submit a playlist proving only non-copyrighted music was played. If even one song falls under GEMA repertoire, the organisers have to pay the full fee.
It’s strict. Unlike many other performance rights organisations, GEMA doesn’t let members choose how their music is licensed – GEMA members can’t ask to have their music played royalty-free on independent radio stations, for example, or give it away for non-commercial purposes.
It still hasn’t worked things out with Youtube. GEMA is the only collecting society that hasn’t come to an agreement with the video streaming site, which is why most videos containing copyright music can’t be played in Germany. This isn’t set to change anytime soon. This year, GEMA sued Youtube for blaming them in the message that appeared when a video was blocked (“Unfortunately, this video is not available in Germany, because it may contain music for which GEMA has not granted the respective music rights.”); it’s since been changed to “music for which we could not agree on conditions of use with GEMA”.
It’s the only game in town. C3S (the Cultural Commons Collecting Society) positions itself as a more flexible, less-stodgy alternative to GEMA, giving musicians the option to choose which usages they want royalties for. The problem: despite having raised over €117,000 in crowdfunding, the Hamburg-based organisation hasn’t yet gained the 2500 members it needs to be recognised by the European Patent Office. They aim to reach this number in 2015, with the goal of becoming fully operational by 2016.