YouTube and German collecting society GEMA have been at loggerheads for years over music licensing, but this morning the pair have finally settled their conflict.
“YouTube has reached a landmark agreement with the Germany-based music rights organisation, GEMA, meaning that starting today, more music will be available on YouTube in Germany,” announced YouTube in a blog post.
“This is a win for music artists around the world, enabling them to reach new and existing fans in Germany, while also earning money from the advertising on their videos. And for YouTube users in Germany, who will no longer see a blocking message on music content that contains GEMA repertoire, for the first time in seven years.”
For now, the terms of the deal have not been announced, bar YouTube’s claim that the agreement “reflects a long-held commitment that composers, songwriters, and publishers should be paid fairly”.
Meanwhile, GEMA has confirmed that the deal “also covers the contractual gap since 2009”, as well as covering the YouTube Red subscription tier when it launches in Europe.
“After seven years of tough negotiations the conclusion of this contract with YouTube marks a milestone for GEMA and its members,” said GEMA CEO Dr Harald Heker in a statement.
“We remained true to our position that authors should also get a fair remuneration in the digital age, despite the resistance we met. It is crucial that the licensing agreement that we have now signed covers both the future and the past. By reaching this agreement, we can secure the royalties for our members.”
“We are extremely pleased to have reached an agreement with GEMA to help their members earn revenue and to enable new musical talents to emerge,” said YouTube’s head of international music partnerships Christophe Muller this morning.
“YouTube has evolved into an important source of promotion and revenue for musicians and we are pleased that GEMA members will benefit from their creative work on YouTube.”
Before today, GEMA and YouTube’s licensing standoff had been longstanding, with their dispute frequently spilling over in public. The pair’s previous licensing deal was not renewed in 2009, as negotiations broke down.
In January 2013, for example, GEMA filed with the German Patent and Trademark Office for damages from 1,000 songs involving its members which it said had been made available on YouTube without a licence.
The society also bridled at the message that YouTube published on music videos that were blocked in Germany, which laid the blame at GEMA’s door – “Unfortunately, this video is not available in Germany, as it may contain music for which GEMA has not granted the necessary music rights”.
At the time, Heker described YouTube’s attitude as “pure demagogy”, while in February 2014 the Regional Court of Munich agreed, ruling that the wording offered “a completely distorted picture of the legal dispute between the parties to the detriment of GEMA”.
In the years since then, GEMA has signed a licensing deal with Vevo for the latter’s standalone music-video service in Germany – not its YouTube channel – while in mid-2015 the higher regional court in Hamburg confirmed a previous ruling that YouTube could be held liable for copyright infringement if it failed to “comply with certain controls on uploaded videos”.
However, in January this year YouTube prevailed in a ruling from the Munich Regional Appeal Court, which decided that individual uploaders rather than YouTube are responsible for infringing content on the service – a backing of YouTube’s controversial ‘safe harbour’ status.
“It is an automatism. In the moment a user uploads a video, it is made accessible to the public – without any assistance from YouTube. The platform only provides the tools,” ruled the judge, although GEMA promised to appeal the decision, claiming that “YouTube is not only a technical service provider, it actually conducts itself like a music service”.
At the time, YouTube’s spokesperson said that the company has “always been open to working with GEMA… unfortunately German artists and authors are missing out, but our door is always open and we hope to find a solution together with GEMA, instead of through the courts”.
Today, that solution appears to have been reached, although in its announcement, GEMA stressed that “there are still different legal positions held by YouTube and GEMA in the issue of whether YouTube or the uploaders are responsible for the licensing of the used musical works”.
“Despite the conclusion of this agreement, the challenge remains for the politicians to create a clear legal framework,” said Heker.
We are seeking confirmation or denial of this claim. In the meantime, the deal will be welcomed by music labels in Germany. In February 2012, Sony Music’s Edgar Berger went public with his dissatisfaction at the dispute, criticising GEMA rather than YouTube when asked why Sony’s music videos were not available in Germany.
“I suspect that some members of GEMA’s supervisory board have not yet arrived in the digital era,” Berger told Billboard at the time. “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.”
He was backed up by Universal Music’s Frank Briegmann at the time. “Germany is a developing country in the digital music market. GEMA apparently has not yet understood the new developments in the international music market,” he said.
GEMA would argue that healthy growth in the German market, despite its relative latecomer status in the streaming world, has supported its strategy. We’ll have to wait for more details of the YouTube deal to emerge before gauging how advantageous it is for each side.
Interestingly, several sources have told Music Ally in the past that German law would require GEMA to make the terms of any such licensing agreement public, rather than keeping them as secret as the deals struck with YouTube by other collecting societies like PRS for Music in the UK.