German fee agency GEMA announces new plans to crack down on digital DJs

GEMA have announced new measures to clamp down on DJs playing copied music, with the potential to cause big damage to Germany's club scene.

17.03.13

Last year, GEMA – the company in charge of collecting royalties in Germany – announced plans to overhaul their fee structure in a crackdown on DJs playing copied tracks. Yesterday De:Bug posted an open letter explaining that the new fee structure would be implemented on April 1st this year, and FACT have posted a comprehensive report outlining the measures.

Essentially, a DJ can now be charged with a license fee – or a fine, in simpler terms – for playing copied music. Even if the DJ owns the track in any other format, the charge could theoretically still apply so long as it is a digital copy that is being played, be it legally purchased, illegally purchased, received as a promo, sent from a producer friend, etc. The exact law requires the copy to have been made in the country, although neither article outlines how this could be proved.

A single track is charged at €0.13, a collection of more than 1000 tracks can be purchased for €125 and further package deals exist as €50 per 500 tracks. Whilst the money does go to GEMA, there are no measurements to document the tracks that the DJs are carrying on them, which suggests that the artists that the DJs are playing are not likely to see any money from it.

The new rules go further, saying that it does not matter if the track is played or not, so long as they are in the DJ’s library. So if a DJ has a few thousand tracks on their laptop, USB stick, CD-Rs or other digital storage device of choice, they would have to pay for every one of these according to the above pricing.

The concept of the Digital DJ License is not a new one, and many European countries, from Belgium to Hungary to Poland to Croatia, have their own various measurements in place that limit DJ performances that range from flat license fees to taking percentages of door charges. In the UK, in fact, DJs are technically required to have a license from companies like PPL in order to play digital copies, although it is barely known about and rarely, if ever, enforced. However, given the size of the DJ industry in Germany, with cities like Berlin and Hamburg home to some of the world’s most respected and recognisable clubs, this is obviously a major development.

It’s not known how GEMA will enforce these measures, which seem far too complex to police efficiently. Solutions to the measures include exclusively playing vinyl or original retail CDs – two things that ignore the nature of music distribution and consumption in 2013.

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