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Collecting Societies

Who is GEMA?

GEMA is the German Collecting society for composers, songwriters, and music publishers. It is the comparable German organization to the British PRS, the French SACEM, Netherlands BUMA or the American ASCAP or BMI. The association monitors the mass use of copyright in modern media so that title holders can assert their rights to remuneration. An individual composer, songwriter, or music publisher would not be in a position to do this kind of monitoring. Instead, the individual copyright holder can transfer his or her rights to GEMA for fiduciary enforcement by means of a usage contract.

GEMA has a virtual monopoly in Germany. To balance the resulting position of power, the Wahrnehmungsgesetz obligates GEMA to conclude contracts and set rates for anyone. Income must be distributed to the members by means of a scheme of distribution.

Who has to pay GEMA fees?

As a rule, GEMA has to be paid whenever music from the GEMA repertoire (for more about this term, see the next question) is publicly played back. Note: "music" means not only a specific recording of a composition by a musician, but also the composition itself, regardless of who records it. When it comes to paying GEMA fees, it is irrelevant whether an original recording by the Beatles or a cover version of the Beatles song by an unknown band is being played back in public.

Public playback particularly includes:
- concerts
- playing music at a restaurant, discotheque, or public event
- making music available for download on the internet

How can I find out whether a certain work of music is in the GEMA repertoire or "GEMA-free"?

Every author who becomes a member of GEMA signs a usage contract by which he or she transfers to GEMA more or less all of his or her copyrights for enforcement in trust. If an author is a member of GEMA or a member of a foreign collecting society, it will generally be assumed that all of that author's works or at least the majority are part of the GEMA repertoire. Collecting societies around the world are bound by so-called reciprocity contracts according to which each collecting society enforces the rights of all other collecting societies in its own territory. Hence songs by e.g. the English or American composers are also part of the GEMA repertoire.

According to § 10 WahrnG, collecting societies are obligated to disclose to anyone upon written request whether a specific work belongs to the GEMA repertoire. GEMA requires a (low) processing fee for this.



Is GEMA-free music free?

Usually not. If an author is not a member of GEMA, this only means that GEMA does not enforce his or her copyrights in trust; rather, the author does it. In such a case the author would have to be asked for permission and possibly paid compensation.

Only music that is in the public domain is free of charge. This includes e.g. traditionals (folk songs) and works whose author died more than 70 years ago (cf. § 64 UrhG). However, even compositions in the public domain may be encumbered by ancillary copyrights of e.g. the performing artists (musicians).

Want to carry out?

According to § 13a Wahrnehmungsgesetz, the organiser must inform GEMA in advance if GEMA compositions will be played live or from a recording at the event. After the event, the organiser must send GEMA a list showing which works were played live. You can find the necessary forms here: www.gema.de/kunden/direktion_aussendienst/formulare/

Caution: GEMA fees double if an event is not reported in advance.

The following applies to events where live or recorded music is played: there is a legal presumption that the music played is in the GEMA repertoire. This means that in case of doubt, the organiser must prove that this is not the case.

Events often involve the participation of several event agencies, concert or tour organisers, guest performance directors, agents, etc. Which of these is required to report the event to GEMA?

In current jurisdiction, the organiser is the person responsible for the event from an organisational and financial perspective. This is the person who rents the event location, promotes the event on-site, sells tickets in advance, etc., and hence in practice decides whether and how the event is conducted.

Artist agents, tour organisers, and other service providers are not organisers.




Does a composer who plays his or her own songs live have to pay GEMA?

Yes! Authors also have to pay the fees if they play their own compositions and have GEMA enforce the stage rights to their works. This applies not only to live concerts but also the presentation of songs online or on demo CDs.

How do I get a licence for a cover version on CD from GEMA?

GEMA offers an online form for this: www.gema.de/kunden/direktion_industrie

I bought a CD at a flea market or abroad that is not on the market in Germany. Can I get a licence from GEMA to release the CD in Germany?

No, since the reproduction of a CD involves not only copyrights, but also the ancillary copyrights of the performing artists and sound recording producers under §§ 75, 85 UrhG. These must be obtained from the sound recording producers and performing artists themselves.

Do I have to pay to play GEMA material on the internet?

Yes. Anyone who offers whole or partial musical works online has to obtain a licence for this from GEMA. This also applies, for example, to e-commerce sound carrier stores like Amazon, which offers individual "sound clips" as samples. GEMA has developed special rates for online use. These rates differentiate between downloads and streaming. There is also a separate rate for web radio.
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