YouTube’s Three-Plus Year Copyright Battle With German Music Rights Agency Rumbles On, As GEMA Breaks Off Negotiations

A copyright dispute that has blocked German YouTube users’ access to certain music videos continues to rumble on with little sign of a resolution — despite going on for more than three years already. Today GEMA, the German music royalties collection agency at the centre of the dispute, announced it has broken off its latest round of negotiations with YouTube.

The dispute between the pair started back in 2009 when negotiations to renew a contract between GEMA, which represents the rights of more than 64,000 composers, lyricists, and music publishers, and Google’s video streaming platform YouTube, failed to reach agreement. Under the original contract Google paid GEMA a set fee per streamed music video but after the contract lapsed GEMA reportedly asked for 12 cents per stream — a rate YouTube described at the time as “without comparison in the history of online music”.

Subsequent negotiations to agree a rate broke down, and GEMA went on to sue YouTube in a 2010 test case for distributing copyrighted material without permission — holding it responsible for copyrighted material uploaded by its users. Then in April last year a German court ruled that YouTube must install software filters to prevent users uploading content whose rights GEMA holds.

Outside the courtroom, negotiations to find a mutually acceptable rate for streaming GEMA-rights-owned music videos resumed but have today broken down again. Die Welt reports that GEMA wants the German Patent and Trademark Office to arbitrate on whether its proposed rate of 0.375 cents per stream is appropriate — but YouTube is arguing for a lower rate.

Commenting today, Dr. Harald Heker, CEO of GEMA said in a statement (translated by Google Translate): “Our position is clear: the use of the copyrighted repertoire creators need to be fairly compensated. Since 1 April 2009, YouTube has refused all proposals of an appropriate licensing.” Heker went on to say that in GEMA’s view YouTube has been violating the copyright of its members and should therefore also pay compensation ” because the copyrighted musical works are used on YouTube and mass marketed”.

GEMA is also unhappy about the message YouTube displays to German users who try to access blocked videos — describing it as misleading and designed to negatively “influence the public and media opinion” by giving the false impression that GEMA is categorically refusing to license music to YouTube.

Asked for comment on the latest development, Google provided a statement noting that it has “dozens” of collection society deals in place across more than 45 countries — thereby implying it is GEMA that’s being unreasonable — and adding that it remains committed to “finding a solution”.

Here’s Google’s statement in full:

YouTube believes that rights holders and artists should benefit from their work. We have dozens of collection society deals in place across more than 45 countries because we provide an important source of income for musicians and a platform where new artists can be discovered and promoted. Music labels are generating hundreds of millions of dollars on YouTube every year. Artists, composers, authors, publishers, and record labels in Germany are missing this opportunity as a result of GEMA’s decisions. We remain committed to finding a solution with GEMA compatible with YouTube’s business model so that we can again provide a source of revenue for musicians and a vibrant platform for music lovers in Germany.

On the compensation question, for unlicensed use of GEMA copyrighted videos uploaded by YouTube users, YouTube has always argued that as a hosting provider (rather than a content provider) it cannot be held legally responsible for material its users upload.