I promised to, so I’m delivering. One thing to start with: This whole GEMA (Germany’s collections society) apparatus of rules, conditions and rates really is complex. If I get anything wrong – be it either to GEMA’s advantage or disadvantage – please tell me and I’m going update my article. Email me or simply post a reply below. I gladly will stand corrected.

I don’t know what it looks like with ASCAP et al. – I can’t imagine it to be worse than here.

First off, everybody being a member of GEMA who wants to address any of his problems with GEMA in court runs into an essential problem. Legally, it’s a registered society. That implies at least one important aspect: Any action by GEMA is based upon its members’ voice which means you – as its member – authorise GEMA’s actions.

But let’s take a closer look.

There are three different types of membership:

  • Class C: Dues paying & voting membership (angeschlossenes Mitglied). Conditions for an approval of membership are rather low so it’s easy to get in.
  • Class B: Extraordinary membership (außerordentliches Mitglied). You have to prove your skills depending on what you do (lyric writer, composer, publisher, etc.).
  • Class A: Full membership (ordentliches Mitglied). You may apply for status of full membership only if you’re an extraordinary member of GEMA for at least 5 years and if you’re reporting an income in royalties alone of at least 30.677,51 EUR (numbers for 2006) for five consecutive years.

Have a look at your royalties and you know where I’m going. In 2006, GEMA had about 60.000 members. Here are the stats: 53.371 class C members, 6.319 class B members – and 3.000 class A members. This is less than 5% class A members. Class C members received 26% of the total in royalties, class B got a mere 6% – and class A received… 68%.

It is only the full members who have a direct say in assembly. No wonder that the statutes are heavily influenced by just a few people. They enjoy several privileges like payment from a GEMA social security fund. Yet – you have to be at least 60 years of age and full member for five years.

This you have to know when someone tries to tell you into buying his claim “you just have to make use of your right as a member at the annual assembly”. By the way, who pays cost of travel to Munich which has been this year’s location? The majority of artists are on low budget. And they don’t expect you to come – which arena allows for a capacity of 60.000 people (seated)? Basically, GEMA’s voice is not the average artist’s voice.

Now, another point fixed in GEMA’s terms and conditions is that of when and how to opt-out as a member. Signing the contract, you have a choice which exploitation rights you are transferring to GEMA. But – once you’ve done it they’re gone. While Creative Commons licenses let you choose more constrained license types so you can select who is allowed to use your work (upon inquiry of the potential licensee) GEMA has to give a license to each and everyone who wants to make use of it. Don’t want your songs to be covered? Bad luck. Don’t want to endorse a product by a song of yours? Bad luck. On the other hand, you are not allowed to distribute your licenses with any other organisations or companies than GEMA. And everything you create is exploited by GEMA. No choice.

And be careful if you want to leave GEMA: The contract you signed is valid for three years. In case you miss the deadline of cancellation (six months) – ooops, it’s extended for another three years. Automatically. Now that’s service! Maybe you want to pay attention to the fact you explicitly have to strike out the sentence about signing for *six* years. Otherwise…

Hardly anyone is aware of consequences and reach when he or she decides to become a member. That’s bad. Apart from the few issues I’m addressing in this article and those which build up to the massive body of the iceberg under water and out of sight, you definitely should pay attention as to how you may opt-out.

Oh dear. I see, this article is becoming longer than planned. I’ll make a cut here. So you can enjoy more parts coming up (at least one).

There, I will go into detail regarding shortcomings of the structure of rates for license fees. That’s really a nice read. I think you’re going to rejoice in the nice “rate finder” I found. Ok, there’s room for interpretation of what “finding” means, but anyway. I’ll even try to calculate how much I’d have to pay for a GEMA-licensed song on my site.

See you soon.

[Please note: All stats and facts are taken from the book “GEMA, GVL & KSK – Die Praxishilfe für Musiker und Musikverwerter” by Lothar Scholz, 3rd ed., 2007.]

This text has been published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 Unported licence. If you would like to make use of the text or parts of it in a way that goes beyond the scope please get in touch with me.