Friday, July 15, 2011

Why Sita Sings The Blues Is Perfectly Legal In Germany, But You Still Can't Watch It On YouTube

Nina Paley, who regularly writes for Techdirt (as well as plenty of other publications) passed along this video she put up about how her movie, Sita Sings the Blues is blocked by YouTube in Germany, thanks to GEMA, the music collection society in Germany.
Since I know a little bit about the ongoing fight between GEMA and YouTube in Germany, I asked Nina if it was okay to do a post, discussing some of the details. We've written about GEMA a few times before, and last year, I went to Berlin and interviewed YouTube's Patrick Walker on stage at PopKomm/All2gethernow, specifically discussing YouTube's ongoing fight with GEMA. The details are a little different than what Nina suggests in the video, though she's absolutely correct that this is very much GEMA's fault. Even though Nina has a paid-in-full license with the various music companies that say displaying/performing her movie for free in Germany is entirely legal, GEMA has taken a ridiculous hardline stance with regards to YouTube. It believes that YouTube needs to pay it ridiculous sums of money for every video on the site that includes any GEMA-licensed music.

Other collection societies around the world have made agreements with YouTube, and worked out reasonable royalty rates for performances. Except GEMA. If I remember correctly, GEMA may be the only major remaining collection society which has not worked out a royalty rate with YouTube, and instead has been fighting a battle in German courts against YouTube. Because of that, and because of some clearly ridiculous court rulings, which suggest that YouTube (rather than its users) are liable for any infringement on the site, YouTube is blocking all videos that it comes across that include GEMA music.

Thus, I believe that the reason Sita Sings the Blues has been taken down is not, as Nina suggests, because of a direct takedown notice by GEMA (though, that's possible), but more likely because of YouTube needing to avoid liability from crazy German court rulings and GEMA's overinflated belief in what a "reasonable" royalty rate would be. Now, notice the key part here: the artist in this case wants the video to be online. Nina is pissed off that it's offline. She's paid quite a bit of money to the various music publishing entities to have the rights to show the movie worldwide, and the one blocking that is GEMA.

This is not an uncommon occurrence in Germany, unfortunately. Because of the way the laws work in Germany, those who have deals with GEMA effectively give up all of their own rights on such things. When I was in Germany, I spoke with multiple artists who were freaking out because they couldn't give away their own music, because GEMA didn't allow it. Aritst would show me their official webpage, without free music, and then their "secret, unofficial" web page with the music they wanted people to download. GEMA, which seems to be run by people entirely out of touch with how music works today, simply insists that no one can give away music for free... because then GEMA doesn't get to collect money. Furthermore, for those who try to get around GEMA and used alternative licenses, GEMA has been known to ignore such licenses, and insist that people still need to abide by GEMA's rules.

This is not a healthy situation. You basically have an out of touch bureaucracy that thinks it gets to set all the rules, even if they don't match the reality in the marketplace. Because of that, artists are suffering. And the fact that YouTube is blocking Sita..., despite it being fully licensed and perfectly legal in Germany, should really wake some people up to the fact that GEMA is not helping artists at all. It's stifling them massively.

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