German music fans have been unable to watch videos of some of their favourite artists on YouTube since Wednesday because of a row over royalty payments to performers and publishers.
YouTube, which is owned by Google, the US internet company, is blocking music videos by artists represented by Gema, the German performing-rights society, because the two disagree on how much money copyright holders should get.
The dispute mirrors the conflict in the UK between YouTube and PRS, the British body that collects music royalty fees. Premium music videos were blocked in the UK two weeks ago and remain suspended while negotiations continue.
Gema represents 62,000 rights-holders, most of them German. This means You-Tube’s blocking of Gema artists has hit bands that are well-known in Germany, such as Silbermond. But foreign artists represented by German labels could also end up being hit.
In the UK, musicians including Billy Bragg, Jazzie B, and Craig David have joined Pete Waterman, the record producer, in accusing Google of “cheapening” music by refusing to pay adequate royalties on music shown on YouTube.
They have launched a campaign called Fair Play For Creators, under which about 500 artists signed a letter to the Times newspaper, claiming that Google was not treating music fairly.
Google claims that performing rights societies are asking for too much money.
Google said Gema had started by asking for €0.12 in royalty payments for every video played – 50 times more than the current rate – and that it was now requesting €0.01 per stream, still four times higher than last agreed between the groups.
“The price the Gema collecting society is asking is prohibitive. We believe strongly in fair pay for artists, but we can’t agree to rates that would mean we simply end up losing significant amounts of money.”
But Gema said it had never asked for €0.12 per stream. Talks never got to prices, it said. “Google wants to pay us a flat fee – a demand we can’t agree to as we wouldn’t be able to divide up the royalties among our members.”
In the UK, Google had proposed to pay a flat fee – and one that was lower than a previous agreement – even though the number of music videos shown on YouTube had increased significantly.
The PRS in the UK wants 0.22p per streamed video, the minimum amount set by a 2007 ruling by the UK’s copyright tribunal.
Gema and PRS are continuing talks with Google. Gema said both parties could reconvene “in the next few days”, but that it would stick to its guns. “The door remains open,” said Google.