Music Videos Go Kaput on German YouTube

YouTube and Germany

For the second time in a month, YouTube users from a European nation are finding themselves unable to watch music videos on the site because of a royalty dispute with royalty collection firms.

British fans lost their music video access beginning last month, after Google-owned YouTube couldn’t reach an agreement with PRS, Britain’s royalty service.

Now, German fans are losing their music access after talks with GEMA, the country’s largest collections group, fell apart.

YouTube opened a German portal in November 2007 and struck a lump-sum deal with GEMA at the time. The deal expired on Tuesday and GEMA wanted a per-view deal that YouTube found untenable. The result is no music on YouTube Deutschland, although insiders said talks are still ongoing.

PRS is the only royalty collection firm in England, but GEMA only handles 60 percent of German artists. The problem for YouTube, according to the site, was that GEMA wouldn’t say which artists it represents. So everyone had to go.

“It’s like going into a record store and seeing an unmarked CD priced for $20,” said Chris Dale, a spokesman for YouTube.

America’s royalty collection firms are ASCAP and BMI. One or both of their logos can be found on the back of every music CD.

Dale added that the spat in the UK stemmed from PRS asking for per-stream rates that to YouTube appeared unsustainable for its business. In response, YouTube opted to remove premium music videos, which were videos uploaded by the record labels.

In the case of GEMA, the royalty collections agency wanted fifty times the already unsustainable rates PRS wanted, Dale said.

He added that shortly before the expiration of the agreement, GEMA offered YouTube a reduced fee for an interim solution of one month before a long-term agreement based on the full published tariff could be pursued. Even the temporary rate was not viable for YouTube.

“It, too, exceeds by many times the rate offered to us by the PRS. The interim rate also fails to address the issue of transparency when it comes to knowing the repertoire that GEMA is representing,” he said.

Spokespeople from GEMA did not return requests for comment by press time, although the company said in a statement that it’s made it clear to YouTube that it’s willing to continue contract negotiations.

Until a deal is worked out, it’s unlikely German YouTube fans will be seeing any music clips, however. YouTube has one thing in its favor: A recent BBC report found that more young people use YouTube to watch music videos than MTV, and about half said they purchased music after watching a YouTube video by an artist.

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