Hanau Christmas Market, Source: Hanau Municipality/ Moritz Göbel

Music license fees threaten small-town German Christmas markets

Music license fees threaten small-town German Christmas markets

Not all Christmas music is part of the public domain and this year the tariffs have drastically gone up

German media has reported that Christmas markets in the State of Hesse will have to pay much higher music licensing fees this year compared to the previous festive season. In some cases, the new tariffs have led to major complaints about the possibility that the holiday mood will be threatened and that the quality of the market experience for visitors might suffer.

In the most extreme case, the town of Hanau had prepared a budget of 1,500 euros for the music fees only to find out that it would be served a bill of 18,000 euros instead. After lengthy negotiations, the city submitted an application to use the appropriate regulations, which take visitor numbers into account. But even on this basis, the bill was still around 8,500 euros.

In Germany, there’s a government-licensed organization called GEMA, which is in charge of collecting the copyright fees for Christmas music played in public spaces. Here, you might be surprised to find out that Christmas music is copyrighted. Well, it depends on the songs.

The older classics, most of which were written before 1926, are already part of the public domain – think “Jingle Bells” here. However, Christmas music is an entire genre, which constantly gets updated with new, and more contemporary hits, which have also become part of the festive season canon in the general public mind. Now, think George Michael’s “Last Christmas” or Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You”.

This is where GEMA’s work comes into play in the sense that its reps collect the music fees from public events, such as Christmas markets and street festivals and then redistribute them to the rights-holders after deducting their admin fees.

GEMA claims that the jump in the bills is not due to an increase in fees but due to a more efficient calculation of the areas covered by the music sound.

The cities argue that the collecting agency ends up pocketing large parts of that money and that they have to pay more than nightclubs to bring some traditional joy to the people.

What can be done?

Given the availability of public domain music, naturally, there’s the option for markets to only stick to the old-timey classics. According to Claus Kaminsky, the mayor of Hanau, this is not a realistic option since many of the popular songs among the children are not in the public domain.

Likewise, reducing the programming of the market would dampen the festive atmosphere and lead to lessened attendance, since performances by school choirs, daycare centres and clubs at the market, in particular, attract a large audience.

We won't let GEMA ruin the Christmas atmosphere at the Christmas market,” promised Hanau's mayor, as quoted by Kinzig.News.

The town council has appealed for help to the German Cities Association, which has taken it upon itself to start collective negotiation with GEMA in order to reduce the fees and find a working compromise.



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