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New royalties charges threaten Berlin clubs

Published: 05 Jul 2012 08:23 GMT+02:00

The head of the public-private marketing group Visit Berlin, Burkhard Kieker, said the German capital's renowned nightlife remained one of its biggest draws and warned against a planned hike in levies on discos.

GEMA, the country's feared music rights agency which has a reputation in the industry as one of Europe's most aggressive in collecting royalties, announced in April plans to impose a 10-percent levy on all cover charges for bars and clubs as part of a reworking of its usual fee structure.

The German Hotel and Restaurant Association estimates that GEMA payments will rise as a result by an average of 400 to 600 percent from January 1 and warned that many locations will go out of business.

Kieker said he was not worried about Berlin losing its appeal to ravers from across Europe and around the world, but said club operators may have to get creative like in the years just after the Wall fell.

"One-third of the people who visit us here in the city also come because of the nightlife," he said.

"GEMA - they are robber barons, driven by lawyers who ask what can we get and then grab it. But if I know Berlin, it will go back to an era like the 1990s when we had a lot of illegal clubs and where the GEMA agent will have to hunt for the door to get into the cellar to find out what music is playing."

He added: "That's Berlin - the scene is like quicksilver and if it doesn't work in one place, it will go to another."

GEMA argues that the royalties are essential to help artists, labels and publishers in the ailing music industry and calls the levy "fair."

Last month hundreds of clubs across the country let the decks fall silent for five minutes on a Saturday night to protest GEMA's plans and a petition campaign has already registered 200,000 signatures.

Berlin's clubs including Berghain and Watergate have won a world-class reputation among ravers for top DJs, remarkable locations and parties that start late and end well into the next day.

After the Berlin Wall tumbled in 1989, the techno scene had a heyday in the post-industrial spaces of the former communist east and help feed a fascination with a city that has fuelled a lasting tourism boom.

The most popular draws were often in squatted buildings and hopped to a new location as soon as the operators were evicted. But in recent years they have become more established.

Last year Berlin had 22.5 million overnight stays and Kieker said the city expected to rival Paris with its tally of around 30 million by 2018.

AFP/bk

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

08:46 July 5, 2012 by DoubleDTown
I take issue with Kieker's assertion that GEMA is "driven by lawyers". Lawyers are only tools, not policy drivers. What drives GEMA's lust for money is politicians that like spending it on all the social programs those ravers love -- e.g. essentially free university education.
09:02 July 5, 2012 by jpl82
@ doubledtown

You must be a troll, GEMA is a private organisation. They spend the money as they see fit and they're not known for being generious.
09:30 July 5, 2012 by IchBinKönig
@ jpl82

GEMA is a private organization that probably pays a 50-percent levy on its profits to taxes that pay for social programs. Just like any corporate tax, the added cost gets passed along to the consumer. Businesses don't pay taxes, consumers do. As much fun as it is for idiots to revel in high corporate tax rates for Evil Corporations to pay for the Social Netz. The fact is, it just means an overall increase in the cost of living for everybody.
11:26 July 5, 2012 by chicagolive
Well as being a recording artist and a DJ GEMA is the worst trash on the planet. Half the time the artist that they are so called protecting don't even get the money that is owed to them. Suing is like trying the sue the police here nearly impossible.
11:27 July 5, 2012 by DocEllis
This will work for clubs.

Free entrance, you must buy at least 3 drinks to cover the money not collected at the door. Cute uh.
12:10 July 6, 2012 by MunichMag
@UncleVanya

The problem is GEMA want the money whether music being played is GEMA protected or not, hence the levy on all entrance fees regardless of what's being played.
15:21 July 8, 2012 by function key
it makes sense to collect money for works being played, but gema does not do that. those behind hte music played at the clubs do not receive the money because the system is designed to reward those that are already at the top of mainstream charts. why should mainstream song writers receive money when non of their music is being played at these clubs?

why does the president of gema earn more money than the kanzlerin?

furthermore, gema is charging on the basis of everyone paying full price admission and a full house, not just a full dancefloor. Tiered admission prices and acoustic deadzones do not matter to them.

never forget, gema is the same organization that sought ot have kindergartens pay when the kids sing happy birthday
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