PRS & GEMA – you get to pay but don’t have a say

Since I had the opportunity to speak at Spiegel Online’s panel on music copyright at Re:publica, I’ve learnt more about the structure of the PRS and the German equivalent, GEMA. Before you fall asleep in front of your screens, let me tell you one thing: Copyright is everybody’s business because we are all now creators of content just as much as we are consumers of it.

Imagine living in a country where everybody pays taxes, but only the top earners get to vote. This is exactly how PRS works. As is the case with the German GEMA, PRS membership is divided into three categories according to yearly income. Any artist who does not pass the financial threshold is lovingly referred to as a “provisional member” (of which I am one). If you do pass the threshold, you can be promoted to “associate member”, which grants you with the right to vote on members of the board. However, only top earners, or “full members” get to nominate and be nominated for the board. In addition to this, their vote counts ten times as much as that of the associate member (you’re eligible for an additional 10 votes in a poll or postal ballot).

Almost as shocking as the serf-like structure of the PRS are the amount of musicians and content creators who are not concerned about this. We need some kind of collection agency and an institution to protect and advocate the importance of copyright, but we need an egalitarian structure that acts in the interest of all content creators and not just the dwindling number of industry giants. If you know someone who’s a full member, contact them and ask them to bring up this subject on your behalf, that’s what I’m going to do know. I’m also looking into Sentric Music, a PRS competitor in the UK, to see how they work and what they have to say on the subject matter.

One Reply to “PRS & GEMA – you get to pay but don’t have a say”

  1. Interesting article that enlightened me on the PRS’s practice. It is EXACTLY the same with the GEMA, three classes of members, full, associate and auxiliary, and the whole royalty payment system is biased towards the top 5%. There is also the much hated GEMA-Vemutung, an organiser has to PROVE it if he is not playing GEMA (or any PRS) registered music, otherwise they have to pay royalties and most of it goes to the top 5% who have no normal right to them. Royalties are also much higher in Germany, and if you are unlucky enough to have a large club that is only a quarter full, you still have to pay the full rates even if you have receipts to prove your capacity. Their threatened 2013 reform means that some clubs will be paying 5 times a as much royalties in the new year. I am a member of the GEMA, and I think they stink. If you are an author there is no way of opting out individual compositions, and they do not accept creative commons licences, making it very difficult if you want to promote yourself by distributing free music etc. for radioplay. They are the most mafia like organisation in Germany, and the politicians do nothing about it because they have no idea.

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