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Legendary Berlin Clubs Face Closure
The Quietus , July 6th, 2012 08:16

Some of Berlin’s most revered clubs could face closure due to new copyright fees. Sign the petition to stop it here

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Say the word 'Berlin' to anybody under the age of 30 and they'll likely come straight back with 'techno'. The German capital's clubbing culture is one of its defining characteristics and the backbone of its tourist industry, with more than 35% of visitors citing the city's nightlife as a major reason for their visit, according to the Guardian.

Lately, the city's club scene has come under threat from the insidious effects of gentrification, with disgruntled yuppies and predatory property investors (a combination familiar to New York and London residents) putting pressure on many established clubs to move or shut down. But the German authorities - unlike their UK counterparts - typically recognise club culture's financial and cultural contribution to the city, and are in the process of setting up ”MusicBoard”, a €1m fund intended to support clubs and venues through turbulent times. It's perhaps the country's relatively sympathetic view of clubbing as a legitimate form of cultural expression - in stark contrast to the puritan policy-making of UK governments over the past two decades - that draws so many British residents to Berlin, making it a club music mecca with international reach.

In the last few weeks, though, a new threat has reared its head. GEMA, the organisation responsible for collecting mechanical copyright fees on behalf of some 65,000 artists in Germany, have announced a price hike which could spell the end for some of Berlin's most revered clubs. If the changes go unchallenged, the legendary Berghain - facing a fee hike of 1,400% - will shut after its NYE party this year; the similarly monolithic Watergate is likely to go the same way, claiming its mechanical copyright fees will be increased from €10,000 per year to €200,000.

And all this as a result of changes which, GEMA claims, are intended to increase fairness in the system and put more money in the pockets of artists. In the new scheme, commencing 1st January 2013, the complex existing system of eleven different fee structures is being replaced with just two: monthly charges will be calculated as a percentage of ticket price and relative to the size of the venue. There will, however, be a 50% surcharge if events last longer than five hours, and a similar increase after another three hours. Der Spiegel calculates that, "for an average Berlin club with 410 square meters of space, charging €8 entrance and running two events per week from 10 p.m. until 5. a.m, the price paid to GEMA will rise from the current €14,500 to some €95,000 - an increase of 560%”. It seems evident that these plans favour venues (such as bars and gig spaces) with shorter opening times, placing a disproportionate financial burden on clubs. Legendary spots like the Berghain, renowned for the kind of marathon all-weekend sessions largely prohibited in the UK due to stricter licensing, will fare the worst.

GEMA's argument is that the current system is unfair: for example, as it stands, a club that runs two events per month pays the same lump sum as one that runs 15. They also point out that the extra revenue as a result of the changes will be fed back to musicians, benefitting them in the long run. Speaking to Der Spiegel, GEMA's regional manager Lorenz Schmid seemed unconvinced by the risk to clubs, suggesting that the new rates should be well within their financial means. "The way I see it, [clubs have] been paying far too little in the past”, he said. "I see no problem for a club manager if he has to pay €1.20 out of €12”.

But the consensus seems to be that the funds GEMA collect are largely siphoned off to major labels, whose exposure can easily be measured through national radio play and the like: in other words, the exorbitant fees will be lining the pockets of Adele, not the Berghain set. As a result, producers will lose an essential source of income without any viable substitute rising up to replace it. Ultimately, many argue that the unwieldy, centralised system employed by GEMA will never be an adequate substitute for dance music's own cottage industry, where artists subsist through payment for DJ bookings and labels support themselves through relatively small-run vinyl releases. GEMA's attempt to protect artists' copyright may have good intentions behind it, but the decades-old structure they employ is largely incapable of dealing with the amorphous, fast-moving nature of a flourishing club scene.

The Berlin community aren't taking the change lying down: on 25th June, 5,000 gathered to protest outside GEMA's summer party; on the 30th, more than 2,000 clubs across the country stopped the music for five minutes to raise awareness of the new fees; and an online petition (which you can sign here- Google translate is your friend) has so far gathered over 220,000 signatures. High profile artists including Alec Empire, Blawan, The Black Dog, Mike Paradinas and Steffi have spoken out against GEMA's plans. The German patent office are apparently investigating the legality of the scheme, but they won't reach a decision before the fees come into effect - which may be too late for many of Berlin's clubs.

GEMA - the equivalent of the UK's PRS-MCPS (except, it seems, about three times the size and far more powerful) - has a reputation for aggressive price hikes. In 2009 they revised their fees for hosting music on YouTube, asking for a rate 50 times that of the PRS; as a result, the music of many major artists still can't be accessed on the site by those inside Germany. Such a hardline approach clearly causes more harm than good, leaving both artists and consumers with a sense that well-enforced copyright laws are a bureaucratic obstacle rather than a central pillar of any cultural industry. It remains to be seen whether the organisation's current plans can be reversed.

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David Pike
Jul 6, 2012 12:21pm

You can't fault Gema's logic here, as much as it hurts to take a music monopoly's side. Club's do not pay enough royalties for playing records. It had to catch up with them sometime.

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Jul 6, 2012 12:56pm

this is stupid scare propaganda from the club-owners. the prices discussed aren't set yet, nobody really knows what the end results will be.

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Jul 6, 2012 12:57pm

Generally speaking royalties can only be paid if 'producer x' has paid a membership fee to the 'royalty collection society' and then registered their works. There are usually a whole heap of other prerequisites involved too.
Either way in my line of work it seems to appear that many writers don't have membership and even if they do they don't register/update their database catalogue regularly enough.

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Jul 6, 2012 1:07pm

In reply to dense:

This is not true with the GEMA, where it is generally assumed that titles that are registered with the GEMA are played. Only if you can prove that 100% GEMA-free music is played, you are relieved from paying the fee for that event. Otherwise, and even if only 1 GEMA-registered title is played, you have to pay fees as if only GEMA-registered titles were played.

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Jul 6, 2012 1:11pm

In the future there will be cheaper new music

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Jul 6, 2012 3:59pm

there is no any power to destroy berlin clubs!

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Jul 6, 2012 5:55pm

couple of things:

1) if GEMA increases are levied as a percentage of ticket revenue why is Berghain et al saying they are going to have to close? You just build it into your costs like a VAT hike or any other tax - either passing it onto the customers or absorbing the cost yourself. Its not like their rent or any other fixed cost has been dramatically increased.

2) It also makes sense to do it on opening hours as the Berghain can not only stay open for an entire weekend but CHARGE people for the entire weekend - its doesn't appear biased against clubs really. it just sounds sensible.

3) saying the money will go more to adele et al than underground musicians is pointless- she / they have sold god knows how many times more records and thus whilst you might not like it, again this makes sense.

the one interesting point from this article is that by making clubs pay higher fees it might bring about some change in recognizing and measuring the importance of other metrics ( besides the usual national radio play, record sales etc) for calculating royalties.

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Marinella Contestabile
Jul 6, 2012 6:50pm

this club can't close.

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Jul 6, 2012 7:48pm

Seriously, the artists that produce this kind of techno/house music also to be played in clubs could give a shit less whether they get an increase in any GEMA payments to themselves or not. Let alone are many of their tracks not even registered with the GEMA.

Also does the GEMA not pay the most money to the artists of the actual music played but rather a respective share to all their registered artists. This included 60s folk guys who have long passed but still generate money for nothing for their copyright owners.

Much of the money from this potential surge in prices would also not be gerated by the Berghain or any other 1 or 2 exceptional clubs but rather from the sheer mass of mediocre or totally uninspiring clubs that many people visit.
They play mostly music from the big record companies, which surely knew how to lobby for this.

Nothing else it probably is.

And please stop using Berghain in every second sentence, that is narrow minded and disgusts.

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Jul 7, 2012 10:30am

Very well written piece on the GEMA hikes threat to clubs. Its exactly the fact that gema will take huge fees from the clubs but not actually give it directly to independent club artists who are gema registered that is the problem. Gema have said that they don't want tracklists from clubs to accurately distribute these monies, and if that'sthe case they are effectively taking from these artists the money they would have earnt in booking fees and are giving it to the flippers instead. Yes, clubs should pay higher fees but proportionate and that money should go to the underground club artists who are gema members.

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kleitia shqarri
Jul 7, 2012 11:58am

NO NO NO!!!!!!!I live for the Techno!!!So no way to turn Berlin into a dead city again!!!!!Tresor ,Berghain ,Suicide Circus!!!God no way to close any of them and those i didn't mention here.

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Tsahi Ben Amram
Jul 8, 2012 7:43am


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Jul 8, 2012 12:46pm

In reply to Marinella Contestabile:

the club can`t close

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Jul 8, 2012 4:58pm

As much as I hate GEMA, I wouldn't mind if Berghain closed (and all similar for-profit clubs that treat attendees like sh*t). The ethics and mindset of those places aren't much better than GEMA's.

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Ben Haugh
Jul 9, 2012 4:29pm

Berlin is my favourite city in Europe primarily because of it's lively club scene. I try to go as much as possible - have been about six times - but this would definitely put me off visiting so frequently. Sad news.

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Dec 7, 2012 12:25pm

great review - i agree with a lot of what was said, particularly the line about the thing blending into the background if not concentrated on intently - i bought it a few days ago and have only listened twice, both times whilst writing. i got the impression of a beautiful but subdued album, with few peaks. Scottsdale House Cleaning

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