YouTube Agrees to Pay Royalties, Ending German Music Dispute
BERLIN — For years, YouTube users in Germany have searched for music videos on the online streaming service, only to be confronted with one of the most hated icons on the internet here: a small red TV-shaped symbol informing them they were unable to view the video.
On Tuesday, the long-running dispute over royalties between YouTube and Germany’s main music rights organization that set off the error message finally came to an end.
The two sides said they had reached a deal on compensating artists, resolving a dispute that began in 2009, long before stars like Katy Perry and Pharrell Williams began accusing YouTube of paying too little in royalties and seeking to change laws.
The resolution comes with European officials revamping the region’s copyright rules to give more power to music labels, publishers and other content producers over the likes of Google, which owns YouTube, and Facebook.
Both YouTube and the music rights organization, known by its German acronym GEMA, hailed the deal. YouTube declared it a victory for musicians, saying they could reach “new and existing fans in Germany,” while GEMA said its 70,000 members would receive “fair remuneration” when their works were played over the platform.
Neither side published the details of the agreement.
“We remained true to our position that authors should also get a fair remuneration in the digital age, despite the resistance we met,” Harald Heker, GEMA’s chief executive, said in a statement. He added that the agreement covered future royalties, as well as those accrued over the last seven years.
The dispute has played out in a series of court cases.
In 2012, a Hamburg court ordered Google, YouTube’s owner, to install filters to detect and stop people from watching material to which the internet conglomerate did not own the rights, or face a fine of 250,000 euros, or about $275,000.
In January, however, a Munich court ruled against GEMA, which was seeking €1.6 million in damages over a selection of music that was to be compensated with 0.375 euro cents each time a song was played.
Under the deal announced on Tuesday, both sides have agreed to drop all pending court cases.
Germany’s justice minister, Heiko Maas, welcomed the agreement as a “great step forward” in attempts to hold internet providers such as Google, Facebook and Twitter accountable for the content they distribute.
“I think it is great that there is finally an agreement between YouTube and GEMA that effectively involves nothing more than consenting to compensate artists whose videos are shown” on the platform, in keeping with German copyright law, Mr. Maas told reporters.
Unlike in the United States, where copyright law protects sites like YouTube that host copyrighted material posted by users, in Germany they are considered to be digital forms of traditional companies and, as such, are equally beholden to laws that exist for publishers or music providers.
Across Europe, regional authorities are considering giving newspaper and magazine publishers the right to charge Google and others when content is used on so-called news aggregation sites like Google News. The plans are under discussion and will not come into force until 2018, at the earliest.
The proposals — part of an attempt to create a single digital market across the 28-member bloc — also would demand that services like YouTube beef up their copyright protection tools so that protected music content could not be streamed online without permission.
They also may lead to online video services having to pay more to music rights holders when their content is viewed online.
European officials and some industry groups say the changes are required to give publishers and music labels greater control over their copyrighted material, though many American tech giants say the proposals go too far and will probably hamper innovation and investment.
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