Copyright agencies consider fees for smart phones, YouTube videos | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 27.02.2014
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Copyright agencies consider fees for smart phones, YouTube videos

A German copyright collection society wants to receive royalty payments for every smart phone sold. It also considers a fee to embed YouTube videos on websites.

The Central Organization for Private Recording Rights (ZPÜ) called for several hundred million euros from mobile phone manufacturers.

The German copyright collection society wrote to the heads of mobile phone manufacturers, including Apple, Samsung, Nokia among others, calling for a royalty payment between 12 euros and 36 euros ($16.40 and $49.20) per mobile phone sold back dating to the beginning of 2011, according to German news magazine "Spiegel Online." The exact fee depends on the mobile's data storage capacity and if it has a touch screen.

The ZPÜ confirmed the report on its website saying that smart phone technology can be used for copying music and movies, texts and pictures for private use.

"That is expressly allowed but the makers of copyrighted works (...) have a right to be paid an adequate consideration," their statement said.

Legal action

This kind of royalty payment came into being when technology like tape recorders became popular. The devices allowed consumers to copy pieces of music. Nowadays, manufacturers of copy machines, hard disks and CD burners have to pay flat-rate fees to the Central Organization for Private Recording Rights. The organization then redistributes the money between its members.

The collecting society wants to expand this fee to include smart phones. The organization wrote that manufacturers knew about this demand but had so far refused to engage in negotiation on an adequate payment.

The society wrote that it would take legal action if the manufacturers continue to refuse paying, according to the "Spiegel Online" report.

"This is not about threatening mobile manufacturers but, on the contrary, trying to find a suitable solution together with the manufacturers through negotiation," the society said.

It added that it was encouraged to take this step because they had recently arrived at an agreement with computer manufacturers. In the future, about 13 euros per computer sold to a private user will go to the society.

DJ in Essen Photo: Fredrik von Erichsen/dpa

Whenever music can be copied or is presented publicly, GEMA is not far away

The customers will probably pay for it

It might be years before this lawsuit has been settled. But if the ZPÜ is successful, it could hike up prices on mobile phones in Germany as manufacturers pass on the royalty fee to customers.

This is what happened in 2012 when another copyright agency, Association for Music Performance Rights and Mechanical Reproduction Rights (GEMA) increased the fee for USB sticks and memory cards - from 10 cents to up to 2 euro depending on their data storage capacity. GEMA is part of the Central Organization for Private Recording Rights and represents musicians and composers.

License dispute leads to blockage

GEMA is also continuing its fight to secure royalties for their members whenever someone watches YouTube videos.

For years GEMA negotiated unsuccessfully with YouTube about a license agreement for music in YouTube videos but a deal still has not been reached. Therefore, many YouTube videos are blocked if a user with a German IP address requests access to them.

Data from the agency Opendatacity pointed out that 615 out of 1,000 most popular videos in Germany were blocked - compared to 152 in South Sudan.

YouTube vs Gema Photo: Marcus Brandt dpa/lno

YouTube's and GEMA's legal dispute has been going on for years

Blaming GEMA not legal

If someone from Germany wants to enter a YouTube video that might have copyrighted material in it, YouTube has been showing a sign saying: "This video is not available in Germany because it presumably contains music for which the necessary music rights have not been given by GEMA. We are sorry."

GEMA said the signs vilified the organization and took the issue to court. On Tuesday (25.02.2014), the district court Munich decided that these signs are indeed contrary to law. According to the judge the signs are "a very distorted display of the legal dispute between the parties at the expense of GEMA."

Google, which owns YouTube, can still file an appeal.

That does not mean that YouTube will start to show the blocked videos - it just have to change the sign when blocking them not to mention GEMA in what the court called a negative way.

Youtube blocking videos Photo: Christoph Dernbach dpa

This is what an internet user in Germany might see when entering a YouTube site

Internet users who want to watch blocked YouTube videos from a German PC can use proxy servers in other countries. Because these servers don't have a German IP address, they aren't blocked from material to which German rights are unclear.

There are also websites designed to help users access blocked YouTube material.

Embedding YouTube videos

In the future, GEMA might demand money from website owners who embed YouTube videos on their website.

Contrary to links, embedding a video does not make transparent that the file originates from another website. Therefore, the GEMA said, this is a different type of use and requires licensing.

If embedded videos really are an issue of copyright is an issue the European Court of Justice will have to decide. Cologne media law expert Otto Freiherr Grote told DW he believes there won't be a yes or no decision.

"It makes a difference if the video is embedded for commercial use or on a private website, for example," he said, adding that it is unlikely that private posts will be affected.

However, he warned all bloggers to be cautious.

"You should make very clear that something is embedded," he said. "It is important to watch out if the video has really ended up on YouTube legally."

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