Customs: Silent Christmas markets: When music becomes too expensive

Catchy tunes from “Last Christmas” or “All I Want For Christmas Is You” will probably be missing while strolling through many German Christmas markets this year.

Customs: Silent Christmas markets: When music becomes too expensive

Catchy tunes from “Last Christmas” or “All I Want For Christmas Is You” will probably be missing while strolling through many German Christmas markets this year. Because: Christmas market operators complain about what they see as high music bills from the Society for Musical Performance and Mechanical Reproduction Rights (GEMA).

On Monday it will therefore remain completely silent in many markets as a protest. Some also want to switch entirely to royalty-free music. Gema stands against the allegations.

Many Christmas market operators are complaining about an increase in the cost of music usage rights. According to its own information, Gema has sent around 3,350 invoices to Christmas market operators across Germany for 2022. There were price increases in around 167 cases - in 35 cases even in the five-figure range.

40 times as expensive

These include, for example, the Christmas market in Frankfurt. According to the organizer, payments for the use of Christmas music have increased from 1,000 to 40,000 euros since 2019. Or in Braunschweig, where Gema charges around 18,000 euros more, according to city marketing information. As a result, there will no longer be any choir performances there.

In Saxony, several cities have come together to launch a petition against the alleged price increase. The operators in Potsdam are drawing strict conclusions: this year there will only be royalty-free music there.

In Germany, Gema represents the copyrights of over 90,000 rights holders such as composers, lyricists and music publishers, as well as over two million rights holders worldwide. It distributes the revenue to them when copyrighted songs are played. On the other hand, pieces of music whose authors have been dead for at least 70 years are license-free.

The size is crucial

The increase in costs seems strange at first glance. The tariff is not new; the collecting society has been calculating the costs for the entire sound system with music the same way since 2011 - namely based on the size of the entire event area.

“Measurements must be made from wall to wall, from the first to the last stand,” says a statement published by Gema on Thursday. Broken down, this means: the larger the area exposed to sound, the higher the license costs. The music at the individual stands is not affected by the dispute. The showmen sign their own contracts with Gema for the music played there.

So have costs increased because many Christmas markets have become larger? That could be a possibility, said Gema spokeswoman Ursula Goebel to the German Press Agency. Many markets have grown in recent years and opening times have often been extended. But the Gema primarily identifies another reason.

Incorrect information and lack of control

"We know that individual Christmas markets have provided incorrect information. Some large, high-turnover markets reported to us that the area was significantly too small," explains Gema board member Georg Oeller. Gema did not control the total area of ​​the markets until 2022, but rather relied on the conscientious and correct registration of the Christmas market operators in recent years.

“But now we did a random check last year and realized: That’s not the case,” says Goebel. Some Christmas market operators probably turned a blind eye. "I don't want to accuse everyone of acting intentionally, but there are certainly some who have registered false areas in recent years or who simply didn't know it," says the spokeswoman.

The music is basically not expensive. According to Gema, 2.5 cents are deducted from the income per visit for music - on average, each visitor leaves behind around 18 euros. “No Christmas market has to do without music just because this music is licensed by Gema,” says Oeller.

Agreements are being sought

The German Association of Cities reacted to the situation and sought discussions with the collecting society. “We were promised that Gema would approach cities with significantly higher bills in order to find solutions,” said the German Association of Cities. According to information from the MDR, a 50 percent discount on the additional costs has already been granted in Leipzig.

The Gema board looks critically at the work of the city council. “With regard to the Christmas markets, the association has obviously not sufficiently fulfilled its task of providing even clearer information about the application of the tariff,” said Oeller.

According to its own information, the Federal Association of City and City Marketing Germany is also in negotiations with Gema. From the perspective of the federal association, there are two points: On the one hand, there is a need for better definitions for the various Gema tariffs and, on the other hand, there should be a discussion about whether the current tariff models are even appropriate for city festivals.

“Day of Silence” planned

In protest, Christmas markets in Hanover, Leipzig, Dresden, Erfurt, Magdeburg, Rostock, Quedlinburg and Goslar should remain completely silent on Monday. On the so-called “Day of Silence” you probably can’t sing along to a Christmas classic with mulled wine in your hand.