Friday, 18 January 2013

18: Why YouTube sucks (in Germany)

YouTube is crap in Germany. Sound absurd? It isn't. And it’s all because of some horrible people who call themselves by a disgusting acronym known as GEMA. These license-fee hunting reptilians think YouTube owes them money to stream in Germany – and because of an ongoing dispute between GEMA, “a legally authorized collecting society,” and YouTube, millions of songs and artists aren’t available in Germany, where I live.

This is how it works. Let us presume you board a plane, land in Germany, spend several weeks here, make a friend, discuss a song and want to introduce them to it. Enter the song name in YouTube and you’ll get a black screen over the official video with a sign that reads: “Because of an ongoing dispute with YouTube this song is not available in your territory, probably because the music rights for Germany were not accorded.” It’s like buying a DVD and realizing you’ve got the wrong Region Code. You swallow but realize you haven’t read everything yet. A small grey space follows, before another notice, saying: “We are sorry.”


No you’re not, or you wouldn’t have stopped me and millions of others from listening to practically the entire catalogue of musical history since 2009. What kind of organization dedicates itself to stopping people listening to music? Not even the Taliban or Al Shaabab are that militant. Sorry? What, because of the annoying little red smiley you stick on very YouTube song instead of content? 

Anonymous' Ode to Gema.

It’s like China. Except it’s Adele and not Amnesty International that is being blocked. In Pakistan and Afghanistan YouTube can be suspended for months, but that is intended to prevent riots.

Does Germany need this ‘license fee censorship’? Does mainstream music contain, other than rampant pro-consumerism, some form of dangerous subliminal ear-ingested chemical weapon that is so camouflaged and entrenched we’ve all failed to notice it or be infected by it?  Are Lady Gaga, David Bowie or Jay Z a threat to German national security? 

If you have ever imagined a world without YouTube (there was one before the 21st Century), there isn’t one. Nevertheless GEMA is doing a good job of fulfilling the dream of a toneless Internet ecosphere. Even Berlin’s clubs have threatened to close down because of the license fees they are charged for sets. Filmmakers have sought ways to renounce scores; commercials are increasingly silent. GEMA is the music’s taxman, the devil Robert Johnson met at the crossroads.

You can still listen to live performances of songs punctuated by coughs and claps or tired covers played by skinny teenagers in Internet cafes. If you’re lucky, you might even get a mobile phone-shot video remix of the song you are looking for.

Luckily, I’m not the only person to be ridiculously angry about these GEMA fools. The good people at Anonymous hacked the offending website as part of Operation Gema last year. Hundreds of forums are awash with melody-deprived nostalgics ripping into tirades about GEMA and the imminent downfall of the Babylonians. 

So with no music to listen to, what is there left to do on German Internet? The usual distractions, but even these come at a risk. All-in-all, being a pirate in Germany just isn’t easy. The Pirate Party, or Die Piraten, surprised everyone in 2011 scoring a whopping 10 per cent in Berlin’s local elections. But the election of the dope-smoking Internet freedom warriors didn’t bring me music (although it did shake up the political scene a little).

Instead, Berlin has become a guinea-pig bowl, a frontier in the corporate world’s ACTA campaign to enforce intellectual property rights. Despite the European Court of Justice rejecting ACTA in June 2012, file-sharing is infinitely more dangerous in Germany than most EU states.

Download at your own peril. You could end up being dragged away by a cluster of copyright-loving officers or smacked with a four-digit fine. So if you do download, make sure you watch something worth it. It’s bad enough being made to watch a rom-com series to kill time, but should it cost you €1200 and deportation? No Adam Sandler movie is worth that.

NB: Anonymous, more Operation Gema please.


  1. I moved to Germany recently and i can't even listen to some live shows ... why the hell would they block them?

  2. Just get a VPN for free like Hotspot Shield.

  3. I can understand everyone's frustration with the blocked content – as an American living in Germany blocked YouTube videos was something I was not use to – but this is not the result of GEMA.

    GEMA and YouTube had a contract that expired in 2009 at which time they began renegotiations. YouTube did not agree with the royalty rates suggested by GEMA, and since then YouTube and GEMA have been in a battle of a list of specific videos that contain the copyrighted material of GEMA members (~1000 videos). To circumvent any potential future royalty issues for whatever reason, YouTube has blocked a large number of videos, but not at the request of GEMA.

    There is a separate suit against YouTube because the blocked content message is misleading as it gives the idea that GEMA is in someway the reason for the content being blocked. GEMA in facts does not have the power to force YouTube to remove any content. They would first have to go in front of a court, just like in the US and many other contries, if an agreement could not be made – which is where they are now.

    Also, because of patent and copywriter treaties between most developed nations, GEMA's influence is mostly over the content of German artists they represent. Artists like Katy Perry or Justin Beiber are not members of GEMA as they are represented by the labels they are signed to. And because of these treaties, any content that GEMA could have YouTube remove would not only be removed in Germany by everywhere these treaties apply–including the US. So basically, any content you can circumnavigate with a proxy is not in question in the GEMA-YouTube suit, GEMA could are less about, and is being blocked at the decision of YouTube.

    With all that said, I do not believe that GEMA is completely blameless. And I do not understand how a quasi-governmental, state sponsored organization/agency can still have for-profit motives.

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