Reports from German media reveal that Christmas markets in the State of Hesse are grappling with substantially higher music licensing fees this holiday season, causing distress among event organizers and the public. The surge in tariffs has raised concerns about the potential adverse effects on the cherished holiday atmosphere and the overall quality of the market experience.
In an extreme case, the town of Hanau had budgeted 1,500 euros for music licensing fees, only to be handed a staggering bill of 18,000 euros. Following protracted negotiations, the city sought to employ regulations accounting for visitor numbers, yet even with this adjustment, the bill remained around 8,500 euros.
Germany’s music licensing is administered by a government-authorized organization known as GEMA, responsible for collecting copyright fees for Christmas music played in public spaces. Surprisingly, Christmas music, it turns out, can be copyrighted, depending on the specific songs.
The timeless classics, primarily composed before 1926, fall within the public domain, exemplified by songs like “Jingle Bells.” However, Christmas music represents an entire genre continually enriched with new and more contemporary hits, many of which have become staples of the festive season, such as George Michael’s “Last Christmas” and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
GEMA’s role comes into play as its representatives collect music fees from public events, including Christmas markets and street festivals, and subsequently distribute them to the rights holders after deducting administrative fees.
GEMA contends that the surge in fees is not due to an increase in the rates themselves but rather stems from a more precise calculation of the areas where music sound is heard.
The affected cities argue that the collecting agency retains a substantial portion of the funds collected, leaving them with costs higher than what nightclubs pay to bring traditional joy to the public. This raises the question: What can be done to mitigate these challenges?
In principle, Christmas markets could opt to feature only classic, public domain music. However, Claus Kaminsky, the mayor of Hanau, deems this an unrealistic choice since many beloved songs, particularly those adored by children, do not fall within the public domain.
Moreover, reducing the market’s musical programming would dampen the festive atmosphere and likely lead to decreased attendance, as performances by school choirs, daycare centers, and clubs at the market attract a large and diverse audience.
“We won’t let GEMA ruin the Christmas atmosphere at the Christmas market,” Hanau’s mayor vowed, as quoted by Kinzig.News.
In response to this challenge, the town council has sought assistance from the German Cities Association, which has taken it upon itself to initiate collective negotiations with GEMA. Their objective is to explore options for reducing the fees and finding a viable compromise that preserves the enchanting spirit of Germany’s cherished Christmas markets.