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Christmas market in Stuttgart

Photo: Marijan Murat / picture alliance/dpa

The first Christmas markets have already opened, the rest will follow suit this week. But behind the mulled wine stalls and roasted almond stalls, a dispute has broken out over the music – between the organisers of the markets and the collecting society Gema.

What is it about?

At events with music, whether live or from sound carriers, copyrighted works are presented to the public. The Gema (Society for Musical Performance and Mechanical Reproduction Rights) ensures that the authors of the works are also remunerated for this. Organizers acquire rights of use from Gema by paying a fee. This remuneration is passed on by Gema to the authors after deduction of the administrative fee, and the organisers receive a licence with which, according to Gema, they "acquire the rights to almost all musical works worldwide".

According to the BGH ruling of 2011, the amount of the remuneration for admission-free open-air events depends on the size of the event space – calculated from the first to the last stand and from house wall to house wall.

For a long time, Gema levied the fees on the basis of the areas of use reported by the organisers. Last year, Gema examined this data and found that there was a discrepancy between the data and the areas it measured. As a result, the fees for Christmas markets were drastically increased.

In this case, however, it is about the background sound. According to dpa, the music at the individual stalls is not affected by the dispute. For the music played there, the showmen conclude their own contracts with Gema.

What do the Christmas market organizers say?

Nationwide, about 35 stores are now affected by the increased fees, all of which are in the five-digit range. Some organizers complained about a tenfold increase in bills. In previous years, the receivables in Mainz amounted to around 4670 euros, now 60,000 euros were to be due. The situation is similar in Leipzig, where instead of 3800,35 euros last year, more than 000,<> euros were estimated. It is difficult to understand that even the areas at the Christmas markets are included in the fee calculation, where no musical accompaniment is offered, said a spokeswoman in Gosslar to the dpa. For example, according to a spokesman for the city of Mainz, music will only be played on one stage at Liebfrauenplatz and once at the opening ceremony.

What does Gema say?

The collecting society admitted on its homepage that it had not first sought dialogue with the respective organisers and that it regretted this circumstance retrospectively.

Contrary to some media reports, nothing has been changed in the tariffs, it said. The last adjustment was five years ago. It is merely a matter of consistent application of the existing tariff for city festivals. The cultural aspect of Christmas markets is taken into account in the tariffs. Ultimately, however, Christmas markets would also have the character of an event, as economic aspects also play a role.

Gema pointed out that the music fees are comparatively small amounts when calculated down to the number of visitors. The collecting society illustrated this with a calculation example for Dresden's Striezelmarkt. According to media reports, it received around 32 million visitors on 2 days last year. If the Gema fee of 50,688 euros is calculated down to the visitors, the result is an amount of 2.5 cents per visit.

What will visitors hear at the Christmas market in the future?

After negotiations with Gema, some organizers have already negotiated a lower fee. However, the goodwill arrangement only applies if the Christmas market does not take place on a larger area than the year before. How things will continue in 2024 is still open.

However, several organizers of Christmas markets also announced that, in case of doubt, they would play royalty-free music instead of "Last Christmas" or "All I Want for Christmas Is You" or omit it altogether. In some cases, this would also mean that live performances by bands as well as kindergartens and school classes could no longer take place.