We’re the Cultural Commons Collecting Society, an Alternative to GEMA, PRS, and SACEM…

European collection societies are often notorious bulldogs, but they also seem to bite everyone. Groups like PRS for Music in the UK and GEMA in Germany often impose strict exclusivity clauses over artists, while making cross-border licensing a multi-year, bankrupt-inducing headache.  And don’t even get started on licensing crackdowns…

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All of which brings us to the Cultural Commons Collecting Society, or C3S, a crowd-funded, alternative society designed to offer greater flexibility to artists, services, and establishments alike.  That includes supporting Creative Commons, and allowing artists to sign their own rights deals when they want.

CS3 was first conceived in 2010, and the ‘cooperative’ is now aiming to expand beyond Germany and into the rest of Europe.  But they need your help; here’s a pre-launch announcement from the group.

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Düsseldorf, July 17th, 2013 – For quite some time, the German music collecting society GEMA has been facing criticism from artists and consumers.  Up until now, no alternative collecting society exists.  Authors who want to make their musical works public must become members of GEMA.

The Cultural Commons Collecting Society (C3S) wants to change this situation.  Last Sunday, a crowdfunding initiative was started in order to enable concerted investment in a fair alternative to the GEMA.

The date for the founding has been set: September 25th, during the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg.

Digitalization has transformed the needs of both consumers and artists.  For a long time, people have waited for an adaption to the circumstances and a restructuring.  But neither the GEMA itself, nor politics, or the German Patent and Trademark Office are able to alter the current situation.

“This is why the C3S (Cultural Commons Collecting Society) was created as an initiative for founding a new, alternative collecting society. A community, acting in a social, open and democratic way.”

In the run-up to the crowdfunding, 770 people have declared that they want to immediately become supporters and members of the C3S.  A music sampler, curated by a team at C3S and containing GEMA-free music under Creative Commons licenses, was downloaded 16,000 times within 60 hours.  Meanwhile, GEMA-free platforms like Jamendo.com list up to 40,000 artists.

European politics stipulate new requirements for collecting societies – the C3S has already implemented these into its concept [more details here, here].

The demand for a new, European collecting society is obvious. m.eik michalke, spokesperson for cultural politics of the C3S, explains: “Our goal is a collecting society that supports conventional licensing models as well as the promotion of new, user-friendly models like Creative Commons.”

“As a European cooperative association, the C3S wants to crowdsource a minimum of 50,000 Euros in order to be able to continue its work.”

The core objective, however, is the founding of a cooperative with 3,000 members, and startup financing the start with ca. 200,000 Euros – a concerted effort of investing in the future of music.

Tino Kreßner, CFO and founder of Startnext, says: “Crowdfunding and cooperative associations share a fundamental characteristic: it is all about joining forces to support an idea. For Startnext, the financing of the cooperative association of the C3S is an important milestone, because it is our goal to especially support the founding of cooperatives and social businesses.”

Musicians and music lovers, individuals, companies and organizations – everybody can participate by registering on the Startnext platform and participating in the crowdfunding, or by becoming a member by purchasing at least one 50 Euro share.

“If the project is successful, there are no more obstacles to a fair, transparent and flexible collecting society. Everyone can be part of it.”

23 Responses

  1. Andy

    As an artist based in France, who writes, records and releases my music under Creative Commons licenses, I fully support with C3S is doing and have put my money where my mouth is by pledging 50 euros to become a member.

    PRS, GEMA and SACEM are not just not interested in adapting to some musicians would like to work.

    Here are a few examples of problems I have experienced with SACEM that would be solved by C3S.

    1) Mechanical licenses for my own songs.

    I have to pay SACEM a mechanical license to press CD’s with my own music on them if I want SACEM to collect my rights for me.

    They then take 20% of that amount to cover their costs (€700,000/salary for their CEO for exemple) and it takes them about a year to pay that money back.

    As I’m self releasing this CD, that up front cost is a problem and in my opinion should not exist when you can prove beyond a doubt that you own the masters to the music you’re pressing.

    2) If you want to be able to monetise your music on YouTube while still providing the possibility for non-profit videos (amateur, educational or NGO’s for example) to be able to use your music for free, you can’t. There are no exceptions with the current PRO’s.

    3) If you want to donate a song to someone, or do song as a work for hire, you can’t. You are legally obliged to register every song you write.

    4) Negotiate a deal on your own.

    As mentioned above, you have no right to sell your own composition. Only the PRO can negotiate. You might see some value in providing a song to large brand for a lower fee because of the promotional value that their ad campaign will have, but you can’t do that if you’re registered with the traditional PRO’s.

    So yes, GEMA and SACEM do a great job enforcing your copyright (and sometimes they go above and beyond their duty to do that) but with them, it’s all or nothing. You have to accept all of their terms.

    There are laws against this in other industries. For example, when you apply for a loan at a bank, they’ll try and sell you the loan, and the insurance. But legally, you can get the insurance from someone else. And it’s against the law for the bank to refuse the sale just because you don’t want to buy both products from them.

    It should be the same with PRO’s. You should be able to choose which services you want and the ones you don’t.

    • Visitor

      There is a thing called “master right” and all PRO contracts deal with it. You are free to issue licenses directly to anyone you want. You just can’t expect the PRO to collect royalties related to that master.

      So, instead of posting bullshit online, why don’t you go and have a chat with your lawyer?

      (you do have a lawyer, no? or you rely on TorrentFreak for legal advice?)

      • Andy

        The bullshit information I’m posting comes from talking with SACEM directly. So either they lied to me on the phone, or you have no idea what you’re talking about.

        • Visitor

          SACEM doesn’t give affiliate information by phone. That’s security 101. You have to contact your representative directly.

          • JTV

            Of course they do.

            And by email as well.

            (I’m exchanging by email with them all the time)

            Why wouldn’t they?

            JTV Digital

          • Visitor

            They are talking to their affiliates. Not to any random Grooveshark troll. If you think you can negotiate a contract over the phone, go ahead and try.

    • Visitor

      It should be the same with PRO’s. You should be able to choose which services you want and the ones you don’t.

      You can sign with GEMA only for radio, only in Germany. Do you have the numbers to prove them that it is worth their time?

      You can sign with BMI only for North America. Can you prove to them that you are hot in North America that they should bother?

      Go ask a successful film composer why they are signed to 4 different PROs at the same time and then come back to tell us how it doesn’t work for you because you are a lazy person who doesn’t want to read or consult with experts (lawyers, publishers etc).

      • Andy

        So PRO’s should have exclusivity and a monopoly (talking about European countries here) just to make it worth their while? These are non-profit organizations we’re talking about here. They’re supposed to collect songwriters rights on behalf of songwriters.

        They were set up because people were performing composers’ works without compensating them at a time when there were few other ways to get paid for compositions and the composers were unhappy about it.

        They did something about it by founding an organization capable of defending their collective rights and collecting money for the performance of their works.

        We’re in 2013 now, and there’s a different breed of composer out there that feels that SACEM and GEMA do not fit their ethic or meet their needs.

        What are they doing? Setting up their own PRO, based on their own values and requirements.

        I don’t see what’s wrong with that and you certainly don’t have to become a member if you don’t want to!

        • Visitor

          You don’t even know what a PRO does. You don’t even know that you can have a contract with multiple PROs at the same time. Yet you feel the need to educate us – about things you don’t know.

          Guess what: a composer doesn’t *need* a PRO. You can collect royalties directly – if you have the resources…

          • JTV

            You should be referring to the situation in the US.

            Everywhere else in the world (well in countries where there are legitimate collecting societies in place), collecting societies are in a monopolistic situation in their country, eg Sacem in France, Gema in Germany…etc.

            As a writer, the ONLY way to get your performance and mechanical rights (yes in France Sacem collects both) is to be affiliated to the local collecting society.

            Then yes, and since a recent court decision known as the ‘Daft Punk’ decision, it is possible for a writer not to give all his rights admin to only one collecting society.

            It is now possible to be affiliated with several collecting societies (this is what Daft Punk’s guys are doing to optimize their revenue, e.g if PRS pays more than Sacem on one of the right they collect, they’ll go to PRS but only for these rights’ scope…Etc).


          • Mario

            I am an Italian citizen and BMI represents me since I started working as a composer. I have never been to the US. They sent me the contract, I signed, that was it. Now I get paid with a nice check.

          • JTV Digital

            You’re free to register anywhere in the world as a writer.

            If BMI works better for you than SIAE, that’s cool.

  2. Paul Resnikoff

    Highly related is the role that technology is playing here. The need for counting every single play and reporting it back to a collecting society is lessening (though perhaps the need to police is not.) We’re seeing more direct deals, with machines replacing logs and playcounts being absolute (in theory).

    Of course it’s more complicated than that, but you can see where this is going.

    On the extreme, tech side, we have opinions like this:

    DMN, June 25, 2012

    “Top Economist: ASCAP, BMI, & SoundExchange Serve Very Little Purpose Today…”

    DMN, February 11, 2013

    “The Following Music Organizations Will be Dead or Dying In 5-10 Years…”

    • Andy

      Hey Paul,

      Recently, I was invited to talk at an eletronic music festival about the current state of digital music distribution and streaming. In order to provide a little context, I ended up presenting how developments in technology related to music have always been followed by composers, musicians and labels adapting and organizing themselves to make the most of the new opportunities and defend themselves against the potential threats they present.

      I used some data from Digital Music News (I hope your numbers were correct!). I think my data on how streaming is cannibilising our sales but represents a steady longterm revenue source might be of interest to you. The juicy info starts at page 37.

      Maybe ‘Visitor’ can go and check it out and tell me how lazy you have to be to write a 59 slide presentation on streaming and tear it all to pieces. I’m not scared of a little mud being thrown at me as long as it helps move things forward. 🙂


  3. Wolfgang Senges

    Hey there,

    first – yes, I’m one of the initiators. That’s my real name above.

    Second, our motivation is not to fight GEMA. Collecting societies are good, but unfortunately not all artists find a home that suits their needs.

    Our initial motivation was to give artists the option to make use of Creative Commons licences (for example) and monetize their work. There are only few collecting societies allowing for CC use. And those who do are often fighting them (ASCAP).

    But, Creative Commons isn’t really the best either. You’ve got the freedom of licensing, yet, you are not fully integrated with music industries. Which for European artists means: No airplay, therefore no booking, hence no label contract. Not good.

    You might use commercial services. But these are not representing the artists. They do their business – which is ok for them, though an artist should be represented as well.

    Before we tackle the topic of GEMA – yes, we’ve talked a few times with GEMA. With Alexander Wolf, with Till Everts and a few more. We don’t like the sort of bashing that lots of people in Germany seem to prefer. It doesn’t work. It’s no good for those who are the core to it all: the creators/authors/songwriters.
    After all, in shared workshops *with* GEMA we advised artists in licensing, and both, GEMA & C3S agree that for some artists GEMA is the right way, but for others there has to be an alternative.

    If you are an artist who is doing well with his collecting society – perfect. But please acknowledge the fact that there are lots of creators who cannot identify with GEMA et al.
    In Germany at least, there’s a de-facto-monopoly. As soon as you have reached a certain level of success, you need a collecting society to grow further. But, there’s only GEMA. Yes, it’s true, European right allows for membership in collecting societies of other countries in Europe. Though, it doesn’t help. because of contracts between all national collecting societies, again it’s GEMA who handles your rights for Germany – even if you want that to be done in a way that differs from GEMA’s strategies.

    It’s a deadlock for the artist.

    And it is in more than one way. Take the voting/democracy structure in GEMA. Due to its legal form as a “Verein” (association), statutes can only be changed by the majority of members who are able to vote. Within GEMA and its 65.000 members, there’s a fragment of 5% with full voting rights. These 5% of members gain their right to vote by the fact they are earning most.

    Moreover, it’s not only artists/songwriters who may vote. The voting group includes publishers, right holders and heirs.
    Unfortunately this leads to a deadlock situation at GEMA. There’s a good number of progressively thinking people – but within these 5%, they are not the majority. Therefore, the statutes are *very* hard to change at all. Then, there’s the supervising organization, the German Patent and Trademark Office. Due to GEMA’s legal form, they can’t change anything neither – same with politics.
    The only option to change the market in any way, is to establish a second collecting society in Germany.

    Interestingly enough, there’s a good number of aims we are objecting at, that the European commission *now* tends to require from existing collecting societies.

    Ok, I’m having a look at the other comments now to go into detail later…

    • Visitor

      You don’t need GEMA to collect German royalties. You can appoint an administrator and they will do the job for a % of your yearly roayalties. That is, if you are worth their time.

      Many German artists have done / are doing this succesfully.

      As for Creative Commons, it only exists to serve the interests of Google e.t.c.

      As a copyright owner, you can issue a direct license to anyone in the world, without asking your PRO for permission.

  4. Visitor

    European collection societies are often notorious bulldogs, but they also seem to bite everyone. Groups like PRS for Music in the UK and GEMA in Germany often impose strict exclusivity clauses over artists, while making cross-border licensing a multi-year, bankrupt-inducing headache. And don’t even get started on licensing crackdowns

    Bad GEMA, doing crackdowns for licenses!

    Bad PRS, making exploitation of artists hard!

    Oh, wait, it’s their fucking job.

    You don’t like doing business with GEMA? You can sign up with STIM. You don’t like STIM? Go to PRS. You don’t like PRS? Go to BMI. And so on.

    You can’t find a single PRO in the world to make an affiliation?

    Then perhaps you are funded by Google…?

    • Paul Resnikoff


      Yes, groups like GEMA are often doing good for artists and rights owners by chasing down licenses, and getting people to pay (which is what the law states). They are often the bad guy, thankfully, and getting people paid.

      But you might be ignoring all the bad stuff. One of those bad things is an inability of the artist in Europe to properly carve out individual deals with various entities (GEMA, for example, will insist on exclusivity and representing the entire catalog).

      That is not the case with ASCAP and BMI, bound by US Dept. of Justice consent decrees as non-profits to allow carve-out in a non-exclusive manner.

      And what about cross-agreements with ASCAP and BMI with orgs. like PRS, GEMA, SACEM, etc.? Not sure all that money makes it back across the Atlantic (happy to discuss some of those details with you as well).

      Then, there’s the rat’s next of cross-territorial licensing. I don’t know a lot about this, thankfully, because I haven’t had to license it. I’m not sure I ever want to.

      So I think you need to ask yourself, why would there even be an initiative like C3S afoot, anyway? If people loved GEMA so much… (you fill out the rest).

      • we are not blind, Paul

        It is quite strange that you haven’t asked any GEMA affiliated writer or publisher, yet you go ahead and support this “kickstarter” scheme without even knowing what you are talking about.

        Show us quotes from real GEMA writers or publishers, stating that they don’t like GEMA and they want to get out of there.

        Take your time.

        • Paul Resnikoff

          I’m not sure I get it. You seem to think I’m attacking GEMA.

          If C3S thrives or perishes, it will be on their own merits and the interest and response in the marketplace. Which means, if writers (and licensees of those writers) are unhappy with GEMA (and other societies), then this concept could grow legs.

          Otherwise, C3S may have a hard time getting the funding or achieving their vision. So, going out and interviewing writers (in a ridiculously insignificant sample size) would tell us something, but probably not that much.

          So let’s let the industry and entrepreneurs chart the course, this is how a healthy marketplace behaves. I’m really interested in where this goes.

    • David Touve

      Actually, the “carve out” emerged from a suit against the PROs in the US, who would not reduce the license fee paid by any party based upon that music they had directly licensed.

      In other words, while artists could always choose to direct license in the US, commercial licensees had to pay ASCAP and BMI for even that music that had been directly licensed.

      A lawsuit, not the consent decree, changed that scenario.

      And, given large catalogs of music have been withdrawn from collectives in the EU, certain of these artists/labels have found a way to license deals on their own, on a so-called Pan-European basis.

      In other words, the inability you mention was removed (in part) by an EU decision. Artists can choose which PRO in the EU will represent their work, and may even direct license,

      • Andy

        In theory, this is great but in practice, try doing a direct deal with a TV production company for the use of your music.

        They’ll tell you they have a blanket licence with SACEM, or PRS, or GEMA and you should sign up with one of them to get paid.

        The EU has opened things up by allowing the European PRO’s to compete with one another but they are all very similar beasts, so signing with PRS for Music instead of GEMA will not change much, especially when it comes to using Creative Commons – NC licences.

        SACEM announced they were experimenting with Creative Commons licences a while back but as far as I know, that was just a PR announcement and nothing tangible has happened in that regard.

  5. Visitor

    Funny how they left this out from the placement in DMN:

    We need ca. 3.000 members, and especially a repertoire that is economically relevant, in order to fulfill the requirements of the German Patent and Trademark Office.


    Economically relevant = attracting licenses

    So basically you want to make a PRO that allows Grooveshark e.t.c. to fuck up artists and pretend that you are “cool” hackerz.

    Good luck convincing any artist signed with GEMA that they should throw away their royalties just so that you can help the pirates profit.