GEMA has a new CEO. As of October 1, Dr. Tobias Holzmüller will succeed Dr. Harald Heker in the top job, the GEMA Supervisory Board announced after its June 28 meeting.
Holzmüller, who is well respected in European collective management circles, has run GEMA’s legal operations since 2013, during which time he helped the organization campaign for the 2019 European Union directive on copyright and related rights in the Digital Single Market and acquire the digital distribution company Zebralution and its neighboring rights collection business. He also played a key role in setting up ICE, the international online copyright licensing “hub” established and operated by GEMA and the U.K. and Swedish collective management organizations (CMOs), PRS and STIM.
“Tobias Holzmüller, not only an excellent, globally respected copyright expert but also an extremely well-connected and committed advocate for our concerns is taking over GEMA management,” said GEMA supervisory board chairman Dr. Ralf Weigand in the organization’s announcement. (It is customary in Germany to address lawyers as “Dr.”) “We look forward to continuing GEMA’s successful trajectory with him and tackling the immense challenges that lie ahead for us and the entire music industry.”
Holzmüller takes the helm of GEMA at a time when the end of the pandemic and the resulting return of the concert business has combined with streaming growth and greater leverage on the part of hubs to deliver significant growth to CMOs. In early April, GEMA announced that it took in 1.18 billion euros ($1.28 billion) in 2022 — a 13% increase over 2021 the first year — distributing more than 1 billion Euros to rightsholders for the first time.
At the same time, GEMA now competes with the other European CMOs to represent the works of songwriters and publishers and license online rights throughout Europe and in many other countries, excluding the United States. (GEMA also still collects royalties in Germany for the use of compositions at concerts and in bars and restaurants, among other places.) And the revenue of its rivals is also rising: PRS for Music took in a record high 964 million pounds ($1.22 million), up 23% from the previous year, while revenue at the French organization SACEM rose 34% to 1.41 billion euros ($1.54 billion)
Under Heker, GEMA has a reputation for being slow to embrace new technology — it only reached a licensing agreement with YouTube in 2016 — but perhaps it just held out for better deals. “Under his leadership,” Weigand said in the announcement, “GEMA has mastered the profound changes incurred by the world’s move from analog to digital music very successfully.”
As the fight between rightsholders and online platforms evolves into a more subtle conflict about how royalties should be collected and distributed, Holzmüller’s appointment represents a generational change. (Heker, who steered GEMA for 17 years, was often addressed as “Dr. Heker,” by colleagues, as is traditional in Germany; Holzmüller just goes by “Tobias.”) Having helped solidify a legal landscape for the online world, GEMA must now compete with its sister societies for market share in the new music business.
“From my predecessor, I am taking over an excellently positioned organization that achieves economic success for our members and is committed to a strong copyright law,” Holzmüller said in the announcement. “I would like to continue the process of modernization, growth and openness.”