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Judges Cement GEZ Fees for Computers

The Judges of the Federal Administrative Court have not only come to a concrete decision on October 27, 2010 (res 6 C 12.09, 6 C 17.09 und 6 C 21.09) but also cemented the fact that computers are simply a "novel kind of radio sets" and subject to GEZ taxes (officially named as "fees"). Since 2007, many administrative courts have had to deal with this issue on all.


Radio and TV Stations consider computers with internet access as subject to fees because they have the technical ability to receive livestreams. However, there is an exemption for persons who have a second conventional device that is already registered either at home or in the same company. Plaintiffs were two attorneys and one student, who did not previously register a receiver but had a PC with Internet.

This legal situation derived from the Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting is not in conflict with superior law, especially not with the right to information (art. 5 I GG), the right to occupational freedom (§12 I GG), and the principle of equality (art 3 I GG). However, it is a fact that levying radio fees on PCs with access to the Internet touch their rights to information and occupational freedom, when tying the fees to the apparatus itself, i.e. having one such apparatus. Such tangency, however, is justified by its function to finance public radio and TV. This interference is not unreasonable. The doctrine of equality is not infringed even though unequal circumstances are treated equally. Conventional broadcast receivers are set equal to multifunctional and web-enabled computers. Not technical difference is relevant for levying the fees but equal possibility to receive TV and radio programs via different devices.

Therefore, PCs are simply a "novel kind of radio sets" and subject to GEZ. The discussion on such "radio tax" for internetenabled PCs began in the late 90's - and was instantly a topic of discussion. One of the main reasons was to close the financial gap found at ARD and ZDF. The Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting of 2001 determined that starting 2005 internet-PCs were to subject to GEZ fees. And right off the bat, a storm of protests arose. Constant political discussion stalled the enacting until 2007. Since then the notorious reminders; the GEZ flap into the mailbox. Typically professionals and companies are "requested" to pay for this novel receiver, if not already paying for a conventional one.

All such devices that can receive radio and TV program via WWW or UTMS-technology. Such devices are, e.g:

  • PCs and notebooks, which receive exclusively via Internet or UMTS.
    (N.B.: a PC without connection to the Internet but with a TV card or USB-stick is a conventional receiver)
  • PDAs and MDAs/smartphones, which receive exclusively via Internet or UMTS.
  • Servers, which can receive exclusively given access to Internet or UMTS
  • UMTS und WLAN cell phones, which receive exclusively via Internet or UMTS,

when they have a AM/FM receiver, they will be considered a conventional receiver.

The public not only had the frustration but also amusement: In March 2010, the steak house chain Maredo had the laughs on their side, as it sought legal recourse in court against fee notices from GEZ for their computer cash registers because they technically have the possibility to access TV online programs - should the waiters have such permission. Of course, there is a directive from the management that waiters may not use their cash registers to listen to radio. The court declared the steak houses as an exception and gave the GEZ a ten day period to cancel the fee charge. No wonder: GEZ‘s standard philosophy is to bill for every TV set even when it is proven that it does not receive public TV or radio - it is only relevant that they have the technical ability.