Music Rights Group Bills Internet Providers For Piracy ‘Licence’

Belgian music royalty collecting agency Sabam has once again stepped up to enforce their strict copyright regime. Today the group announced that it will bill Internet providers for allowing subscribers to play and download copyrighted songs. Sabam claims it is entitled to this compensation based on existing copyright law, and is demanding 3.4 percent of the monthly fee paid by subscribers.

euro coinsRoyalty collection agencies are known for going to extremes as they go about claiming money on behalf of artists and music composers.

In this respect Belgian group Sabam is one of the most aggressive of its kind. Earlier this year it was revealed that they even collect money for artists that don’t exist.

Today Sabam is making the headlines again, and this time they want to see money from Internet providers (pdf). The music group is claiming 3.4 percent of Internet subscriber fees as compensation for the rampant piracy that they enable through their networks.

Sabam base their claim on a provision in the Copyright Act of 1994, which states that authors should be paid for any “public broadcast” of a song. According to Sabam, downloads and streams on the Internet are such public broadcasts, and they are therefore entitled to proper compensation. This 3.4 percent share is the same amount as the copyright fees on cable television.

But even in the event they begin to receive payments, Sabam stresses that any compensation would by no means legalize piracy. The license fee is only meant to legitimize the ISPs part in transferring these unauthorized files.

The Belgian Internet providers, who are also involved in a longstanding legal battle with Sabam over a network-broad piracy filter, believe the demands of the music rights group make little sense.

“It’s their interpretation of the law, but that is not legally justified,” Belgacom spokesman Jan Margot told De Standaard in a response.

IT lawyer Matthias Dobbelaere agrees that Sabam’s interpretation might be a bit far-fetched: “I don’t think such a broad interpretation of copyright law will hold up,” he noted.

The decision of the music rights group to claim a share of subscriber fees comes after they were unable to reach a workable solution in direct talks with ISPs. The ISPs say they would rather focus on offering legal alternatives than quibble over piracy, a point also noted by Minister of Economy Vincent Van Quickenborne.

“The timing is unfortunate, just as Belgacom and others come to the market with a range of legal streaming services,” a spokesman for the Minister said, adding that his department would look into the legal issues.

Aside from the question of whether the law provides for such an Internet licensing fee, the 3.4 percent figure seems unfair as only a minority of the Internet users transfer unauthorized music.

The plan would mainly hurt legitimate consumers who will have to pay more for their Internet access. Perhaps even much more, as the movie, book, software, gaming, photography and other industries will also claim their share of the booty.

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