Rights Group Demands Cash So Libraries Can Read Books To Kids

Libraries are wonderful places where even the poor can develop their reading skills and enrich their lives with knowledge, but for infamous rights group SABAM they are just another outlet from which to extract cash. Quite unbelievably SABAM now expect to receive payments of hundreds of euros so that libraries can read books to children.

There can hardly be an adult in the world who didn’t enjoy being read a story as a child and for many of us recollection of these tales means reliving some of our earliest memories.

But rather than being scared of the big bad wolf, kids in Belgium have a new foe – the country’s evil copyright overlords.

In quite possibly their lowest move yet, rights group SABAM are now trying to attach a price to children’s reading sessions taking place in libraries up and down the country.

More often associated with music-related collections, SABAM have been contacting libraries that hold sessions where children can listen to stories read out by library staff. These, the group insists, are events held in public and are therefore chargeable.

One target for SABAM is a library in Dilbeek that has been holding a twice-monthly reading hour for children.

“Each time a dozen or so children attend,” library worker Alexandra Vervaecke told DeMorgen. “A while ago we were suddenly contacted by SABAM and told that we have to pay. I have done the calculations: for us it would amount to 250 euro per year.”

Naturally the libraries are mulling ways to avoid paying SABAM – one option is to limit readings to older stories that are copyright free, but even that’s not easy.

“Even Grimms’ Fairy Tales are on a list of works for which one must pay,” said Vervaecke. “This is because only the original version is copyright-free. In any case it’s impossible to read only older texts.”

LINC, a non-profit organization that helps to set up public reading spots in libraries, is concerned by developments.

“A few hundred euros might not sound like much, but for small libraries it is quite a lot of money and the effects will not help to promote reading”, said spokesperson An Valkenborgh. “Since the report from Dilbeek we’ve heard from a few other libraries that have also been contacted about paying or are already paying.”

It’s not clear if there is a link with the increased SABAM activity in this area, but currently in Belgium it’s Jeugdboekenweek – children’s literature week. Nevertheless, SABAM insist they have a right to get paid.

“We have a department that actively tracks events for which royalties must be paid. It could be that they have seen a notice and thus contacted us,” said spokesman Jérôme Van Win. “For libraries there are no exceptions to the law. They are public places and so royalties must be paid for a public reading session.”

Only 3 months in, 2012 is proving to be a busy year for SABAM. Last month the group lost their legal battle with social networking site Netlog, with the European Court of Justice ruling that hosting sites aren’t allowed to filter copyrighted content as that would violate the privacy of users and hinder freedom of information.

In a separate case originally brought by an artist back in 2004, a judge’s findings means that SABAM is now facing accusations of falsifying accounts to cover up bribe payments, abuse of trust, copyright fraud and embezzlement.

Update: Although the original article at Belgium’s DeMorgen seems very clear, and despite the author of that article contacting SABAM and receiving a quote for his story, SABAM are now saying that there is a misunderstanding. While they clarify that they are able to ask for payment when a literary work is read out as a public performance, in the case of the Dilbeek library, SABAM say that the fee requested was only for the playing of music.

The bottom line is that if libraries arrange a reading they do have to contact SABAM to see if the work to be read is protected. If it is then the library has to pay SABAM a fee.

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