A Spanish performing rights organisation has already fallen foul of the courts for the way it has collected evidence in royalties disputes. Yet, despite being punished for breaking the law in the past, it is unrepentant and says it will continue to do business in that way.
The excessively zealous RIAA campaigns to get those it accuses of infringement are well known. Similar organizations exist in other countries and sometimes their actions are even worse. In this case, the Spanish General Society of Authors and Editors (SGAE) has violated Spanish law, in an attempt to prove a royalties case.
The SGAE is the main collecting agency for performance royalties, which it then distributes to artists and copyright holders. Sometimes it goes that ‘extra mile’ to enforce these royalties, as it did in 2005.
The SGAE hired a private investigator to gatecrash a wedding reception in Seville and video it. The video was to be used as evidence that the venue was playing music without paying the fees SGAE felt it should. However, when the case came to trial, the judge threw out the video evidence as it was collected illegally, in violation of the privacy rights of the people at the event. Despite the loss of the taped evidence, the venue was fined €43,179 ($59,200 US) for using the music without paying royalties.
However, that story had a happy ending of sorts. The SGAE was later fined €60,101 ($82,400 US) for the violation of privacy. Excluding court costs, that’s a €16,992 loss for the SGAE, as well as the bad publicity it generated. Yet, in the world of copyright enforcement, if there is weight to be thrown around and fees to collect, it will be done. The head of the SGAE, Pedro Farre, is reported in The Times as saying “Using private detectives to investigate fraud is common. We will carry on doing it.”
The agency was also critical over the ruling that his agency violated the wedding’s intimacy, saying in 2006 that any questions over the legality of the video were “demagogic arguments”, and that the issue should be that the venue was using music illegally, not the legality of the evidence.
Now, in 2008 another similar case is reaching the courts. This time, instead of having a private detective recording the wedding, a tape the SGAE says they obtained from a legitimate attendee will be presented as evidence. Again, at issue is the privacy of the wedding – there is a constitutional right in Spain to one’s own image – which might still invalidate the video. Those at the wedding, after all, have no impact over the venue’s decision regarding licensing, and it’s their right to privacy that the venue’s lawyer, JoaquÍn Moeckel, says is being violated in the case against the Salón de Bodas.