Royalty collection agencies are known for going to extremes to claim money on behalf of artists and music composers.
They target schools and kids’ community centers, charge charities for the singing of Christmas carols without a license, and even crash weddings if they have to.
While these copyright collectors are very strict in forcing their rules onto others, they often fail to live up to their own standards. This attitude was brilliantly exposed by the Belgian TV-show Basta who exposed local music royalty collecting agency SABAM for charging people to pay non-existent artists.
This week SABAM made the headlines once again, this time claiming money from truck drivers who listen to music in their cabs. Since a truck’s cab is a place of work the drivers are obliged to pay royalty fees, they argue. Those are simply the rules according to the copyright police, but not everyone agrees.
“It’s utter nonsense,” said Maggie De Block, member of the Belgian Parliament in a response to the claim. “The truck drivers don’t need the radio so much for playing music, but for their safety. So it is illogical that they should pay for it.”
Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne is not backing the theory of the copyright police either. He said that listening to radio is essential for truckers and noted that above all, a truck’s cab is an intimate space.
Angered by the responses from these politicians, SABAM said that they have the right to claim money from anyone who listens to music while working. The copyright collectors refer to an agreement they have with Minister Van Quickenborne which allows them to charge anyone, anytime. Whether they are in an office or a truck cab makes no difference, they say.
The safety argument doesn’t impress SABAM either, as they claim truck drivers still profit from listening to ‘free’ music when the radio is on.
Although SABAM might be right while following the letter of the law, the above example and numerous others where small businesses or non-profits have been hunted down in the past do not help them to maintain a good public image. We also wonder if the artists are very happy with such a strict copyright regime.
But then again, someone has to pay for the luxurious furniture at the SABAM offices, and the generous salaries these copyright crusaders enjoy. Piggybacking on the creations of musicians is big business after all.