Belgian live industry go to court over the Sabam rate hike

July 2017

Live events sector, collection societies


The live sector in Belgian including the Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop and Night Of The Proms, festivals and tour promoter GraciaLive are heading to court with the  country’s performing rights organisation Sabam over the new royalty rates introduced at the start of the year by the PRO.

Sabam justified the recent changes to the live event tariffs to bring Belgium more in line with royalties charged elsewhere in Europe.  Jan Vereecke of Night Of The Proms promoter PSE told HLN: “Sabam has unilaterally decided to increase its tariffs by 30%. It says this is based on what is charged by societies in neighbouring countries, but the rate increase is a simple abuse of monopoly”, adding “Actually, the whole system is outdated. Sabam takes a percentage of our ticket sales. But the shows of today are different than ten years ago, as staging, large screens, fireworks and such like become more common. These production elements increase the costs of the show, and therefore the cost of the ticket, and Sabam gets to skim more off the top. That is wrong”.


And in the USA, the ongoing issues around a planned move to ‘100% licensing’ rumble on: Last year the the US Department Of Justice last year announed that on the DOJ’s understanding reading of the so called consent decrees that regulate American performing rights organisations BMI and ASCAP – the two PROs are obliged to offer so called 100% licences – but music publishers, songwriters and the PROs are keen to maintain a system where a licensee must obtain licences from whichever societies or publishers controlled the work in question.  BMI took the matter to the rate court that oversees the consent decree s where Judge Louis L Stanton sided with the songwriters. The DoJ is now appealing that decision. And this week it emerged that a consortium of music users – including broadcasters and tech giants – is formally backing the DoJ’s appeal, saying that allowing BMI and ASCAP to operate a fractional licensing system would have “devastating real-world consequences” on some licensees. 

The recent amicus brief backing the DoJ’s appeal said that fractional licensing could result in higher royalty payments for licensees, and also a greater risk of music users being liable for copyright infringement: According to the amicus brief, “users that cannot control the music they perform, such as restaurants, bars, radio and television stations and cable/internet-delivered program services (which transmit syndicated programming and other programs/movies often decades old), [are] particularly vulnerable to inflated fee demands by hold-out co-owners of split works” under a fractional licensing system. BMI’s CEO Mike O’Neill said: “While we are not surprised the DoJ chose to pursue its appeal, we still hope for the opportunity to sit down with the new administration and educate it about the chaos that would result in the marketplace if the DOJ’s interpretation of BMI’s consent decree were implemented” adding “The DoJ’s 100% licensing position, an entirely new interpretation never raised by the department before, unfairly advantages music users at the expense of the American songwriter and upends a longstanding industry practice that has worked effectively for decades. We believe Judge Stanton’s decision is correct and look forward to vigorously defending our position in the Court Of Appeals for the Second Circuit”.

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