Hospitality industry files complaint against performing rights charges
Saturday, 06 March 2021
The hospitality industry has joined with SNI, the union for the self-employed, to file a complaint against Unisono, the platform for the performing rights societies Sabam, Playright and Simim.
The industry is complaining that Sabam and others are continuing to charge them full fees for the music they play in their establishment, despite the fact that they have been closed by law for more than six months of the past year.
Sabam – by far the largest of the societies concerned – issues a licence on a yearly basis. The society takes the view that a restaurant that closes for two weeks in the summer does not deserve a rebate for that silent time. By the same token, bars and restaurants that close during lockdown also have no case.
“It is not fair to have to pay for twelve months if you are closed for three months,” explains Eric Jacobs, lawyer for the Brussels hospitality federation.
Christophe Wambersie, secretary general for Wallonia and Brussels at SNI, added that they tried to negotiate a fairer scale of charges, but the talks to find a solution came to nothing.
This is the first time an employers’ organization has launched a class action to defend the self-employed, he said.
Sabam collects a fee from any business that features music, whether live or recorded, and distributes the takings to recording artists on a sliding scale. That has led to criticism, including from within the music industry itself.
One complaint involves the means of distributing the money collected. An Italian restaurant that plays uniquely Italian mandolin music, for example, will end up contributing to the fees paid to top artists like Ed Sheeran or Coldplay, who just happen to be at the top of the list of highest earners.
A similar situation occurs when a band plays live in a bar with a Sabam licence, and the takings go to Adele or One Direction, even though the band were only playing music they composed themselves.
The criticism is now sharpened by the refusal of Sabam to give way. The hospitality industry rejects the argument of closing down during the summer, which is a voluntary choice, unlike a months-long lockdown enshrined in law.
“We want to pay for what we consume,” said Fabian Hermans, administrator for the industry federation. “When we order a tomate-crevettes, we pay for a tomate-crevettes, full stop.”