The Belgian Fiasco: Sabam Vs. ISPs Make The Headlines

The Belgian Fiasco: Sabam Vs. ISPs Make The HeadlinesSociété d’Auteurs Belge – Belgische Auteurs Maatschappij (also known as SABAM) is the Belgian association representing rightsholders (that is authors, composers and publishers) that reportedly sued some of the country’s ISPs for making a buck out of their internet packages without paying royalties to copyright holders. Well, that sounds interesting!

According to a report by PCWorld:

Sabam wants the court to rule that Internet access providers Belgacom, Telenet and Voo should pay 3.4 percent of their turnover in copyright fees, because they profit from offering high speed Internet connections that give users easy access to copyright protected materials, the collecting organization said in a news release Tuesday.

Since 2000, revenue generated from copyright levies imposed on physical media have declined by 54 percent, Sabam said. This “huge loss” has not been compensated by collections from online services like iTunes, YouTube and Spotify, it added.

ISPs over the years have profited from the switch to online media consumption and they have offered unlimited Internet access with very high download speeds in advertising campaigns, Sabam said. “The Internet access providers have never paid copyright levies for this activity. They hide behind their status as intermediary, without taking responsibility for the information transmitted over their networks,” the organization said.

However, the profit derived from Internet subscriptions in part comes from the intensive use of protected repertoire, Sabam said. Therefore the ISPs should start paying levies, it said. Because negotiations showed that the ISPs are not willing to start paying those levies voluntarily, Sabam decided to sue the three biggest Belgian ISPs in the Brussels Court of First Instance on April 12.

One question that makes total sense would be: if internet service providers are bound to pay royalties to rightsholders, does this mean file-sharers who download copyrighted content without permission get a guilt-free-pass, since all of their activity on the internet is already covered by their respective ISP? It’s not likely for rightsholders to adhere to such a solution, but instead choose the old fashion way – that of suing individuals who infringe copyright.

Furthermore, will this case be a starting point for other countries to force their internet service providers into paying up? It could be, as we’ve seen in the past with the “three strikes program”, but only time will tell for sure. What is sure is that the United States, for example, would have to rewrite the entire DMCA for that to happen.

However unlikely it is for ISPs to pay royalties to rightsholders in other countries, they are worried about a new kind of trend emerging out of these actions.