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Restaurant sector suing Sabam for levying music fees during lockdown

18:50 25/11/2020

The organisation that manages copyright and royalties for tens of thousands of artists, writers and filmmakers in Belgium, is being taken to court by Horeca Bruxelles, which represents the restaurant and bar sector.

At issue is the payment of fees associated with playing music in bars and restaurants. Any business that plays music while earning money must pay fees through Unisono, a platform run by Sabam, which represents composers, and Simim, which represents music producers.

Cocktail bar The Green Man in the centre of Brussels, for instance, received a bill this month for a €711 annual payment. “My business was closed from 14 March to 8 June, and now again,” the owner Godfied De Vidts told Bruzz. “I’m happy to pay 55% of this invoice, but not the entire year’s worth.”

‘Mafia practices’

Horeca Bruxelles calls this “mafia practices” and says that The Green Man is not alone in refusing to pay the annual fees. “The businesses have no income and are playing no music because the sector is shut down,” said Fabian Hermans of Horeca Bruxelles. “We have tried to discuss this with them, but it had led to nothing.”

During the spring lockdown, Sabam and Simim agreed to limit the annual fees to 11 months. “That is inadequate,” said Hermans. “We want to pay only for the periods that we were playing music. Isn’t that logical?”

The royalties organisations are surprised by the threat of a lawsuit. “Businesses that have been closed for more than three consecutive months can switch to a seasonal subscription,” Olivier Maeterlinck of Sabam told Bruzz. That allows bars and restaurants to only pay for the months they operate. The problem with that is that the first lockdown did not last for three months.

Maeterlinck did say that Sabam and Simim had stopped invoicing since the current lockdown began.

Photo courtesy The Green Man/Facebook

Written by Lisa Bradshaw