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Belgian festivals sue Sabam over rates rise

Pukkelpop, Rock Werchter, PSE Belgium and GraciaLive are taking legal action against the PRO, which is accused of "abusing its monopoly"

By Jon Chapple on 31 May 2017

Jim Kerr, Simple Minds, Night of the Proms 2016, Mannheim, Germany, PSE Belgium, Sabam

Jim Kerr of Simple Minds at PSE's Night of the Proms 2016 in Germany

image © Sven Mandel

A coalition of festival and concert promoters is suing Sabam, the Belgian performance rights organisation (PRO), over the live music tariff increases which came into force at the beginning of this year.

As of 1 January, the largest festivals have seen their payments to Sabam increase 30%, to 3.25% of box-office receipts, while promoters of shows whose artistic budgets exceed €1.6 million will pay 16% more (3.5%). Rates have increased across the board, with smaller events also facing increases and Sabam now including sponsorship, subsidies and production costs in festivals’ budgets.

“The new tariffs Sabam pushed through in January are a bridge too far,” says Jan Vereecke of Night of the Proms promoter PSE, who brought the suit with festivals Rock Werchter and Pukkelpop and concert promoter GraciaLive, reports HLN. (Rock Werchter promoter Herman Schueremans had previously said the tariff increase would “kill the goose that lays the golden egg”.)

“Sabam has unilaterally decided to raise their tariffs by 30%. It is justifying this by saying neighbouring countries charge similar rates, but it is simply abusing its monopoly [on public performance royalty collection].

“The new tariffs are a bridge too far”

“For Sabam, nothing has changed: it is offering no additional services in exchange for the price increase.”

Vereecke says the PRO (Société d’Auteurs Belge/Belgische Auteurs Maatschappij) has justified the rises by saying promoters in Belgium had it too easy while creators were being underpaid. This, he says, simply isn’t true: “We calculated after Justin Bieber’s world tour that in the United States he will be paid 12 times less than here.”

“Actually, the whole system is outdated,” he continues. “Sabam takes a percentage of the income from tickets. But shows these days are different from ten years ago – more attention is paid to the entertainment value: larger screens, more fireworks, drones… you name it.

“As a result, tickets are more expensive and Sabam knows it can skim more off the top. That is wrong.”


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