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Belgian promoters win legal victory over tariffs

A court has fined Sabam up to €1m for unfair commercial practices over its unilateral increase in Belgium's festival and concert tariffs in 2017

By Jon Chapple on 23 Apr 2018

Rock Werchter was a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Sabam

Rock Werchter was a plaintiff in the lawsuit

image © Christian Holmér

Last year’s unpopular hike in live music tariffs by Sabam constituted unfair commercial practices, a Brussels court has ruled, handing a legal win to the Belgian festival sector.

A coalition of Belgian festival and concert promoters filed a lawsuit against Sabam, Belgium’s performance rights organisation (PRO), last May after tariffs were increased across the board, with the largest festivals seeing their payments to Sabam increase 30% as of 1 January 2017. The increase in both the festival and concert tariffs – slammed by Rock Werchter founder Herman Schueremans as a move that would “kill the goose that lays the golden egg” – were pushed through by Sabam after negotiations with industry groups failed.

In addition to increasing tariffs for events of all sizes, Sabam (Société d’Auteurs Belge/Belgische Auteurs Maatschappij) also began including sponsorship and subsidies in festivals’ revenues, “when these revenues are clearly related to the event”.

According to Jan Vereecke of Night of the Proms promoter PSE, who brought the suit along with Live Nation Belgium/Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop and GraciaLive, in unilaterally imposing the new fees, Sabam is “simply abusing its monopoly” while “offering no additional services in exchange for the price increase”.

Vereecke’s viewpoint is one shared by the Commercial Court of Brussels (Tribunal de Commerce de Bruxelles), which has found the PRO “guilty of unfair commercial practices by significantly increasing festival fees (up to 37%)”, according to court documents.

“The promoters have offered to renew the dialogue with Sabam – a proposal we will be happy to accept”

Sabam has been ordered to pay a fine of €5,000 for each day the newly illegal tariffs have been in force, up to a maximum of €1 million.

Responding, a Sabam spokesperson defends the new fees – 3.25%–6% for festivals and 3.5%–8% for concerts – which it says were implemented following a “comparative study” that showed Belgian songwriters and publishers were receiving a “lower salary than their colleagues in neighbouring countries”.

However, the PRO stresses it is willing to work with the wider industry on a number of points highlighted by the judge, such as the process by which minimum fees are set and how to take into account the exact share of Sabam repertoire played at their events.

“The organisers of festivals and concerts have offered to renew the dialogue with [Sabam] – a proposal we will be happy to accept […] on behalf of our members,” it says in a statement.

The decision comes as Sabam’s UK sister society, PRS for Music, continues to negotiate with industry groups over the rate of the new popular music tariff in Britain.


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