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Sabam appoints new president

Belgian performance rights organisation, Sabam, has appointed a new president to run the company. Jan Hautekiet, who previously enjoyed 40 years as a radio producer at VRT, has been chosen for the role of president, coming a month after the Carine Libert’s appointment as the new CEO of the organisation.

In addition to the new president and CEO, two vicepresidents have been appointed, Benoît Coppée and Ignace Cornelissen, as well as new managing directors in Benjamin Schoos and Hans Helewaut.

On his new position in the company, Hautekiet comments: “I hope that Sabam continues to grow to become an open and efficient organisation. There is still a lot of work to be done, especially in regards to communication with authors, clients, the press, the political world and public opinion. 

“In a world characterised by rapid technological change, the modernisation of collective management is essential”

“We have to explain even further that Sabam belongs to the authors and that its mission is to manage their rights and to guarantee them remuneration that is as correct as possible. 

“In a world characterised by rapid technological change, the modernisation of collective management is essential. By achieving this, Sabam will ensure a sustainable environment in which the authors can fully develop their creative projects.”

The appointments come following the recent lawsuit filed against Sabam over tariffs by a coalition of Belgian festival and concert promoters.

 


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Belgian promoters win legal victory over tariffs

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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Market report: Belgium

As it is with property, so it is With smallish European countries: it’s all about location, location, location.

Belgium is the 34th biggest (or 16th smallest) nation in Europe by area – it would fit into France 18 times. But it might just be the best-positioned country on the continental mainland, with French, German, Dutch and Luxembourgian borders, and just two hours by train from London.

“We are the best-situated country in Europe,” concurs Pascal Van De Velde of Ghent-based promoter/agency Greenhouse Talent. “If you come from the UK to Germany, you drive through Belgium, and vice versa. If you come down from Scandinavia to southern Europe, you go through Belgium. Logistically, there is always a date for Belgium. And the market is good.”

Well, that’s true. Belgium might be small, but it’s packed – the 13th most-populous European country, with 11m inhabitants, 97% of whom live in towns or cities. So you’re always near a venue; you’re wealthier per head than the UK and France, and not far behind Germany; and in addition to a fairly world-class calendar of tours, you’ve got some of Europe’s biggest festivals in Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop, Dour, Graspop and Tomorrowland.

Then again, few countries have escaped entirely without injury these last few years, whether economic or of a more sinister kind. In common with an ever-growing list of countries, Belgium was the focus of a devastating terrorist incident when three co-ordinated suicide bombings in Brussels on 22 March 2016 killed 32 civilians and three perpetrators. One of many results of the attacks was to put a dent in the live business for much of the remainder of the year.

In January, Belgium lowered its threat level from three to two, judging another attack to be ‘unlikely,’ but while the audiences have come back, the promoters don’t soon forget. “The terrorist attacks were rough, especially the times when they were happening,” says Van De Velde. “And then in the slipstream of it, just security-wise – I can’t say that acts cancelled but putting the shows together was really nasty and difficult because the acts were scared and the audiences were reluctant.”

“We are the best-situated country in Europe”

“But it’s picked up,” he reflects. “It picks up again. When first the Bataclan attacks happened, and then, of course the Brussels attacks, that was huge. The market is very vulnerable, but it recovers fast. People want to go out and see shows, and it moves on. People get sort of used to the situation, you know?”

It takes a little while, though. In the summer of 2016, even a super-festival like Rock Werchter had a tricky year, its attendance 4,500 down on the previous year, compounded by heavy rain in the run-up. “Some people stopped going to shows in 2016 due to terrorism,” says Werchter founder and Live Nation Belgium CEO Herman Schueremans, “but they seem to have realised in 2017 that it doesn’t make sense to sit at home, and they decided to live again and enjoy shows and festivals in 2017.”

Last year, says Schueremans, things were resoundingly back to normal. “It appears that they made up in 2017 what they missed in 2016. Of course, the bills of the festivals and the multiple, top-quality tours helped to achieve that. And it looks as if that trend is confirming itself in 2018, both festival- and indoor-wise. Religion and politics divide; music unites.”

Sometimes, it unites in unusual ways. In May, Night of the Proms promoter PSE joined with Werchter, Pukkelpop and GraciaLive to protest local performance rights organisation Sabam’s January move to raise tariffs across the board. Among the increases is a 30% spike in festival rates to 3.25% of box-office receipts, and a 16% hike for larger shows to 3.5%.

PSE’s Jan Vereecke accused Sabam of “simply abusing its monopoly – it is offering no additional services in exchange for the price increase.” Since then, talks have been ongoing, with no resolution yet reached. PwC estimates the value of the Belgian live business at $322m (€261m), and the fact that IQ is reporting at a time of ongoing prosperity and restored calm needn’t mask the fact that Belgium is a more unusual country than many.

 


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Belgian festivals sue Sabam over rates rise

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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Sabam reveals details of 2017 tariff increases

Belgian performing rights organisation (PRO) Sabam has revealed full details of its much-criticised increases in festival and concert tariffs, scheduled for 1 January 2017.

The news Sabam (Société d’Auteurs Belge/Belgische Auteurs Maatschappij) was to increase rates was greeted with dismay by Belgian festival promoters when announced in August, with Rock Werchter/TW Clasic promoter Herman Schueremans saying the PRO would “kill the goose that lays the golden egg”.

In addition to increasing tariffs across the board, Sabam will as of 1 January include sponsorship and subsidies in festivals’ revenues, “when these revenues are clearly related to the event”.

The new tariffs are as follows (the numbers being total revenue in euros and the “2016” and “2017” columns showing the increase in fees):

Festivals

Sabam 2017 tariffs, festivals

Concerts

Sabam 2017 tariffs, concerts
Despite the Belgian industry’s misgivings, Sabam insists the new rates should have a “very limited” impact on individual events.

 


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Rates rise to “kill goose that lays golden egg”

Belgian promoters have reacted with fury to an increase in festival tariffs by local performance rights organisation (PRO) Sabam (Société d’Auteurs Belge/Belgische Auteurs Maatschappij) planned for 1 January 2017.

The rates shake-up will predominantly affect larger festivals, which currently benefit from a discount in Sabam’s standard tariff of 6% on box-office receipts. The lowest rate is currently 2.5%, for festivals with a take of greater than €3.2 million, which is set to rise to “about 3.5%” for next year, reports Flemish-language paper De Morgen.

Live Nation Belgium’s Herman Schueremans, the promoter of Rock Werchter and TW Classic, calls Sabam “unreasonable” and says the PRO wants to “kill the goose that lays the golden egg” with the end of the current licence discount. He suggests matching the UK’s tariff of 3% of gross box-office receipts.

“Even with the increase in the Sabam rate, it remains low compared to the European average”

The Flemish Music Festival Federation (FMiV, Federatie van Muziekfestivals in Vlaanderen), meanwhile, has said it is considering taking Sabam to court in response to the move.

Separate new Sabam regulations may also have an impact on smaller and medium-sized festivals. Previously, tariffs were collected on their “artistic budget” – that is, fees paid to performers. However, as of 2017, that budget is defined as artist fees plus costs incurred by sound and lighting hire.

For its part, Sabam says it is simply bringing itself into line with other European PROs. “We have come to this conclusion after comparing international prices,” says Sabam’s Serge Vloeberghs.”We have found that our rate for the largest festivals are strikingly lower than abroad. We decided, therefore, that it should be adjusted to be in line with the international average. But even with the increase in the Sabam rate, it remains low compared to the European average.”

 


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