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Bittorrent = Radio Broadcast?

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Gotta hand it to SABAM; this is novel.



Over the past several years
Belgian music rights group SABAM has pressured
Internet providers to take responsibility for online piracy.

An attempt to force ISPs to
monitor and filter copyrighted material found itself stranded
in the European Court, but the group has not given up.

This week SABAM sued the
Belgian ISPs Belgacom, Telenet and Voo, claiming a 3.4 percent cut of Internet
subscriber fees as compensation for the rampant piracy they enable through
their networks.

SABAM argues that authors
should be paid for any “public broadcast” of a song. Pirated downloads and
streams on the Internet are such public broadcasts according to the group, and
they are therefore entitled to proper compensation.

“The ISPs make profits by
offering Internet subscriptions through which movies and music can be
downloaded and thus need to pay royalties,” SABAM states
in a comment on the case.

The proposed “pirate tax”
would not make it legal for consumers to download from unauthorized sources.

For their part the ISPs
criticize SABAM’s demands, which would effectively require all customers to pay
a “tax” while only a small minority download or stream unauthorized music.

“What SABAM wants is
tantamount to imposing a linear tax,” says a Belgacom spokesman. The ISP
further points at European legislation under which they are not liable for the
traffic of their consumers.

“A postman doesn’t open
letters he delivers. We are also just transporting data, and we are not
responsible for the contents,” Belgacom

Telenet responds with a
similar claim, pointing out that they cannot be held liable for pirating

“Providing Internet access
is a ‘mere conduit principle’: Forwarding information without any intervention
also means that an Internet provider can not and should not be liable for the
content distributed over the Internet,” the ISP says.

Aside from the question of
whether the law provides for an Internet licensing fee on ISP subscriptions,
the 3.4 percent figure seems unfair as only a minority of Internet users
transfer unauthorized music.

ISPA, the professional
association of Internet providers, agrees with this assessment. The group
further points out that those who already pay for their music will be required
to pay twice if SABAM has its way.

“The so-called license fee
on Internet access comes down to a tax that will hurt all consumers, including
people who do not use their Internet to download music or movies. Those who
download legally will be punished by SABAM’s proposal, as they will pay twice,”
ISPA writes in a press release.

Internet access will
certainly become more expensive in Belgium if Sabam is successful. And it may
be just the beginning, as the movie, book, software, gaming, photography and
other industries may also try to claim their share of the booty.

A ruling in the case is
expected to be handed down next year.

Source: Music
Rights Group Sues ISPs Over “Pirate Tax”

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