Back in November 2011, we wrote about the Belgian music royalty collection agency SABAM's demand for 3.4% of Internet subscriber fees as "compensation" for online piracy in Belgium. As Tim Cushing explained back then, this was ridiculous on just about every level. But SABAM doesn't let little things like that get in the way of its desperate attempt to avoid moving with the times and coming up with new business models. So after failing dismally to convince Europe's highest court that it could force ISPs to spy on their customers, SABAM has now moved on to suing ISPs instead, as TorrentFreak reports:
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.
One of the ISPs being sued, Belgacom, has a better analogy for what's going on here:
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.
"A postman doesn't open letters he delivers. We are also just transporting data, and we are not responsible for the contents," Belgacom says.
That's the "mere conduit" principle, and as TorrentFreak points out, if that defense is overturned here, and the "piracy license" is imposed, the cost will inevitably be passed on to users, which means that people who buy music legally will be paying twice for the privilege. And of course, it wouldn't just be SABAM: the other copyright industries -- films, books, photos, software, games -- will doubtless all line up for their free handout, making online access prohibitively expensive in Belgium.
But along with all the other problems mentioned by Tim back in his 2011 post, there's another major flaw in SABAM's logic. According to recent work carried out by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, it's not even clear that the recorded music industry is being hurt by unauthorized downloads:
Perhaps surprisingly, our results present no evidence of digital music sales displacement. While we find important cross country differences in the effects of downloading on music purchases, our findings suggest a rather small complementarity between these two music consumption channels. It seems that the majority of the music that is consumed illegally by the individuals in our sample would not have been purchased if illegal downloading websites were not available to them. The complementarity effect of online streaming is found to be somewhat larger, suggesting a stimulating effect of this activity on the sales of digital music.
That is, streaming sites might even promote digital music sales; so maybe SABAM should be giving money to the ISPs, not asking for it....
Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+