Belgian ISPs sued for providing Internet access without paying copyright levies

Sabam proposes an Internet tax that affects all subscribers and would have some pay twice for content, ISPs say

Sabam, the Belgian association of authors, composers and publishers, has sued the country's three biggest ISPs, saying that they should be paying copyright levies for offering access to copyright protected materials online.

Sabam wants the court to rule that Internet access providers Belgacom, Telenet and Voo should pay 3.4 percent of their turnover in copyright fees, because they profit from offering high speed Internet connections that give users easy access to copyright protected materials, the collecting organization said in a news release Tuesday.

Since 2000, revenue generated from copyright levies imposed on physical media have declined by 54 percent, Sabam said. This "huge loss" has not been compensated by collections from online services like iTunes, YouTube and Spotify, it added.

ISPs over the years have profited from the switch to online media consumption and they have offered unlimited Internet access with very high download speeds in advertising campaigns, Sabam said. "The Internet access providers have never paid copyright levies for this activity. They hide behind their status as intermediary, without taking responsibility for the information transmitted over their networks," the organization said.

However, the profit derived from Internet subscriptions in part comes from the intensive use of protected repertoire, Sabam said. Therefore the ISPs should start paying levies, it said. Because negotiations showed that the ISPs are not willing to start paying those levies voluntarily, Sabam decided to sue the three biggest Belgian ISPs in the Brussels Court of First Instance on April 12.

Sabam started demanding copyright compensation from ISPs in November 2011.

Belgacom and Telenet did not respond to a request for comment. A Voo spokeswoman reached on Wednesday declined to comment.

The Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) of Belgium did not respond to a request for comment but said in a news release provided to Belgian media that providers do not choose what information passes through their networks and are therefore not liable for the contents of that information.

The license on Internet access proposed by Sabam comes down to a an Internet tax that affects all Internet users, the ISPA said in the statement. Users that don't use their Internet subscription to download music or movies or do so legally are punished by Sabam's proposal because they have to pay twice, the ISPA said, adding that Sabam's claim lacks any legal basis.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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Tags copyrightinternetlegale-commerceintellectual propertyInternet-based applications and servicesMusic and audioBelgacomSABAMVooTelenet

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