Group Tries To Force Libraries To Pay Royalties For Children’s Reading Hour

A group which represents artists of all genre and media was attempting to force libraries to pay for one of the great treasures of literary education, children’s reading hour.

The group is a Belgian company called, SABAM, which claims to protect artists by collecting royalties for them, for a fee. SABAM enters into exclusive agreements with artists. In turn, SABAM will scan the landscape for real and perceived copyright violations. If they find one, they demand payment. Failing that, they sue, betting that they can out-lawyer most of their defendants.

From Raw Story:

“Twice a month, the library in Dilbeek welcomes about 10 children to introduce them to the magical world of books,” Wauters explains, citing a report in the local newspaper. “A representative of the library in question is quoted in the De Morgen report as saying there’s no budget to compensate people who read to the kids, relying instead on volunteers.”

“Each time a dozen or so children attend,” library worker Alexandra Vervaecke told the newspaper. “A while ago we were suddenly contacted by SABAM and told that we have to pay. I have done the calculations: for us it would amount to 250 euro per year.”

That would amount to over $300 for just this one small local library.

Vervaecke added that even older works, like Grimm’s Fairy Tales, are not exempt from SABAM’s fees, because any current edition of the stories would be under copyright.

This isn’t the first time SABAM has gone after someone like this. They’ve gone after kids singing Christmas Carols and wedding singers.

As a writer, it pretty much stands to reason that I would have strong feelings about copyright issues. Of course, I want my work protected, but increasingly, copyright complaints seem to be a way of squelching free speech rather than protecting it. Or to put it another way, left in the hands of an artist, copyright laws are their greatest insurance policy, but when copyrights become commodities, for sale to the highest bidder, art is lost and corruption and greed take hold.

While in theory, it sounds great that artists, who typically don’t have a lot of resources, would be able to have representation. In reality, it’s often not worth it. SABAM has a poor track record of paying their artists. More significantly, artists lose control over their own work. If a musician chooses to post his own video to YouTube, he could be in violation of the exclusive agreement. If a writer quotes more than just snippets of her own work or posts it to a blog, she can be in violation of the exclusive agreement.

SABAM is now contending that it was all a misunderstanding. They were going after the library for playing music, not for reading hour. But they still maintain that they could go after the library for reading out loud. Who’s next, schools?


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