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“Always look on the bright side of life”: Which remuneration is due to the artists when playing such song in a business environment?

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In these difficult times, where live music performance and events are postponed or cancelled, the economic situation of artists is quite difficult. 

At the occasion of the World Art Day, it is useful to be reminded of some of the rules applicable to author’s remuneration when their music is played in a business environment. This will allow you to immediately comply with them (if not yet the case) once your office or shop will open once again. 

Music influences indeed the well-being of customers in their purchases and increases staff productivity. 

Before a new hit arrives on a hit list and is played on the radio, the tune was developed by musicians, composers and producers. They made an intellectual effort for which they were not immediately remunerated. That is where copyright protection comes in. 

Under Belgian copyright law, music is protected as a work of art when the work is original (when there is an intellectual effort / a specific “touch” of its author), which is most likely the case. Authors of a copyright protected work have several rights. These are traditionally structured into moral rights (right of disclosure, right of integrity and right of paternity) and economic rights (i.e. rights with a monetary value, such as mainly the right of reproduction and the right of communication to the public). 

The author has the right to have the work made available to the public by any process, including making it available to members of the public in such a way that it is accessible to the public at a place and time individually chosen by them. The author thus has the right to communicate his/her work to the public through any processor medium whatsoever. 

As it is almost impossible for authors to control the use of his/her works, management companies are often called upon. Authors, producers and performing musicians can transfer certain rights to those management companies, who will be responsible for collecting the legal remuneration rights. Those remuneration rights will be due, unless one can invoke a certain exceptional regime, such as playing music in a family circle. 

The royalties are traditionally collected by different management companies. The Belgian copyright legislation provides for two types of royalties. On the one hand, it provides for an “equitable remuneration”, which aims to remunerate the services of performing musicians and producers. This remuneration is collected by Playright (on behalf of the performing musicians) and by SIMIM (on behalf of the producers). On the other hand, an author's fee must be paid to the composer. This author’s fee is collected either by SABAM or by the composer him/herself if he/she is not a member of SABAM. 

Since 1 January 2020, the royalties can be paid through Unisono (, a platform developed in collaboration between management companies Sabam, Playright and SIMIM.

Hereafter, we examine a few practical examples to help you identifying whether your company should take copyright’s remuneration into account.

1.    Music in shops and restaurants

In hardly any shop or restaurant will it be silent. Retailers often set up music to give customers a pleasant shopping experience. When business plays a playlist or sets up the radio, the music is shared with an audience, namely its customers and employees, which involves a communication to the public. Therefore, royalties are due.

In such a case, playing music in a shop or restaurant via Youtube or Spotify is not an option. The general terms and conditions of the services expressly state that the use must be limited to personal and non-commercial use.

2.    Music in the workspace

What if this music is not shared with the customers, but only with the employees? Many scenarios in this regard are possible: some music in the workplace to motivate the employees, a New Year's reception, etc.  Again, one will be subject to copyright, whether or not the music is played at the initiative of the company or not. 

The rates of the management companies are determined on the basis of various criteria: the number of full-time employees or surface area (in the case of cafeterias and company canteens). As mentioned above, when the music is played for a very small audience, the family circle, music in the workspace will be subject to an exceptional regime. However, the family circle includes not only one's own family and relatives by blood or affinity but also all persons between whom there is an intimate bond of a social nature. Unisono sets the limit at eight employees for music in the workspace. Small office parties, of less than five employees or their family, are as well exempted from compensation.

3.    Waiting rooms

Many businesses add music in the waiting room in order to prolong the patience of the customer. As in restaurants or shops, royalties are due for music in waiting rooms. The amount depends on the surface area of the waiting room. 

However, following the Del Corso judgment of the European Court of Justice of 15 March 2012, a distinction is made between traders and liberal professionals. Unlike commercial traders, liberal professionals do not have to pay a "fair remuneration" when playing music in their waiting room. Doctors, dentists, physiotherapists, lawyers... do not derive any commercial advantage from playing music in their waiting room, so they are exempted. It should be noted that this is only a partial exemption since it only concerns the remuneration that would be due to SIMIM or Playright as “equitable remuneration”. However, the “author's remuneration” collected by SABAM is still due. 

4.    What are the next steps ? 

Music is more than ever an important element of our corporate culture, whether for commercial purposes or not. 

As a professional company, it is important to take the right steps and make sure to contribute to the remuneration of artists without whom our life would even be more difficult, so, if not already done, don’t forget to contact the management companies in order to enter into an appropriate license agreement with them.

Unisono understands that the COVID-19 crisis is not only difficult for the artists but also for all the cultural industry and in particular for the event organizers. Therefore, Unisono has decided to cancel or reimburse any licensee fee paid in view of an event between 13 March and the end of lockdown.

And now, stay safe at home, listen to music and enjoy the exception of family circle ; )