EU court backs hotel royalties

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Hotels must pay royalties for the television and music programs they offer in their rooms, according to a ruling Thursday by the European Union's Court of Justice.

The Luxembourg-based court — the highest in the EU — upheld a complaint by Spanish Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers (SGAE) against hotel chain Rafael Hotels.

SGAE argued that the hotel chain broke copyright law by installing TV sets in hotel rooms and playing ambient music within the hotel. The court agreed, stating: "The distribution of a signal by means of television sets by a hotel to its customers is protected by copyright."

The EU's 2001 Copyright Directive says that authors have the exclusive right to authorize or ban any communication to the public of their works, the court said.

"The private or public nature of the place where the communication takes place is immaterial, as the directive requires authorization by the author for communication," the court said.

The court said that when a communication is made by an organization other than the original one, a fresh authorization is needed — so a hotel receiving TV signals must pay separate copyright fees to rebroadcast them into the guest rooms.

"If, by means of television sets thus installed, the hotel distributes the signal to customers staying in its rooms or present in any other area of the hotel, a communication to the public takes place, irrespective of the technique used to transmit the signal," the court said.

The ruling was greeted with dismay by HOTREC, which represents European associations of hotels, restaurants and cafes.

"It is an unfortunate decision for the whole industry," HOTREC chief executive Marguerite Sequaris said. "Hotels should not have to pay copyright fees for making TV programs available to their guests in the private sphere of a hotel room."

No estimates for what such royalties payments could amount to were available.
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