Belgian copyright society wants royalties for library volunteers who read to small groups of children

Robin Wauters writes in The Next Web about the bizarre, cartoon-villain move from Belgian copyright collecting society SABAM, who are demanding that public libraries pay royalties when volunteers read to groups of ten or so small children. SABAM is demanding €250 per year from each cash-strapped library. The technical term for this is "eating your seed corn" (a less technical term might be "acting like a titanic asshole"). If kids are read to, they grow up to be readers, and they buy books. If kids don't get the reading habit, they won't grow up to buy books and writers will starve.

Twice a month, the library in Dilbeek welcomes about 10 children to introduce them to the magical world of books. 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 (bless them)...

The De Morgen reporter then contacted SABAM (probably to check if this wasn’t an elaborate hoax or some grave error in judgment) and received a formal statement from the organization asserting that, indeed, public libraries need to pay up for the right to – once again – READ BOOKS TO KIDS.

Belgian rightsholders group wants to charge libraries for READING BOOKS TO KIDS


  1. Copyright needs to go. It doesn’t work, wastes so much time and money, and stops innovation and creativity. When can we put an end to this stupid charade.

    1. Copyright STOPS innovation and creativity? Are you serious? It does the opposite! As a creative myself, if I knew that I had no copyright protection on anything I created and thus couldn’t be properly compensated for the ideas I generate because someone else could simply take my idea and produce it cheaper and devalue my work, then why on Earth would I (or any other creative for that matter) even bother creating anything in the first place?

      That being said, the particular issue in this article is rather petty. It’s thinking like this that will eventually kill the library as an institution of learning and knowledge.

      1. If you’re not creative because you like being creative, but because you get “compensated” for being creative, maybe then you should choose another trade altogether.

        1. If you wanted a world where the only things that got created fit either into people’s spare time, or the agendas of rich art patrons, then you would be correct.

      2. Why would anyone bother creating without the protection of copyright? Exactly! That’s why no creative works of any kind were produced prior to 1710.

      3. My, Boing Boing has been attracting many comments recently to which the only response is *head* *desk*.

      4. Yes. You are correct; we need copyright. However, copyright in its current form is overrestrictive, and the term is overly long; “life of the author + 75 years” is practically forever. It IS forever, unless you’re the estate of a 20th-century writer or the Walt Disney company. I’d suggest three major changes are in order.

        1. Limit the term to something reasonable. I doubt many people would disagree to a term of, say, 50 years (granted automatically).
        For software, because of the nature of computers and the quick speed of obsolescence, this term should be shorter (perhaps 10-20 years).
        For copy-protected media, there should also be a specific statement that the breaking of the media’s copy protection or DRM once the work has hit the public domain is fully and completely legal.

        2. Fewer restrictions on non-commercial derivative works, if not removing such restrictions entirely. This will have a significant benefit on the exchange of ideas, while the noncommerciality requirement should keep commerce from being meaningfully impacted (in a negative manner, anyway).

        3. Limit the damages receivable from any violation of copyright law. People have been sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars for pirating a few songs. The record company then shakes down the target of the lawsuit for… well… whatever they have on them. Whether or not you agree with the practice of suing people for violations, the fine should be something within the reach of ordinary people to pay, not ‘out of this world’. A person can see themself paying a thousand-dollar fine. That same person may have a hard time imagining themself paying a fine of a million.

      5. Also a creative, and I say that the only people who benefit substantially from copyright are people who sue others, and the lawyers who love them. I’d be willing to loosen the restrictions so that anything but an *exact* copy was fair use. Any remix would be okay, any reinterpretation. Basically, creative commons for all.

        It would increase creativity and sharing of ideas. Right now, I feel as if anything I do could be called into court by *someone*. All it takes is someone with enough money to go after me. I’m not a copyist, but the current climate is insane. Even if it’s a frivolous lawsuit, they could break me in the process.

        I’m saying I have a wellspring of ideas, and so I don’t need to be overly precious about them. I don’t need to lawyer up when I see someone has copied me. It has happened. It’s not worth my time and trouble to pursue them in court. Sure it’s bad form, but I’m on to the next thing.

        If you consider yourself a creative, consider this- the people protecting copyright law are NOT creatives. They are greedmongers who hire creatives, and commodify their work. People who have original ideas really don’t need to sue others, because they have lots of ideas.

        1. What is crazy in all this is that the very people that copyright was set up to protect against (owners of printing presses that printed large stacks of manuscript copies for sale without compensating the original author) are now the biggest (ab)users of copyright in all its mutations.

    2. Copyright has issues, but getting rid of it would kill innovation, not increase it. Patents can stifle innovation, but without them no small company would EVER get a new, novel product to market. People often see patents as the big boys playground, but mostly they prevent big players absorbing a product and market the second it’s created.

      1. You sure? I would love to see the small company that was capable of going toe to toe with a large conglomerate over a patent issue unless the infringement was screamingly overt.

  2. These people are utter IDIOTS! (I use the adjective’s original meaning, for it’s clear that they cannot understand their and our own society). Arrogance, greed, government empowerment and belief in their own EULA’s have brought them (and us) to this point. They actually believe they can collect royalties on every instance of copying in part or totally, borrowing, sharing, loaning, quoting, satirizing and parodying, paraphrasing, adapting, producing derived and inspired works, private or public performances. Of any piece of work to which they have copyright.

    Regardless of there being a profit motive or an intent to harm. Just a generation ago their predecessors chose (wisely) to act only against real pirates and copycats, the people who profit from copy, distribution and mendacious attribution. There were copyright notices back then but no one believed they were divine law.

    Instead, the current generation of “rights holders” are idiots, who don’t deserve the limited protection their predecessors got. They will probably not get even that, as just desserts and ruinous collision with reality are one and the same for people who try to coerce human nature and who invariably make themselves hated in the process. There shall be huge relief to be rid of them, though.

  3. Taking the long view, “we the people” already have the means to stop this sort of idiocy.. simply stop giving your creative works to publishers. Post ’em online under some open standard. 

    Eventually the cream will rise to the top and a hundred years from now these “copyright warehouses” will starve to death.

  4. That doesn’t work.  The way the laws are written you still have to pay the copyright clearing houses even if the works you are performing are public domain.  They just get to keep the money in that case (and honestly, they just keep the money most times, unless the artists actually go through the trouble of failing a claim).  

    1. I strongly suspect that the way the laws are *really* written, and the way any sane judge will *read* them, SABAM will be sent away with a boot print in the seat of their pants if they try to actually sue a library for letting volunteers read to children. They are probably hoping a few libraries will pay up to avoid trouble.

      Mostly it’s best to avoid trouble, but against an extortionist, sometimes the winning strategy is to bring a little trouble of your own to the table, and make it not worth their while to go after you. I suspect this is the case with SABAM.

      And the good guys can sometimes win very decisively. Remember Righthaven.

  5. I’m not surprised by this at all. I’m sure the publishing industry secretly hates libraries. Just like every downloaded mp3 is an album not sold, every book borrowed is a book not sold.

    Can you imagine trying to float the concept of a library today? “What? Many people can read our book and we don’t get money from each one? I don’t think so.”

    1. I am sure if one dive into the history texts, the fight over the creation of public libraries was a long and painful one…

  6. And so, at the dawn of the second decade of the second millenium, they opened their eyes and saw that it really was all about the money all along.

    What a surprise.

  7. So it’s not Ebooks that will spell the end of libraries  – it’s Copyright societies! Perhaps they should consider levying taxes on parents reading aloud to children too!

    1.  Which is why we only read to our child at home.  With the blinds drawn.  In the closet.  Behind a sign that says “Beware of the leopard.”

      They’re pretty close to being able to read themselves, so we’re pretty nervous about it.  I mean, what if they do it in public?

    2. I know! Sometimes kids even want to hear the SAME book read aloud TWICE before they go to bed. Lost revenue there- can we get a per-story royalty instituted? Thomas and Friends need new shoooooes, or something.

    3. It sounds like copyright societies have ceased to serve content creators and now exist only to serve themselves.  Seems to happen a lot when you allow corporate suits to meddle in creative affairs.

      After they deal with those freeloading kids, they will go after adult readers next/again.  Don’t move your lips when you read, because you will be financially responsible if a lip reader steals content.  And for the FSM’s sake, don’t risk letting anyone look over your shoulder at the book.

  8. This is a shame, because in Belgium, there’s a long tradition of music libraries. At present, they are disapearing for obvious reasons, but for 30+ years, you could borrow CDs of any kind for a small fee and SABAM – which is mainly holding music authors rights – agreed on all this (provided they got their share). Many youngsters including myself have become music litterate in this way.

    On another note, there’s an EXCELLENT Belgian TV show demonstrating how absurd music rights collecting have become. In this (dutch language) show, the TV crew just takes copyright to its word and calls up SABAM to get permission to have a cellphone ring its melody inside a train wagon (provided it’s outside the family circle, it’s subject to SABAM’s approval) or set up a party on a surface ground of less than 1 square meter, falling under the pricing scheme for parties. Hilarious.

  9. Kids rule. Back when there were electronics parts houses and kids were getting parts for magazine projects there was a branch store in Palo Alto that wanted to put up a “No Kids” sign. The manager was concerned that too much of the countermens time was being eaten up by the kids getting parts for their projects. The company owner said to the manager, “I know David Packard’s son comes into your store. What do you think he’d tell his father?” Case closed. 

  10. Can the volunteer just CHECK THE BOOK OUT and then read it to the kids, thereby absolving the library of any responsibility? They could read it to their own kid, and maybe some other kids would be, you know, in the vicinity?

    1.  Yeah.  Ooh-kay!  Right.  Like this is the answer.  Seriously?  At this rate the kids will soon be reading directly to each other and where will be then?  What about when they start actually thinking amongst themselves?  I mean, books, reading, thoughts.  Libraries are like a gateway drug!

  11. This is actually a great opportunity for independent writers: send the library a book and tell them they can read it to kids as often as they like free of charge. The kids (if they like the story!) will pester their parents to buy it for them. If SABAM want to alienate future customers, let them!

  12. The notion of the public library as a public service organization that shouldn’t be expected to pay more than a nominal fee for content obscures one rather important fact: they are largely government funded and run by government agencies. Now, why exactly shouldn’t a government agency be expected to pay a fair market price for its use of copyrighted material? If their role in literary culture is so important, then why not actually pay for the production of literary culture?

  13. This is just wrong. Reading a book out loud to a group of people is no different to each of those people reading it silently to themselves. Once the book has been purchased no other copyright funding should need to be paid.

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