Hotel music charges case referred to ECJ

 

THE HIGH Court has asked the European Court of Justice to decide legal issues raised in proceedings brought in an effort to have hotel operators pay a charge for playing copyright music in guest bedrooms.

The organisation which collects royalties for recording artists, Phonographic Performance Ireland Ltd (PPI), initiated an action last year against the State over its alleged refusal to amend a law that exempts hotels from having to pay copyright fees for music played in hotel bedrooms.

The PPI wants to charge €1 per bedroom per week. With about 50,000 hotel bedrooms nationwide, it estimates it is losing some €2.6 million annually.

The PPI claims the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000, which provides the disputed exemption, is contrary to EU law.

Section 97(1) of that Act provides there is no infringement of copyright where recorded music is heard “in part of the premises where sleeping accommodation is provided for the residents”.

Last October, the High Court directed that the issue of whether the State is in breach of its obligations under European law should be decided prior to any claim for damages. Yesterday, in an interim ruling, Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan said she believed it was necessary to refer a number of questions in the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Among the issues the ECJ will have to decide is whether a hotel operator, as a result of providing TVs and radios in guest rooms, is a “user” of copyrighted music that can be played in a broadcast for the purposes of EU directive 2006/115/EC.

If the operator is such a user, the ECJ will then have to decide whether the same directive required the operator to pay a charge additional to royalties already being paid by TV and radio station operators. The court also has to decide whether hotel operators are exempt from such payments on grounds such music is for “private use” as provided for under the same directive.

A further issue is whether the directive permits the exemption of hotel operators from paying if the music is played by means other than TV or radio. Ms Justice Finlay-Geoghegan said she would give the parties an opportunity to examine her interim judgment before making further orders. She adjourned the matter to next week.