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Slovakia: Big Money in the Tube

A few weeks ago, the ‘Slovak Performing and Mechanical Rights society‘ (SOZA) – the country's music copyright organization – started billing web servers, typically those for young music fans, which were embedding YouTube and Vimeo videos on their pages.

The organization was demanding [sk] 33.20 euro per month, or in cases where there was no license agreement with SOZA, a fine of 99.60 euro. However, blogger and lawyer Martin Husovec claims [sk] that there is no law allowing SOZA to impose a fine on anyone.

Testing the limits

YouTube by Flickr user codenamecueball (CC BY 2.0).

YouTube by Flickr user codenamecueball (CC BY 2.0).

When people behind each individual server found out that they were not alone, they united in their response; however, it was not easy for them to explain to SOZA that there was nearly no difference between links to videos from other servers and embedded videos from the same source.

Testing the limits, SOZA was asked whether it was allowed simply to post URLs to various musical pieces. According to blogger Michael “Smith” Dragan of Midra Blog, SOZA's media department chief replied [sk]: “What is a URL?” Blogger Juraj Grečnár also brought attention to SOZA's innovative term “hyperactive text link” (that is hypertext link) [sk], which gained instant fame.

Not only web authors were active. Ordinary people also started bombarding the SOZA website by embedding videos and contacting their hotline asking for clarifications [sk] of, sometimes made-up, license problems.

Even a Facebook page was created for the virtual Slovak protection racket association (SOVA) [sk] as a forum to share news, ideas and jokes. Thus, made-up online conversations ensued:

SOVA:

Last weekend our inspectors made raids on popular picnic places, where drunk youngsters were singing songs in public. Overall 54 cases were reported, including 22 folk songs where we received just half fee because of unknown author.

Luboš Hulmiukolen:

Hello, I have one more question. I have a headache and it was caused by a song by a famous Slovak interpreter. Is there any chance of compensation for me?

SOVA (in reply):

SOVA does not compensate listeners for listening to music. SOVA just compensates authors because they are played and listened!

SOVA:

Our inspector was witness to a funeral, where the bereaved commemorated the deceased by a moment of silence. That's why he did not wait but promptly issued them an advance invoice for an unreported public production of part of the 4'33″ composition by John Cage!

Peter Maggy Kotúč:

I'm still thinking about one melody, but I'm just not sure which one it is… Is it best that I pay every existing artist…?

Tiko Dobrota:

I'm going for a weekend with friends at a weekend house. How and how much do I have to pay to be allowed to play the guitar by the fireplace?

Slavoš Leoswald:

Sounds also include ultrasounds and other inaudible wave lengths. Beware! It's not a joke. Sometimes it is enough to breathe deeply and you will have to pay 2,000 Euro.

SOVA:

Today our inspector found a case where a nursemaid in kindergarten taught children to imitate animal sounds without paying copyright fee for their use!

Ear Drum Kru:

Hello!
It seems to us you are the best, so our band would like to register with you. We have only about 3,674 Euro in savings but we hope that it will be enough to begin with. And we want to ask, whether we … ehm … could play our songs at concerts for a small charge. Is it possible? How much would it be?

Štefan Mišík:

Greetings.
Recently, I have not felt well and that's why I want to ask … how to pre-pay for an “after life” package…

Robert Madaj:

Hello, I want to transfer all my income to SOVA to make administration of my fees easier. Would it be possible for you to send me the rest in the form of lunch vouchers?

Richard Porubský:

Today I was just walking and listening to my mp3, when I realized that I was singing along to it. People could hear it. So I became afraid and threw my mp3 in the river. Am I at risk of something because of it?

FAQ:

Hello, I work as a saxophonist at NASA, and have a question:
Until now we have not paid for using two mediums in the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts, containing among others also a recording of a popular Slovak interpreter's concert. It's already 34 years ago, and the spacecrafts are actually at the boundary of the Solar system … Are there any retroactive measures which are specifically adapted to this supertemporal music in connection with time travel?

Pipi Lidi:

Hello, by reading questions and replies of this quasi-discussion I was quite loudly tapping my forehead. Do I need to pay something to you?

“Massive reaction”

After some time, according to Midra Blog, SOZA, surprised by the “aggressiveness” of the public's “massive reaction”, stepped back declaring that in case of hypertext link and embedded code … a SOZA license is not necessary” [sk], followed by an excuse.

Nevertheless, their website's FAQ page [sk] still contains rules defining when it is necessary to have a contract with an author (meaning represented by SOZA) about linkages to media files stored on a different server.

In a recent SME interview [sk], SOZA's director described that even now there are “various legal opinions”, they will not give it up but will lobby for changing the law. “Definitely, we will not agree with that, if any content shared on websites would be provided for free.” “YouTube, or more precisely Google, are unbelievably rich companies. There is big money in it.”

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