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Slovakia: Music Copyright Agency Vs. School Drama Club

On his blog, Jozef Černek, who, for the past seven years, has been a high school drama club teacher in the town of Komarno, wrote “a sad letter” [sk] to SOZA, the Slovak Performing and Mechanical Rights Society, reacting to the €975 fine imposed by the agency for a Feb. 2012 fundraiser ball, which included a raffle and featured songs authored and performed by the drama club members – but had not been properly registered with SOZA:

[...] Your organization has just destroyed one big dream. [...] On the whole, we raised about €300 with this concert, and passed it to the children. Bought costumes for the next performance. [...] And I just hope that your own child won't have to hear a club teacher say what I must say to our children: “We're closing, kids, we don't have enough to pay SOZA charges, thank you for coming…”

SOZA – which in the past attempted charging Slovak web servers that embedded YouTube and Vimeo videos on their pages – had first found out about the “unregistered” fundraiser from a short news item about it. It did the calculations of the penalty based on the information available from this news item, coming up with a sum that amounted to nearly a quarter of the money raised.

According to Černek, the fundraiser's organizers reacted by filling out the required SOZA form and trying to contact the agency, but SOZA ignored them – until the publication of Černek's “sad letter.”

“The biggest SOZA mystery” – Vladimír Repčík: “From morning till evening, all we are thinking of is how to support the Slovak culture, and then we end up profiting from it. I myself do not understand it. Simply a miracle!” (Image by CynickaObluda.com, used with permission.)

Vladimír Repčík, SOZA's General Manager, later replied [sk] to Černek via his own blog, offering his view of the situation and explaining how the penalty could be lowered, “in accordance with the law”:

This event was presented as a standard ball [...] Tickets were sold for €30, and, according to a SME article, [...] there were nearly 140 people in the audience. [...]

[...] According to all this data, it was a standard cultural event that used protected music repertoire [SOZA's default thinking is that everything that is played is copyrighted unless there is a proof of the opposite], but the organizer did not report the event in advance, despite the fact that the law requires it.

The form used to settle the author's fee did not mention the musical ensemble. Only the drama club and the repertoire used by it were mentioned. Consumption fees were not mentioned [food and drinks were included in the ticket price], only the price of the tickets, the number of guests and the capacity of the hall – this data was used in the calculation of the copyright payment.

[...] This money does not reimburse the high school drama club for the use of their own repertoire, which the high school students played and sang themselves. It is the author's reward for the repertoire that the ball's organizers used during the event. [...]

Černek expressed [sk] his willingness to look for a way out of the bureaucratic trap together with Repčík:

We realize that you are acting in accordance with the law. Something that I did not deny on my blog. I already understand, based on the invoice that we got (which was based on a news item), that it is just unfortunate that we didn't have a chance to express [our stance] before being fined. Today, as over a month ago, I was trying to call you or your department to explain the whole thing – in vain. However, I understand that from the news item your staff could not even imagine [how] it [really was]. But it was obvious from the form that we sent, and which, if I understand it correctly, your employees did not take into account, or we filled it out incorrectly.

[...] You will surely agree that from our perspective, €950 for this event is unfair, to say the least, even if it's legal. It is therefore probably good that this has caused such a reaction. Tomorrow I'll try again to contact you and find a solution.

In response, Repčík promised to “arrange a meeting” with Černek “in the near future” – in order to “resolve the whole thing properly.”

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