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23rd Feb 2020

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EU court exempts dentists from paying music royalties

  • Dentists can breathe a sign of relief after the ECJ exempted them from royalty payments for playing background music (Photo: Douglas Heriot)

Dentists who play music in their surgeries can breathe a sigh of relief after they were officially exempted from paying music royalties according to a ruling announced last week (15 March) by the European Court of Justice.

However, in a separate judgement, the Luxembourg-based court, whose decisions on the application of EU law are binding across the 27 member states, said that hotels which play music in their rooms will be required to pay the fees.

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Italian collecting society Societa Consortie Fonografici (SCF) brought the action against Turin-based dentist Marco Del Corso, contending that by playing background music at his surgery he was liable to pay.

In its ruling, the ECJ stated that since "the patients of a dentist visit a dental practice with the sole objective of receiving treatment, as the broadcasting of phonograms is not a part of dental treatment."

European copyright law requires member states to ensure that royalties are paid to collecting societies when copyright-protected music is used "in communication with the public."

However, it defines that royalties do not need to be paid in the case of private use.

The ruling on hotel operators is the result of a separate case brought by Irish organisation Phonographic Performance Limited (PPI), a collecting society for Irish record companies, against the Irish government. PPI called on the Court to strike down the government's exemption for hotel operators from remaking royalty payments.

In a press statement, the Court said that since music in hotels is broadcast to an "indeterminate number of potential listeners" and is "of a profit-making nature" hoteliers are liable for royalty payments. It added that broadcasting music constitutes an "additional service which has an influence on the hotel's standing and, therefore, on the price of rooms."

The two rulings indicate that EU case-law on liability for royalty payments hinges on the "concept of public," which the court deems to constitute "an indeterminate number of potential listeners and a fairly large number of persons," alongside the question of a profit motive.

The hotel judgement is expected to lead to further action by musical collecting societies against businesses which play music.

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