(1) SABAM, the largest Belgian collective management organisation (CMO), sought to obtain the payment of a copyright levy from Belgian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for communicating to the public its repertoire. SABAM claimed that ISPs communicate to the public its repertoire without authorisation. SABAM demanded 3.4 percent of the ISPs' annual user subscription fees as a compensation for piracy committed by the ISPs' users.
(2) As requested by law, SABAM informed the Economic Federal Public Service (SPF Economie), the administrative authority in charge of overseeing CMOs' activities, about its request to the ISPs. The SPF Economie issued a negative opinion regarding SABAM's proposed levy. After some inconclusive negotiations and an initial action started by SABAM against the ISPs but rejected on procedural grounds, the Belgian Administration brought an action against SABAM before the Court of Brussels for obtaining a judgment declaring the new levy illegal.
(3) The Brussels Court of First Instance ruled that the demand of SABAM was contrary to the present legislation. The Court noted that ISPs are neutral internet intermediaries with a passive and technical role and do not communicate to the public SABAM's repertoire. According to the EU e-Commerce Directive, ISPs are classified as mere conduits that are not liable for the information they transmit. SABAM is considering whether to appeal this decision. See also CIS Blog
Topic, claim, or defense
Lowest Domestic Court
Type of service provider
Internet Access Provider (Including Mobile)
OSP obligation considered
Type of law
General effect on immunity