Taking Counsel: The latest praxis from the Supreme Court of Lithuania: it's now 'pay to play', as café owners who play music in public areas will have to pay

  • 2009-07-23
  • By Akvile Mikelenaite [Jurevicius, Balciunas & Bartkus]
On July 7, 2009 the Supreme Court of Lithuania passed a ruling in which a final explanation was provided on the subject of the amount of artistic royalties due, thus ending the discussion on when authors should receive remuneration for their work.
This case included a dispute on whether or not owners of cafes must pay royalties for the use of radio broadcasts, which are publicly transmitted in the cafes. During the proceedings the Court arrived at some major conclusions.

First, the judicial panel spoke on the scope of protection of musical compositions which are broadcast on radio programs. Based on Paragraph 3 of Article 15, and Paragraph 4 of Article 4 of the Law on Copyrights and Related Rights, the Court established that musical compositions, broadcast during a radio program, do not in either way affect legal protection of that musical work, nor does the broadcast influence the respective right of an author to receive remuneration for such form of use of his composition. Consequently, according to the Court, both the use of musical works in radio broadcasts and the use of such broadcasts as background music in a public place are subject to remuneration from broadcasters and from secondary users, e.g. cafe owners.

Second, pursuant to international treaties of the Republic of Lithuania and legal acts of the European Union, the Court separately defined the right of public performance of musical works and their public presentation by indicating that the presentation of broadcasts, with the use of publicly heard technologies (e.g. speakers), is considered to be a subject of the public presentation law. However, the judicial panel noted that both the public performance and public presentation laws are subjects of exclusive law and each user has to receive the consent of the author (or representative), and the author (or representative) has the right to demand remuneration for the use of the work.

In summary, the Supreme Court of Lithuania has made its final decision, not subject to appeal: the author of every musical work has the right of remuneration for each manner of use of his work, subject to interest, including for its public performance and presentation, i.e. live performance, the use of a phonogram or audiovisual recording, radio and television re-transmission.

The Supreme Court of Lithuania, as the court explaining and influencing the praxis of the country's lower courts, presented a clear and specific opinion on a negotiable question, which would be of help to a single case law in the future, and such position is appreciated on that ground alone (though it is subject to future change). The Ruling of the Court was favorably treated by the Agency of Lithuanian Copyright Protection Association, which stressed that such an opinion by the Court will help avoid numerous disputes with users of musical works and, more importantly, will act as prevention to illegal actions and would promote behaviour within the law 's it will motivate users of musical compositions to sign agreements with the Agency of Lithuanian Copyright Protection Association. On the other hand, considering the existing economic situation in the country it is quite possible that any additional payment requirements will be treated with hostility, therefore, dissatisfaction with this new praxis by the Court is expected from restaurants, cafes, hairdressers, sports clubs, etc.

Akvile Mikelenaite is an associate advocate at Jurevicius, Bartkus & Partners, a member of Baltic Legal Solutions, a pan-Baltic integrated legal network of law firms including Glikman & Partnerid in Estonia and Kronbergs & Cukste in Latvia, dedicated to providing a quality "one-stop shop" approach to clients' needs in the Baltics.