Streamlined payment system in the works.

Years of legal wrangling between Spanish collecting society SGAE and the country's 300,000 bars and restaurants over the payment of public communication rights for use of televisions and radios in public places may soon be at an end.

SGAE executive president Teddy Bautista and José María Rubio, president of the Spanish hotel trade federation FEHR, have agreed to form a joint committee to discuss a new single public communication rights tariff that will cover all broadcasting equipment in bars, hotels and restaurants where TV and radios are played for public consumption.

At present, a separate levy is applied to each broadcast medium, which complicates the process. The accord, which aims to streamline the payment system, should be agreed early next year, and be retroactive until Jan. 1, 2006.

Talks between SGAE and FEHR broke down in 1993 and relations have been hostile since. The FEHR argues that a TV or radio in a bar or restaurant is switched on "purely for reception purposes, and not primarily as a means of public entertainment," says the federation's spokesman. "We have always recognized the obligation to pay authors' rights at live concerts or when listening to the radio or TV at home," he says. "Our difference was and remains conceptual, not about money."

The two sides have agreed to establish a joint cooperation protocol based on a new tariff framework which is likely to consist of a single license covering all broadcasting equipment, regardless of when it is switched on or off or covers music, movies, soccer matches or bullfights.

The breakthrough decision to hold revised tariff talks came after SGAE offered to suspend hundreds of outstanding court cases brought by the authors' and publishers' society against FEHR members for refusing to pay the rate.

"We are working towards an accord, and until Dec. 31 no new legal actions will be brought and all those underway will be suspended," says SGAE's Bautista. "The idea is to overcome the controversies and confrontations that the two sectors have suffered over the past few years."

Spain's street-culture and renowned nightlife and its status as one of the world's biggest tourist destinations contributes to its status as the highest rate per capita of bars and restaurants in Europe. FEHR's members do not include music bars or discotheques.

A SGAE spokesman says "the sheer number of public entertainment locations involved means that an eventual agreement between SGAE and FEHR could set a European precedent on collective negotiations covering intellectual property payments in bars and restaurants." FEHR's spokesman adds, "the protocol decision may not bring peace [between FEHR and SGAE], but it does mean an end to years of distance."