Spanish bars must pay for their TV

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The Independent Online
MADRID (AP) - The Supreme Court has ruled that bar-owners must pay for the right to have televisions playing in their establishments, striking at the very heart of Spanish society. In a country where the bar is a centre of neighbourhood and village life, and where a bar is not much of a bar unless there is a television blaring sports or news, as many as a quarter of a million establishments could be affected by the decision.

'I don't think this is very fair,' Juan Olmos Fernandez, a bar-owner in the northern city of Logrono, said yesterday. 'If we have to pay to watch television then everyone should have to pay.' Mr Olmos' Hobijo Bar, where as many as 30 people can crowd around the set to watch the Tour de France or a C D Logrones soccer game, was the test case that prompted the court ruling.

The General Society of Spanish Creators (SGAE) brought a suit against Mr Olmos, claiming that he was profiting from programmes protected by Spanish law.

A local court initially decided in the group's favour, but was later reversed by a regional court. The Supreme Court has now ruled that Mr Olmos must have a contract with the SGAE, which represents the copyright holders, the daily El Pais reported yesteday.

The court ruled that programme creators 'have the right to enjoy and dispose of their work and to exploit that work in any way recognised by law', El Pais said. Neither court nor SGAE officials could be reached for comment yesterday.

The SGAE admitted to El Pais, however, that it could be hard to enforce the ruling in a country that rivals any other European Community member in the bars-per-capita category. 'In general, people pay because they understand that the use of television or music is a complement to their business to make it more attractive to the customer,' an SGAE spokesman, Juan Nebreda, told the paper.

'But it's very difficult to have absolute control because there are many seasonal bars tied to the tourist industry that open, close and change ownership frequently.'

Mr Nebreda said bars that charge an average of 75 pesetas (33p) for a drink would have to pay 1,000 pesetas (pounds 4.80) a month for television rights. Bars that charge an average of 300 pesetas would pay 4,000 pesetas monthly.

Spanish bars often serve a variety of tapas, or small snack dishes, as well as full meals.

It is common to see children as well as adults in such establishments, especially in small towns.