22nd Sep 2021

Barroso bows to France on artists' rights

European Commission boss Jose Manuel Barroso has kicked into the long grass plans to overhaul EU artists' levies after pressure from French prime minister Dominique de Villepin.

"We need further reflection...we need to do it right and we need a bit more time," Mr Barroso's spokeswoman said on Wednesday (13 December), adding that "we don't have a specific time" for when the topic will come back on the agenda.

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The move comes seven days before Brussels was to issue a legal "recommendation" on the levy system, which sees artists' groups skim a fee off every computer or MP3 player sold on the basis they will be used to make unlicensed copies of film or music.

Single market commissioner McCreevy in November had publicly championed his legal proposal - which has already been written after months of analysis - saying it would help the EU cope with the internet era by pruning back the €1.6 billion a year levies regime.

But Mr Barroso quashed the McCreevy project - which also had the support of the vast majority of the 23 other EU commissioners except culture commissioner Jan Figel - after receiving a warning shot from Paris on 5 December.

"Private copy levies are the legitimate counterpart of the legal exemption for private copies" creating a "satisfactory equilibrium" which helps artists face the "menace of piracy" and "support European cultural diversity" Mr De Villepin stated in his letter.

"The political nature of this subject requires a deeper dialogue," the noted art connoisseur went on. "The recommendation should be delayed, so that we can engage in a real debate, in particular involving member states."

Brussels played down the importance of Paris' intervention or suggestions of a split inside the commission, saying Mr Barroso gets "millions of letters all the time" from member states and that "differences of opinion" are "part of normal debate."

But with EU diplomats predicting the recommendation - a non-binding but powerful EU legal instrument - will now be changed into a "communication" - which has about the same force as a press release - the anti-levy computer industry has reacted angrily.

"The vested interests and protectionist elements in the national capitals that oppose European single market reforms have scored a Pyrrhic victory today," Copyright Levies Reform Alliance (CLRA) spokesman Mark MacGann said.

"This does not bode well for other proposals...necessary to give meaning to the commission's growth and jobs agenda," he added, warning that "several large European companies" will now "move [reform] from the European executive to the European Court of Justice."

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