20th Aug 2022

Commissioner calls for copyright fees 'roadmap'

The screaming match between electronics companies and societies that collect fees on behalf of artists, musicians and authors has led nowhere, believes internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy, and it is time for the two sides to sit down, talk and come up with a 'roadmap' for the future of copyright levies.

Speaking at a public hearing in Brussels on Tuesday (27 May) about the fees applied to CDs, iPods, printers and other equipment that can be used to copy artists' work, he called for a new "process through which the main participants in this debate [collecting societies and the electronics industry] can sit down and calmly discuss the issues."

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In recent years, the battle between the two main protagonists in the debate has been fierce.

In the 1960s, to compensate artists for lack of earnings when their works were copied onto audio cassettes and later VHS tapes, many governments introduced 'copyright levies', or fees that consumers had to pay when buying such blank recording materials.

However, today, not only can you now buy blank CDs and DVDs, rather than audio and video cassettes, but there also is a wide range of electronic devices that can be used to replicate copyrighted material – MP3 players, printers, mobile phones, computers, memory sticks and many others.

Collecting societies – the organisations that collect the levies for the artists – have succeeded in having copyright levies applied to some devices but not others.

At the same time, the manufacturers of such devices – such as Philips, HP and mobile phone producers - have fought the imposition of copyright levies digital tooth and electronic nail, as any increase in price will hurt their sales.

Complicating matters, which sorts of equipment have the fees attached varies from country to country in the European Union. In the UK, as copying work for private use is completely outlawed, there is no collecting levy at all.

The commissioner has had his fingers burnt before over the issue. In 2006, he unsuccessfully tried to reform the system and bring some degree of harmonisation to the various mechanisms of copyright levies.

His latest round of consultation on the subject, which took place this spring, was almost entirely dominated by the collecting societies and electronics manufacturers, the commissioner said at the Tuesday hearing.

In response, the commissioner suggested at the hearing the creation of a Forum for Collecting Societies and Industry to look at issues involving cross-border trade, electronic commerce, consumer electronics and the calculation of the different levies.

Such a forum would also look at how to develop principles for copyright levies that are adaptable in an era of rapid technological change.

"Almost every month, a new digital product is launched and there is an ever-increasing number of legitimate online services," said the commissioner.

He said he hoped the sides could "jointly formulate a roadmap for developing a future in which levies take their rightful place compensating artists for losses while giving the electronics industry some certainty on what equipment will be levied and to what extent."

He added that while it is fine to "express our feelings on where we stand on the issues," this roadmap should "move beyond that and identify those areas where we can begin to seek a practical way forward."

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