Belgian Collection Society Wants To Extend Its 'You Must Be A Pirate' Tax To Cover All-In-One Printers

from the coming-for-brains-and-eyeballs-next dept

We’ve covered copyright levies (a.k.a., “you must be a pirate/thief” taxes) several times here at Techdirt, with a majority of them pertaining to the cassette tapes of the digital world: blank CDs/DVDs, hard drives, removable storage, cell phones, internet connections, etc. The theory is that the only reason anyone buys storage of any kind is to have some place to put all their pirated goods. Hence, they must pay a “tax” to compensate artists for all the creative works they’ve ripped off.

This sort of taxation is stupid, but governments often fall for it because it’s obvious that, yes, some people do store their pirated goods this way. That a large majority of people don’t doesn’t seem to matter. They, too, must pay a tax for the overall good of the creative world — a “world” that is basically a bunch of industry groups and collection societies when you get right down to it. They’re the ones pushing these levies, and they’re the ones that derive the most benefit from them.

But Reprobel, a Belgian collection society, is currently going after Hewlett-Packard’s Belgian wing, claiming that the company should be forced to pay a levy on the sale of… all-in-one printers.

Reprobel, a collecting society, had asked HPB to pay a levy for the sale of multifunction printers. Such a levy is due as fair compensation to authors for the copying of their work using the devices. Since Reprobel and HPB did not reach an agreement on the amount to be paid, HPB sued Reprobel so as to obtain legal certainty on the royalties due.

Reprobel’s theory is more than a bit shaky. It assumes multifunction printers are used to copy hard copy books (and convert them to digital/physical form). Reprobel doesn’t explicitly spell out the “harm” it is seeking compensation for (at least not in this article by Peter L’Ecuse), but it’s assumed that copying and printing both theoretically aid in the pirating of printed material.

What’s more surprising than this leap of logic is the fact that such a levy is already being collected.

Under Belgian law, the fixed part of the levy is paid by manufacturers/importers (Article XI.235 of the Code of Economic Law and is based on potential harm caused to the author. According to the Advocate General, such a levy is proportionate and the criteria used to determine the levy (i.e., the maximum speed for copying in black and white) objectively reflect the ability of the equipment to potentially prejudice authors.

So, the Belgian courts have already found in favor of these sketchy assumptions and have applied them to sales of standalone copiers. Reprobel is seeking the application of this levy to printers that also make copies. In addition, it’s seeking another levy, supposedly based on “actual harm.” (The current levy is based on “potential harm.”)

The Belgian Advocate General is at least questioning a few of Reprobel’s assertions.

[T]he Advocate General pointed out that it is likely that a private person using a multifunctional printer for his own personal use will cause less harm to authors than printers of the same speed used in libraries or copy shops. The Advocate General therefore believed that the fair balance would be better guaranteed if criteria other than the maximum speed were also taken into account.

Of course, the Advocate General’s questioning begins with a questionable assumption: that printers/copiers are used to facilitate enough infringement that a levy is somehow justified. If Reprobel’s worry is the mass copying of physical books, then it has had several years to gather data that supports its assertions about copyright infringement. Nothing in this report or the comments by the Advocate General suggest it has presented anything of the sort.

Using an all-in-one printer to make infringing copies of digital books is about the least efficient form of piracy imaginable. Using off-the-shelf all-in-ones to scan books into PDF form for distribution across the web is only slightly more efficient. And even if it’s the latter form that concerns Reprobel more, there’s evidence out there that suggests there’s very little demand for pirated books.

Just 1% of UK internet users aged 12 and over read “at least some” ebooks illegally between March and May 2015, according to the Intellectual Property Office’s study into the extent of online copyright infringement in the UK. This compares favourably to other forms of entertainment, with 9% accessing some of their music illegally, 7% television programmes, 6% films, and 2% computer software and video games.

When researchers looked at “all internet users who consumed content online over the three-month period,” (rather than all internet users over 12), they found that 31% accessed at least one item illegally. Readers, however, still had the lowest incidence of illegal access, at 11%, compared to 25% for people watching films and 26% for people listening to music.

“More ebook consumers paid for some content (69%) and for all of their content (47%) than consumers of any other content type”, the survey found.

Reprobel appears to be interested in collecting fees (this is honestly where this sentence should end, but…) on the sort of infringement that went out of vogue well before all-in-one printers became mainstream.

The Advocate General does raise a couple of good points during its consideration of Reprobel’s plea, despite giving far too much credence to its assertions.

[T]he Advocate General expressed doubts as to the admissibility of the dual fixed and proportionate levy. Indeed, given that the proportionate levy paid by the user is deemed to compensate for the actual harm, the Advocate General sees no reason to add a fixed levy to be paid by the manufacturer/importer to compensate for a potential harm caused by the same equipment.

If a proportionate levy is granted, the AG suggests that any compensation demanded by Reprobel for actual use should have any levies collected for potential use deducted. This will prevent Reprobel from doing too much double-dipping, even though the proposed levy is a double-dip in and of itself.

Furthermore, the Advocate General reminds Reprobel that not all copies of copyrighted content are infringing.

In particular, the Advocate General held that the system does not distinguish between copies of works that fall under the fair compensation scheme and works for which no levy is due because of an exemption foreseen by the InfoSoc Directive (e.g. sheet music copies can be made without any fair compensation being due).

Beyond the Belgian version of “fair use,” there’s the question of how Reprobel expects to apply a proportionate levy based on actual usage — at least not one anyone’s going to agree with. What percentage of actual usage is it going to automatically assume is infringing? And how is it going to collect this data?

The Advocate General says the fee could change depending on the end user’s level of cooperation with Reprobel in the assessment of the levy. This would basically turn Reprobel into the BMI of the printed world — an entity that demands fees from businesses utilizing multifunction printers. It would give it the power to basically charge a licensing fee for printer/scanner/copier operation. The AG’s echoing of Reprobel’s assertion that every sold multifunction printer will generate some sort of actual harm points towards Reprobel being granted this power. If this goes Reprobel’s way, there will no need for it to prove actual harm. It will be free to collect on its assumptions.

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Companies: hp, reprobel

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Comments on “Belgian Collection Society Wants To Extend Its 'You Must Be A Pirate' Tax To Cover All-In-One Printers”

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46 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

…those in favour of more stringent IP laws are always the ones demanding money from the public for no additional work..

Hell, we can drop the word “additional”. They didn’t invent the CD, HD, or All-In-One printer, nor do they design or manufacture them. They simply demand that governments force people to pay them a fee because such hardware happens to exist in the world. As a scam, this is brilliant. As a legitimate, legally sanctioned part of a business model, it’s just sad.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Don’t be silly, you can’t tax the eyes. Therefore, we must proceed with 100% pervasive surveillance (at least until we can get all newborns microchiped) so that the authorities can monitor every bit of media that everyone consumes, so that every IP rights holder (hey, why limit it to content? That device it was viewed on probably has 1000 patents on it. Why shouldn’t they get paid with every use?) can get paid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

With all due respect and no offence intended:
You anon Mam or Sir are “not economicly optimized” (I’d say an idiot but that might want you to sue me)
A movie has 90 minutes with 60 seconds a minute and about 30 frames/prints per second so you would have to print 162,000 pages. Given the price of printer ink you could pay for the CDs,DVD and Blueray of the movie instead of printing it. Although I must say you might be able to get some huge payout for the art of creating a flipbook of The Avengers. Darn, I pay to see it.

David says:

I'm not sure your characterization is correct

I can’t really speak for Belgium, but at least in Germany, the levy system is essentially intended to be compensation for legitimate private copies. Now the publishing industries have been blowing a lot of smoke screen in order to make the public believe that there is no such thing as a legitimate private copy. And DRM circumvention is also non-legal to a degree where people have asked to have the levies abolished since the basis for them, namely the ability to create legal private copies, was no longer functional.

And frankly, I don’t think that you even could put levies on media based on the theory that they might be used for illegal purposes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I'm not sure your characterization is correct

” in Germany, the levy system is essentially intended to be compensation for legitimate private copies.”
That is true but it still is crazy in my opinion. When I build a server farm for my business I have to pay those fees although I will never store anything related to legal copies on there.

All those servers e.g. hdd/ssd will store data produced by our programs and of course some part of it is Linux which is free so no piracy there. But still be have to pay the tax which means we are paying for legal copies that we will never ever create.

But Germany is known to charge a tax for something you will never ever use because you could use it in theory like the GEZ and their household tax. That’s a tax that you have to pay no matter if you watch the gov channels or use their website sites.

David says:

Re: Re: I'm not sure your characterization is correct

” in Germany, the levy system is essentially intended to be compensation for legitimate private copies.”
That is true but it still is crazy in my opinion. When I build a server farm for my business I have to pay those fees although I will never store anything related to legal copies on there.

Well, it’s not crazy. The tax is distributed over all device users since it would be an intolerable invasion of privacy to check or require proof who is using his media for what in the privacy of his home, and it still makes more sense to tax those using a device capable of making/storing legitimate copies than those not even using it.

Again, this reasoning just walks out the window when DRM comes into play and actually controls the creation of individual copies.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I'm not sure your characterization is correct

The tax is distributed over all device users since it would be an intolerable invasion of privacy to check or require proof who is using his media for what in the privacy of his home …

… a la Viseo TVs? A la Windows 10 clobbering users’ security settings upon upgrade to *open/enable/phoning home to multiple motherships including crypto passwords/ …

Stuff phones home immediately these days. We’re supposed to either not notice it or accept it’s a feature.

Anonymous Coward says:

I blame pirates while Techdirt blames creators. But then I'm reasonably moral, not a pirate who gains the unearned and whose thefts create the very problems that they then use to justify more piracy.

It’s always decent people who pay the price for thefts by moral lepers. Just watch this space for how, by stating my own beliefs on this non-moderated but public site, the pirate-fanboy-trolls heap abuse.

Anonymous Coward says:

I blame pirates while Techdirt blames creators. But then I'm reasonably moral, not a pirate who gains the unearned and whose thefts create the very problems that they then use to justify more piracy.

It’s always decent people who pay the price for thefts by moral lepers. Just watch this space for how, by stating my own beliefs on this non-moderated but public site, the pirate-fanboy-trolls heap abuse.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I blame pirates while Techdirt blames creators. But then I'm reasonably moral, not a pirate who gains the unearned and whose thefts create the very problems that they then use to justify more piracy.

When you end your comments with gems like “the pirate-fanboy-trolls” and portray yourself as a victim and as if people are “heaping abuse” on you you’re basically asking to get put in your place.

Just FYI.

Also, can you please explain what constitutes a moral leper? Because, and here’s the thing and I know it might be lost on YOU of all people, but morals are incredibly subjective. You’ve framed things as “if you disagree with my morality you are a criminal/pirate/etc, despite me having no proof to make any kind of determination as such minus just disagreeing with me”.

I’m a decent person and I consider my morals beyond reproach, but I also feel that anyone who judges others based on no evidence is in fact an asshole and lacking in morality. There, example of how morals are subjective. Does entitle me to claim you’re a moral leper because you’re morals are clearly not in line with my own? Be careful how you answer that, lest we point out you’re being a hypocrite. Well, yet again being one.

Also, I’m pretty sure Techdirt doesn’t blame creators for anything. Publishers, labels, and studios are another thing entirely though and it’s not blaming them for anything so much as pointing out the obvious as common sense dictates it. “Give the people what they want when they want it and at a reasonable price, because no one is saying free, and as conveniently to consumers as possible and bob’s your uncle.” The metaphorical bob, not you the asshole and drama queen one. (Oh no, look out! I’ve heaped abuse!)

Pirates are gonna pirate. Rather than focus on a no win situation, focus on the people who want to give you their money but can’t due to windowed releases, geographical restrictions, etc etc etc. The best way to do so is do away with those insane things which have no place in this digital day and age, but which I’m sure you’ll defend to the death because of course you would. Such a logical and reasonable idea can’t possibly be a good thing in your worldview. Common sense? Can’t have that now, can you?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I blame pirates while Techdirt blames creators. But then I'm reasonably moral, not a pirate who gains the unearned and whose thefts create the very problems that they then use to justify more piracy.

Ahh, because you insist that only your opinion should be expressed and that it should be expressed without criticism or disagreement. If someone disagrees with you then they are abusing you. But it’s OK for you too disagree with others and to imply they are immoral. Nothing abusive about that.

You are such a hypocrite. You self declared ultimate authority of morality. Why should I take your moral opinion as such? Just because you said so? You undemocratic tyrant. No one should be allowed to disagree with you, you want to impose your moral views on others without question when, clearly, you are the one without moral character. The pride and arrogance in asserting that your moral opinion is, without question, superior to anyone else’s itself shows your lack of moral character. And the fact that you continuously lie and refer to infringement as theft and to ignore the fact that IP is a privilege and not a right and, at least in the U.S, was intended to promote the progress and serve a public benefit, shows your lack of moral character. And to use authors as the poster child for your selfish agenda when you could care less is despicable. And you look foolish for thinking anyone could possibly be fooled into thinking that you actually care about artists. Let’s not forget Hollywood was (and still is) built on infringement. And don’t think anyone is fooled into thinking your kind doesn’t infringe.

Your post is a good reason to abolish IP. You have turned IP into something alledgedly for the authors (but really for the distributors), into something intended to prevent a twisted definition of theft and that is exactly why it shouldn’t exist. It is not an entitlement. If it is to exist it should only be to serve a public interest because no one is entitled to IP provides. Claims that it should exist because it is an entitlement are arguments for its abolition.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I blame pirates while Techdirt blames creators. But then I'm reasonably moral, not a pirate who gains the unearned and whose thefts create the very problems that they then use to justify more piracy.

I like this:

“Claims that it should exist because it is an entitlement are arguments for its abolition.”

I’ve become convinced the biggest tragedy of “IP” is the damage it does to the collective will of humanity.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: I blame pirates while Techdirt blames creators. But then I'm reasonably moral, not a pirate who gains the unearned and whose thefts create the very problems that they then use to justify more piracy.

To accept Anonymous Coward’s point as valid, everyone must assume that regardless of the legitimate uses of an all-in-one printer, it’s being used for piracy.

It follows that regardless of the legitimate uses of Anonymous Coward’s mouth, everyone must assume that it’s being used for prostitution.

But then given Anonymous Coward’s usual lobbying for copyright maximalist claims no matter how bizarre, I was making that assumption regardless.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I blame pirates while Techdirt blames creators. But then I'm reasonably moral, not a pirate who gains the unearned and whose thefts create the very problems that they then use to justify more piracy.

When you literally provoke abuse from people, you’re really not in any position to turn around and try to make some sort of point out of the result.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: I blame pirates while Techdirt blames creators. But then I'm reasonably moral, not a pirate who gains the unearned and whose thefts create the very problems that they then use to justify more piracy.

It’s always decent people who pay the price for thefts by moral lepers. Just watch this space for how, by stating my own beliefs on this non-moderated but public site, the pirate-fanboy-trolls heap abuse.

Well, when you put it that way, … Are you kidding? You’re the only one I’ve seen spitting abuse and epithets like that! Anyone else appear to be writing about facts and details.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I blame pirates while Techdirt blames creators. But then I'm reasonably moral, not a pirate who gains the unearned and whose thefts create the very problems that they then use to justify more piracy.

“I blame pirates while Techdirt blames creators. But then I’m reasonably moral,

Oh, are you? Good you know that you call yourself “reasonably moral”. I’m not sure on this but my guess is most of the mass murderers called themselves “reasonably moral” aswell.
Heck, I call myself the king of the world (sometimes, when I’m drunk) yet none accepts me as their king. Must be their fault because I am always right like you claiming you are “reasonably moral”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I blame pirates while Techdirt blames creators. But then I'm reasonably moral, not a pirate who gains the unearned and whose thefts create the very problems that they then use to justify more piracy.

But then I’m reasonably moral,

Which is the same claim made ISIS, the Taliban etc. along with every tyrant in history before they go on to tell other people how to behave.

JMT says:

Re: I blame pirates while Techdirt blames creators. But then I'm reasonably moral, not a pirate who gains the unearned and whose thefts create the very problems that they then use to justify more piracy.

“It’s always decent people who pay the price for thefts by moral lepers.”

Ignoring your obvious ignorance of leprosy and resulting failed analogy, there is simply no good reason why there needs to be a tax on the possibility of infringement occurring. This method does absolutely nothing to benefit content creators; it is simply a money grab by people with absolutely no claim to any moral high ground.

techflaws (profile) says:

Re: I blame pirates while Techdirt blames creators. But then I'm reasonably moral, not a pirate who gains the unearned and whose thefts create the very problems that they then use to justify more piracy.

Who would have thought that being a lying scumbag would be considered “reasonably moral”? Is this some kind of “least truthful answer”? Figures.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Printers?

Not merely printers. Specifically all-in-one printers.

Like mere printers they’re sold for next to nothing, because they’ll make their money on the ink or toner. The cartridges that come with them are only 1/4 full, so they know you’ll soon spend more on a refill than on the printer itself. Repeatedly. And they’ll try to sell you a USB cable for $30 that you can get elsewhere for $2. And an extended warranty.

So when you need a scanner – digitizing your paper documents and old photos is more important than it ever was – you buy an all-in-one. And never use it for printing. By skipping the ink/toner, cable and warranty, and you get a decent scanner for next to nothing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Printers?

Next (if there isn’t already in place) a cry by the industry to have a “pirate” tax put on these ink/toner cartridges as everyone who prints pages must be someone who is printing out whole copyrighted books and must be a pirate rather from the millions of users who print out letters and documents etc. /sarcasm.

That One Guy (profile) says:

While you're at it...

They should start sending out tickets to everyone who drives a car. After all, some of them will undoubtedly speed, and if punishing people for something they might do is acceptable, makes sense to send out tickets to everyone who could potentially speed.

Or perhaps a better example, given a lot of these ‘levies’ are for perfectly legal activities…

Send a bill to everyone who buys an oven or microwave, to be paid to all the fast food and restaurant businesses in the town. After all, home cooking is taking money right out of the hands of those working in the fast food/restaurant industry, it’s only fair to ‘compensate’ them for their losses caused by people engaged in the practice.

John85851 (profile) says:

The other direction

What if we approached this tax from the opposite direction, meaning: once the tax is collected, who is it going to? Artists? A publisher?
Does the company have a method in place for distributing the tax it collects to all the artists or publishers who have been slighted or offended by the technology? How can new artists sign up to get a cut of this money?

Oh, the company doesn’t have any of this information? So it’s just going to collect the money, call it a “tax”, and keep it all for themselves?

Anonymous Coward says:

Don' forget the cameras

A decent digital camera can do wonders when you copy the pages of a book.
Much faster than a scanner.
Like when you want a readable copy of the user manual (copyrighted, A6 size, 4-point print).
Or when the original does not fit in the scanner.
Or when you can’t bring it back home to your copying stand.

Don’t forget the copying stand.
It can be used for faster copying and better copies.
If they know you own one you might get raided.
(I converted my enlargment stand from the B/W silver chemistry era so they probably don’t know)

And don’t forget all the smartphone cameras.
And all the smartphone addicts running around and taking photos all the time.

With so many cameras there must by some intellectual property thieves around.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Re: Don' forget the cameras, to Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2015 @ 9:34pm, #36

The other side of the coin is that if you want to print a lot of stuff, ink-jet printers are simply not efficient. You would need to spring for a laser printer. An ink-jet printer is well suited for “occasional” printing. Apart from the cost of ink, an ink-jet printer is not mechanically reliable, and will break down if you attempt to use it to print whole books. I once had a HP 682 printer suffer a fatigue fracture in its plastic drive shaft after having printed no more than 1000-2000 pages. If you don’t want to get a laser printer, you pretty well have to read stuff on the screen.

Of course, I don’t doubt that the Belgian collection society will try to tax screens, tablet computers, etc. At this point, screens cost more than storage devices, and tablets cost cost more that desktop computers.

The kind of stuff which actually does work with an all-in-one printer (ink-jet) is filling out your taxes. The same goes for the kind of paperwork which is sometimes associated with health insurance, and which can be considerably more onerous than Form 1040. My old Epson ink-jet printer quit at tax time, last year– it started leaking black ink down into the rollers. Epsons do not have interchangeable print-heads. Naturally, this happened when the printer had to do more work in a day than it normally did in three months. So I managed to export everything, via GIMP, to JPEG files (300 dpi), and burned them to a CD disk, which I carried to the local Office Depot, which has a printing/copy shop.

Of course, it can be argues that by attempting to tax the filing of Belgian government tax returns, the Belgian collection society is committing treason and lese majestie.

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