Ruling From EU's Top Court Confirms Copyright Levies Are A Ridiculous, Unworkable Mess
from the big-fat-nothing dept
In the last year, Techdirt has posted a couple of stories about court decisions that underline the fact that the EU system of copyright levies is an unworkable mess. A new ruling from the EU’s highest court, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has confirmed this once more, but for different reasons. The levies are supposed to compensate copyright holders for an alleged “loss” arising from copies made for personal use. The case concerns Spain’s implementation of the system, which pays money directly from the state’s budget. That’s obviously much simpler than the complicated approach that involves collecting a levy placed on storage devices that varies according to their size — a system used in other European countries. However, the CJEU has found a problem with Spain’s method (pdf):
the Court notes that the [EU’s] private copying exception is intended exclusively for natural persons who make, or have the capacity to make, reproductions of protected works or subject matter for private use and for non-commercial ends. It is those persons who cause harm to the rightholders and who are, in principle, required to finance, in return, the fair compensation payable to those rightholders. For their part, legal persons are excluded from benefiting from that exception.
The issue here is that under the 2001 EU Copyright Directive, only “natural persons” — people — are allowed to make personal copies, whereas “legal persons” — companies — are not. But in Spain, the private copying exception is funded from the general government budget, and therefore inevitably includes monies gathered as taxes from companies. The CJEU says that’s not allowed, because it’s the ones doing the private copying — the “natural persons” — who must pay, and no one else. The court pointed out:
it has not been established that there is a particular measure in Spain allowing legal persons to request to be exempted from contributing to the financing of that compensation or, at least, to seek reimbursement.
It’s really not clear how that could be done in practice. Maybe by allocating a tiny tax rebate to companies by way of “reimbursement” for the copyright levy payment made from the state budget. But that would add yet another layer of complexity to the tax system, hardly a welcome outcome. It would be far simpler just to get rid of the unwieldy and anachronistic copyright levy system altogether. It’s time to recognize that everybody has a fundamental right to make copies of stuff they own, and that the “fair compensation” for doing that is a big, fat nothing.