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Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
copyright, europe, levies

Consumer Electronics Firms Fighting Against Copyright Levies In Europe

from the how-far-will-they-get dept

While US copyright law has its problems, one path we have not gone down that many other countries have is the concept of copyright levies on various technologies. These taxes on various technologies, consumer electronics and media storage devices are supposed to "compensate" for any copyright infringement that is done on that equipment (though, it should be noted that, even with these levies, such infringement is still illegal). Think of it as a "you simply must be a criminal" tax. In the US, the entertainment industry has mostly fought against these levies fearing (perhaps reasonably) that they would lead people to think that such copying was, in fact, legal -- or much, much worse, convince a court of that fact (by saying "hey, I paid for it via this levy, thus I should be able to do it.") Still, they do exist in many places, and they generally serve to harm the consumer electronics players by making their devices significantly more expensive. In some cases, the vast majority of the price of certain products is made up of the levy, rather than the price of the product.

Over in Europe, they've been fighting about this for years. Back in 2006 there was a proposal to get rid of these levies, but it got shot down due to intense pressure from the collections societies who make a ton of money from them. In 2008, there was even an effort to expand these levies. Copycense points us to the news that in the latest "negotiations" around these levies in Europe, the consumer electronics companies have given up trying to reason with the collections societies, and instead are looking to the EU to put in place some regulations to at least get rid of the worst abuses of such levies that massively hold back the ability of consumer electronics companies to sell products at a reasonable price.

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  1. icon
    kyle clements (profile), 13 Jan 2010 @ 9:51pm

    Those levies have helped quite a bit up North, since downloading content is 'not-illegal' up here, despite the best efforts of the CRIA.

    That doesn't make them a good thing. It's not so much the 'assumption of guilt' that bothers me; there is another often overlooked downside to these levies: it only helps the signed, established, successful artists at the expense of the little guys.

    say I have a band, I record an album, and I burn it on multiple CD-Rs and sell it. That levy that is being collected on those CD-Rs gets distributed to acts like nickelback and avril. they profit from my work.

    I really don't mind having to pay $10 for 50 CD-Rs if it means I get all-you-can-eat access to digital media.
    I do mind having the struggling little guy subsidizing the big acts that don't need or deserve it.
    I'm an artist too, I archive my work on CD-Rs, why am I not in on this deal?

    (ps: how much does a 50-pack of CD-Rs cost in a non-levied country?)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Chargone (profile), 13 Jan 2010 @ 10:24pm


    if memory serves, a single disc and it's jewel case cost NZ$2.50. a 50-pack comes on a spindle instead, and is quite a bit cheaper per disk, though i don't remember the number.

    on the Other hand, US made software will quite frequently render your hardware unable to Use the things...

    wonderfully clever, that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Steffen, 14 Jan 2010 @ 12:01am

    "Urheberrechtspauschale" in Germany

    Sorry to correct! Over here in Germany we got a new levy for PCs. Every vendor (excuse me, customer) will have to pay 13,65 € extra within every purchase of a desktop or mobile pc. Of course additional to the existing levy of nearly 6 € for every burner sold. Based on statistics, the industry gets another 270 mio € extra a year. Best thing, it's paid repercussive 'til 2002.

    I am wondering if this will be considered in the next proposals to politicians.

    Btw, not every vendor accepts i.e. apple. But these companies will get an invoice by the entertainments with an extra of +25%. Nice one!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Tor (profile), 14 Jan 2010 @ 12:19am

    Official motivation: fair use tax

    "These taxes on various technologies, consumer electronics and media storage devices are supposed to 'compensate' for any copyright infringement that is done on that equipment"

    Here in Sweden, and likely more EU countries, the official motivations for these taxes are that they are only meant to compensate rights holders for the fair use like exemptions in the law that give you the right to make a few copies of a copyrighted work for yourself and your closest friends.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Edward Barrow, 14 Jan 2010 @ 12:20am

    not still illegal

    a minor correction: the levies are supposed to compensate for legal "private copying", not to compensate for illegal copying. Levy-free countries like the US and the UK have "fair use" and "fair dealing" instead of private copying, which is subject to a fairness test, whereas in a levy country, even unfair private copying is allowed.

    The problem is that the music industry has now said, unofficially but pretty publicly that private copying (e.g. ripping CDs you have bought) is allowed, with or without a levy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Headbhang (profile), 14 Jan 2010 @ 12:39am

    Scarce goods

    But aren't the gadgets the scarce goods?

    Free content (in practice) are making these goods more valuable (translating into more sales), but none of that benefit goes to the content makers. It doesn't seem like gadget makers would go into a deal with content makers willingly though, if they have nothing to win from the current situation (unless perhaps a highly valuable content could be reliably tied to a specific gadget... DRM anyone?)

    Sure, the levies are forcing it, but aren't they somehow addressing the issue?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    mike allen (profile), 14 Jan 2010 @ 1:09am

    Re: not still illegal

    correction to your post The UK does NOT have fair use arrangments use 2 seconds of a copyright piece you pay as if you used the whole thing.(or should do).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Steffen (profile), 14 Jan 2010 @ 1:32am

    Re: not still illegal

    In Germany "private copies" are under pressure. The entertainment industries are lobbying to get over them, and partly achieved this. I.e it's not allowed to bypass DRM.

    You're not becoming criminally liable if you did this for private purpose, but companies are able to sue you under civil law. I think this is similar in other European contries.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Thomas Nortvedt, 14 Jan 2010 @ 3:07am

    A quite fair, but imperfect system of compensation

    Like it has been said in other comments, these levies are meant to compensate for the impact legal, private copying has on the rightsholders interests, economically. The legal foundation for this can be found in the Bern convention, and the idea of compensation on these grounds is in my opinion, quite reasonable. The problems attached to these levies are the lack of transparancy on both the money -in and the money out part. At the same time, as noted above, the levies are way too different in the EEC area to be reasonable. At last, there could be reasons to ask for a much higher clarity and factual empiricism on the scope and level of the levies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Tom, 14 Jan 2010 @ 3:11am

    Why Not Reverse Bill the Collection Societies?

    I am waiting for one of the companies that makes any of the "offending" products to send a bill to one of the collection societies charging them with a "You Owe Us" tax for allowing the collection societies' members to have their music/videos/etc. to be played/recorded/etc. on that companies media/system. It ONLY seems fair since the members of these collection societies have to be able to distribute their "goods" somehow anyway. And besides, we all KNOW where the money from those collection societies go anyway, in their pockets, the greedy bastards.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Dementia (profile), 14 Jan 2010 @ 3:41am

    Re: Re:

    That's an interesting choice of words. In all the years of using US software I have never had a single CD-R/CD-RW/DVD-R/DVD-RW drive fail. I've burned coasters, but not in the last 10 years or so. Please explain how US software makes "your hardware unable to Use the things..."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    real nice racket, 14 Jan 2010 @ 5:32am

    Re: A quite fair, but imperfect system of compensation

    Guilty and it doesn't innocence matter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    reboog711 (profile), 14 Jan 2010 @ 5:42am

    Wasn't there such a Levy on DAT Tapes?

    Wasn't there such a tax on DAT tapes?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Luci, 14 Jan 2010 @ 7:10am


    Around $15-20 in the US for that spindle. If you're only paying $10, and most of that is tax, I wouldn't complain overly much!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    :), 14 Jan 2010 @ 8:39am

    Blame Canada.

    The U.S. have levy's for media.

    In Canada only music is permited to be copied for private use only.

    "Can I make private copies of movies, audiobooks, or software?

    NO. The Private Copying Regime only addresses making private copies for your own use of sound recordings of musical works. "

    Albeit technically true that copying for personal use is legal in Canada that copying only applies to one subset of the entire media so is not that comfy.

    The good news is that the levy in Canada only applies to blank CDR's so when those go the way of the dodo's ther won't be any levy unless the government enacts another law.

    In European countries I see how things got out of control.

    Personally I don't see the fairness or justification to a media tax and would not support such a thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Andy Kaplan-Myrth (profile), 14 Jan 2010 @ 8:45am

    The Private Copying Levy in Canada

    kyle clements above (comment #1) already mentioned the situation in Canada, but it's worth expanding on because it's good in a way and ridonculous in another way.

    Up here, we pay a levy on certain blank media that have been designated by the Copyright Board and, in exchange for that payment, private copying of music (yes, only music) onto those types of media is not copyright infringement. And that's true regardless of where the original comes from. So I can take a CD from the library or borrow it from a friend and make a copy for myself onto a blank CD and it's not copyright infringement.

    That part has its benefits (sortofallyoucaneat content!) and its downsides (payments from the CPCC only get to established acts), as kyle_clements says above.

    But the ridonculous part about our system is in the approval of music media by the Copyright Board. What is approved? Tapes, CDs and Minidiscs (!). Back when the iPod was first introduced, they also approved portable music players, but it would have added up to $20 to the cost of a 60Gb iPod so the consumer electronics stores fought it to the Supreme Court and won. With that decision, we now have slightly less overpriced audio players in Canada (or slightly richer stores -- hard to know), but it's copyright infringement to copy your own CDs onto them, even if you bought your iPod and use the built-in iTunes feature to copy the CD.

    The result of the electronics giants' fight is that they get higher profits from mp3 players, more people infringe copyright, and artists get paid less. IMO, the Copyright Board tried to do the right thing on this one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Adam (profile), 14 Jan 2010 @ 10:19am

    Of course, as a guy who travels fairly frequently to the US from Canada, I just buy CD and DVD blanks in the USA.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Joe Dirt, 14 Jan 2010 @ 10:29am


    Please feel free to flame away as I am no expert on this or most of the subjects on this site, but I have a question.

    How is it that we have these levies on media that records in the form of movies and audio, but not on, say, a notepad?
    Example: If I buy a copy of the NIV Bible from a particular publisher and decide to make notes, on a notepad, copying entire passages for a sermon I plan to deliver to a congregation, does that notepad manufacturer pay a levy for that? Am I infringing on that publisher's product? Will I be required to pay a 'Performance Fee' when I give the sermon?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Joe Dirt, 14 Jan 2010 @ 10:35am

    Re: Question

    I know the Bible may not be the best product for the example, just insert the book/magazine/article of your choice and the question remains.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Rooker, 14 Jan 2010 @ 10:56am

    Re: A quite fair, but imperfect system of compensation

    Here's where I'm confused. If the copy isn't being sold or given away and it's not stopping someone else from buying their own copy, then what exactly are the rights holders being compensated for? They didn't lose anything. They didn't fail to gain something.

    Are they being compensated for anything other than the fact that they chose really smart lobbyists who were very good at donating to the reelection committees of the politicians who created these laws?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Edward Barrow, 15 Jan 2010 @ 12:21am

    Re: Re: not still illegal

    Indeed, the UK has "fair dealing" instead. It's quite different to, and much more circumscribed than, US-style fair use. It's still the nearest thing to "private copying".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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