EU Copyright Holders Cling To Old Levies, As New Ones Start To Appear On Cloud Storage
from the time-to-stop-this-nonsense dept
Levies on blank storage media are a relic of older times when copying was a new possibility for copyright works. You no longer needed an LP pressing plant, say, you could copy music in the comfort of your own home, first on analog cassette tapes, then later on digital media like CDs and MP3 players. At that time, it was easy to see each of those copies as somehow replacing purchases, and so the argument for levies was born: people should pay indirectly for the "lost" sales their copying caused.
Fast forward to the Internet age, when everything online is copied multiple times as it traverses the nodes of the network, and where everyone is constantly copying files, regardless of copyright law -- with a potential annual liability of around $4.5 billion, according to a well-known study by John Tehranian. Basically, the idea that every copy of a digital file must be paid for is dead, which makes levies on storage media -- currently being pushed to absurd levels in some countries -- look even more unjustifiable.
Even the copyright holders are aware of this. A new "Declaration on Private Copying Remuneration" (pdf), pointed out to us by an article in Intellectual Property Watch, tries to convince people that levies are fair:
Private copying is becoming a more and more frequent subject of debate. The companies which market copying devices are systematically attacking the system through European and national courts, lobbying and through the press. On behalf of hundreds of thousands of creators we, the undersigned organisations representing authors, performers and producers of musical, audiovisual, literary and visual arts works, feel the need to give a reminder of why private copying combined with fair remuneration remains essential.
But its attempted justification fails right at the start:
Over 50 years ago, the first commercially available recording devices created a dilemma. Copyright as it stood at the time required permission for each act of copying of protected works. It was practically impossible for private users to get permission whenever they wanted to copy something. At the same time, rightsholders were clearly entitled to remuneration for such use of their
Well, no: they are not "clearly" entitled at all. When people pay for music or videos, they pay for the ability to enjoy them, possibly on a range of different devices. Making copies of CD tracks to an MP3 player, or of DVDs to a tablet does not entitle copyright holders to any more money, since they have done nothing extra to deserve additional remuneration. They produced the work, they were paid for the work, end of the story. The fact that copyright does not allow such reasonable, everyday actions without "exceptions" just shows that it is unfit for the modern world, where personal copies are ubiquitous.
To resolve this, the vast majority of European countries allowed private copying as long as remuneration was paid to the rightsholders. These national pieces of legislation were brought together at European level in 2001, reiterating the necessity of rightholder remuneration.
Against this background of increasing irrelevance for copyright levies, it's a shame to see the European Commission meekly accepting their imposition on cloud-based storage systems. Here's what it writes in one of the documents (pdf) accompanying its new strategy for "Unleashing the potential of cloud computing in Europe":
Currently, depending on the national private copy levy system, private copy levies are being asked for the storage media and the hard ware used by consumers in the context of cloudservices.
But trying to impose a complicated set of differing national levies on cloud computing services will simply reproduce the huge problems that a fragmented copyright licensing market is causing for startups in the EU. Moreover, cloud computing actually reduces the need for levies altogether, as the same paper points out:
Some of the technologies applied in the digital context, such as streaming, have the potential of reducing the number of copies which are actually made on consumer devices. Cloud computing services, where end-users are actually replicating less on their personal local devices have been seen as a game changer, making the private copy levy concept less appropriate, as digital technology advances.
Rather than permit an outdated system to throttle innovative cloud services in Europe, the Commission should use the shift to this technology to kill off the private copying levy once and for all.