Europe’s “private copying levy” system is a mess. You might pay a hidden charge of �3.15 in Spain for an MP3 player but a full �25 in France. An inkjet multifunction printer levy could run �178.84 in Belgium but only �12 in Germany. Some countries, like the UK, have no levy at all. But the talks to reform the system have broken down.
The levies are designed to compensate copyright holders for “private copying.” The definition of “private copying” varies by country, as do the rules on what devices are covered and how much should be paid. In many cases, no definitive guidance is given, and device resellers and importers have to work out agreements with various collecting societies who distribute the cash to members.
Rules that were clear in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s are less clear since the arrival of digital technology; today, just about any computer-like device can make or store “copies,” including computers, external hard drives, multifunction printers, MP3 players, smartphones, blank DVDs, CD-Rs, photocopiers, and more. Which devices should pay the levy, and how much should be charged? A computer’s key job (for most people, at least) is not making private copies of music, so determining a levy amount can be difficult.
The situation got so bad that the EU convened a summit between the device/media people and the collecting society people, hoping to get them to hash out a more coherent situation on their own. That process broke down yesterday.
Digital Europe, which represents the device/media people, said that the talks only served to show that “there are fundamental aspects of the private copy levy system which simply cannot be resolved in a stakeholder forum. A political and legislative intervention is required at the European level.”
GESAC, the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers, deplored the “unilateral decision to abandon talks.” In GESAC’s view, the two sides were close to an agreement that would fix problems with moving and selling goods within the EU. All that was needed was “exemptions and refunds for cross-border movement of goods subject to levies, a regime for distance sales, the call for consistent product definition throughout the EU, etc.” Simple, right?
As it stands, Belgians will keep driving over the border in search of good deals on multifunction printers.