EU Rights Owners Blast ICT Industry For Trying To “Hijack” Copyright Levy System Talks

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Copyright collective management and creators’ organisations Monday accused digital technology industry group DIGITALEUROPE of trying to hijack a mediation process aimed at straightening out the EU’s messy system of private copying and reprographic levies. In its 4 October paper setting out alternatives to device-based copyright levies, DIGITALEUROPE urged the European Commission to initiate comprehensive reform that includes replacing levies with some other forms of compensation to rights holders.

The DIGITALEUROPE paper is here [pdf].

The International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO), European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers, Association of European Performers’ Organisations, Federation of Producers’ Societies for Audiovisual Private Copying, independent Music Companies Association and Society of Audiovisual Authors, however, said the timing of the proposal is suspicious. It comes as António Vitorino, appointed by European Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier, is winding up his mediation process and as negotiations are in a late stage, IFRRO said.

“It calls into question the reliability of Digital Europe as a partner and the extent to which it is dedicated to the mediation process,” IFRRO CEO Olav Stokkmo said in a press release.

Alternative Solutions “The Only Way Forward”

There have been several unsuccessful attempts to find an EU-wide approach to copyright levies, DIGITALEUROPE said. The EU Copyright Directive requires “fair compensation” but not a system in which levies are imposed on electronic devices such as computers, smartphones and recording media, it said. Other mechanisms could better compensate artists and creators for acts of private copying which cause more than minimal harm to rights owners, without fragmenting and hampering the digital ecosystem, it said.

One approach is to assume that a consumer’s normal use of content, including all copies she may make for private use, is already included in the purchase, with rights holders compensated from payments from the purchase price at already commercially negotiated rates, it said.

Another idea, which isn’t really an alternative to levies but which may be more politically attractive and realistic in EU countries “absolutely wedded” to the notion of levies, is to shift liability for paying the levy farther down the supply chain, as close to end-users as possible, DIGITALEUROPE said. That would solve the problems of fragmentation of the European single market and of exemption of business users, it said. The levy would only be paid in the country of final purchase; and the lower level in the supply chain (point of sale) is in a better position to decide whether the final buyer is a private person or a business, it said.

The trade group also proposed several publicly-funded options, such as compensating creators through state budgets, revamped broadcast fees, research and development investment, EU funding or dedicated lotteries. It also argued that cloud computing is increasingly eroding the need for levies. It is widely accepted that the private copying exception doesn’t apply to streaming, which doesn’t implicate reproduction rights, and that, consequently, Copyright Directive provisions relating to fair compensation for private copies also don’t apply, DIGITALEUROPE said.

Proposals “Beside the Point”

IFFRO said it made no judgment on the content of DIGITALEUROPE’s paper, except that it ignores the fact that levies secure not only remuneration for private copying but also for reprography, which includes private copying and copying for professional and educational uses. “In that context, the recommendations are beside the point,” IFRRO said.

The other rights organisations, in a joint press release, said they strongly oppose the idea of shifting private copying compensation responsibility to governments and other public funds. The idea “has no legal or other justification” and is simply an attempt to shift the burden to the public, they said.

DIGITALEUROPE’s proposals would “cut the link between” the act of making private copies and the payment of remuneration to rights holders, violating EU law, the groups said. The industry paper “could be a sign that the whole mediation process is being hijacked” and that technology and information and communication technology companies are walking away from improving the system, they charged.

Dugie Standeford may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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