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EU Commission proposes Forum on future of copying levies

The European Commission has recommended that a forum be established to determine the future of private copying levies. Some 21 of the European Union’s 27 countries impose surcharges on equipment that may be used for recording or copying video or sound.

While such levies are officially designed to compensate musicians or authors for the use of their work, they have attracted much criticism for allegedly being imposed in an arbitrary manner and for hampering cross-border trade within the EU.

Joe Gote, a spokesman for the Recording-media Industry Association of Europe (RIAE), said there is “widespread market distortion caused by the levy differences” between EU countries. For example, he added, there is a 500 percent difference between a levy on a rewritable DVD sold in France and one sold in Germany. “Levies on products are not working and will never work because products move across borders,” he said. “A product-based levy system is a game of ‘catch me if you can’.”

Contending that illegal downloading from the internet is a far greater problem than authorised private copying, Gote advocated that the current system should be replaced with one whereby a flat rate is imposed on home internet connections.

Thierry Desurmont, vice-president of the French collecting society SACEM, said that 5 percent of the incomes of artists in his country derive from copying levies. The proliferation of music and video downloading has made collecting copyright levies more difficult, he added, stating that SACEM’s revenues fell from 150 million euros in 2003 to 120 million last year.

Among the topics that the forum could address, according to the Commission, are how companies that succeed in not paying the levy can be tackled. Also the forum should examine how the practicalities of collecting a levy on goods exported between countries that apply differing levies can be improved. In a paper published earlier this year, the Commission estimated that 6 percent of all imports and exports traded within the EU potentially attract a private copying levy.

The forum will not have a mandate to draw up a legislative proposal but simply to present a report to the Commission, which has suggested that another conference on private copying should be held in six months time so that any progress made can be assessed.

Story filed 01.06.08

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