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Hewlett-Packard has been fined by the German courts for shipping hardware capable of creating pirate music CDs.

The company will have to cough up DM3.60 ($1.60) for each computer it has sold since February 1998. HP won't say how many machines that is, but it could easily run into the hundreds of thousands.

The case comes just a week after Compaq was hit with a $60 million lawsuit for shipping DVD drives without first obtaining an MPEG 2 patent licence.

We noted that Compaq was clearly being made a scapegoat - plenty of other vendors ship DVD drives with their PCs and we reckon they don't hold MPEG 2 licences either - and that seems to be the case with HP too. How many computer manufacturers you know ship PCs without hard drives, CD writers, floppy drives, or any other kind of storage?

Incidentally, HP was sent a letter demanding it license MPEG 2 technology, alongside Apple and Dell, so the company must be feeling pretty put upon right now.

German law imposes a levy on all equipment capable of recording music at home. Tape deck manufacturers, cassette makers, etc. all pay up and have been doing so for years. The levy is paid to copyright control agencies who share it among artists. It's design to compensate musicians - albeit in a small way - from the effects of piracy.

Only now has it occurred to anyone that CD-R and CD-R/W drives in PCs can also record music, and so HP has been singled out for treatment.

HP will have to pay DM12 ($5.40) for every machine it ships with a device that can store music - in other words, all of them.

"In essence, there is no difference between analogue and digital technology when it comes to private copying," is how Hans-Herwig Geyer, spokesman for GEMA, Germany's music copyright watchdog, put it today. ®

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