Artists vow to sue Apple for dodging French music fees

Pay your dues

The body representing French composers says it will sue Apple for evading its compensation obligations on sales of its iPod player. That's Apple, the computer company, not Apple Corp, The Beatles' publisher; the former is forbidden from selling music products as a result of a 1991 legal settlement with the latter, a dispute that's currently in court again.

Under a French law passed two years ago, hard disk players are subject to a levy that goes to compensate royalty holders. Sacem, the Society of Music Creators, Composers and Publishers, says Apple has failed to comply, and will sue for back fees. Canada recently introduced a similar levy on fixed-disk portable music players to help compensate artists.

Last year Apple Computer quietly removed a claim on its iTunes Music Store that the service was "fair to artists". Major label deals can leave artists indebted for years.

Professor William Fisher at Harvard University, who has been studying alternative compensation systems, suggests that hardware levies are one of the least effective forms of raising money. Fisher is one of many people studying the consequences of decriminalizing music 'piracy' while ensuring artists get paid.

The average US household spends $500 on audio and video hardware, media subscriptions and rentals, and yet for 17 cents a week per household, rights holders could receive a more than generous compensation equivalent to 20 per cent of their current revenues. A fee that fell solely on broadband users - who do the most file trading - would amount to little more than a dollar a week: the price of an iTunes song, or half of a Napster subscription.

A move would give a tonic to hardware vendors such as Apple and both wireline and wireless infrastructure providers by boosting demand for their products: so it's hard to understand why computer companies and the mechanical copyright holders are united against such a move. Alliances based on short-term greed often win the day, but in the long run, such companies exist only to shift more product. This one will run and run. ®

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