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A “copy tax” could spread from blank CDs to mobile phones to internet service providers, according to a consultation document from the European Commission. The document warns that a wide spread of the tax would cause a backlash against it.

In most European countries, though not in the UK, copying of music for private use is allowed. These countries add a levy to the cost of items which are likely to be used to make private copies so that the copyright holder can receive some compensation.

The Commission is consulting with industry so that it can change the laws around this “copyright levy” to suit the world of digital copying. It has warned, though, that applying traditional principles to digital media could cause consumers to reject any idea of a copyright levy.

"[In the digital media world] it would no longer be possible to hold only liable the manufacturers or importers of equipment and media," said the Commission's consultation document. "The logic of levies would also have to be applied to broadband and infrastructure service providers including telecommunications providers that carry content."

"If this were to happen, levies would proliferate and there would be a serious risk of a backlash against the rights holder community and consumer welfare," it said.

Already some nations charge copyright levies on mobile phones and printers, as well as blank discs and DVD writers. Computers are also being levied, since they are capable of and used for the copying of copyrighted material.

The Commission has called for the complex situation to be clarified and is seeking the opinions of industry, but its consultation document recognises that it is not an easy task. "The current system of copyright levies as a means of compensation for rights holders does not take into account the phenomenon of convergence," the document says. "Copyright levies were born in the analogue environment … the distinction currently applied in levy systems between media, equipment and devices is already outmoded as it has not been adapted for the advent of the digital environment."

Most European countries allow private copying but recognise that rights holders must receive some compensation for that use. The copyright levy raises money that goes to artist representative groups. The UK chose instead to outlaw even private use copying, so no levy exists.

Last week the British Phonographic Industry chairman Peter Jamieson told a House of Commons committee that the BPI will not pursue individuals copying privately, even though it is illegal.

"We now need to make a clear and public distinction between copying for your own use and copying for dissemination to third parties and make it unequivocally clear to the consumer that if they copy their CDs for their own private use in order to move the music from format to format we will not pursue them," said Jamieson.

See: The consultation (20-page / 287KB PDF)

See also: BPI won't sue you for putting music on your iPod, OUT-LAW News, 07/06/2006

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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