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Blank media levy breaches should be criminal, say authors

Report tries to stop EU scrapping levy

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Breaches of the European copyright levy system on blank media should be criminalised, a report by an authors' group says. The report is an attempt to convince the European Commission not to scrap the levy.

The levy is a small additional charge on blank CDs, MP3 players and other media which is used to compensate artists for the presumed use of the media to copy their material without payment. It is strongly opposed by consumer electronics companies.

The European Union's Copyright Directive says EU nations can allow a limited private right to copy material such as music but only if they fairly compensate artists for the presumed loss of income. They can, like the UK, avoid the levy by not having a private right to copy.

The UK, though, is introducing a private right to copy and it is not thought that the Government plans to introduce a levy. It has not yet explained how it intends to make this compatible with EU rules.

GESAC is the European umbrella body for the societies which collect royalties and distribute them to authors and artists. It has published the report which seeks to debunk the arguments of the opponents of the levy.

"The existence of different private copying remuneration schemes (PCRS) (or none at all) in the different EU Member States has been presented as an obstacle to the free movement of goods," said the GESAC proposals. "GESAC is not aware of any commission decision or ECJ judgment in that sense."

The body calls for the treatment of non-payment of levies as a criminal offence rather than a civil wrong. It also calls on countries to make sure that sellers of media pay the levy and not consumers, recognising that distance selling such as online retailing makes the situation more complicated.

"A significant number of the operators that are liable for the payment of private copying remuneration seek ways to circumvent this payment," said the GESAC document. "It is also necessary to address the case of distance sales in order to avoid that liability for the payment of the private copying remuneration be extended to consumers."

EU Internal Markets Commissioner Charlie McCreevy recently attempted to reform the levy system, but faced insurmountable political opposition, particularly from France. It is thought that he could make another attempt at making the system more transparent.

"We don't want any more emotional debate. We want a concrete discussion and concrete proposals," said GESAC secretary general Veronique Desbrosses, according to Reuters news agency. "We know the commission is still willing to address the issue."

The report said the long term benefits of the levy system were that consumers were able to make freer use of material, and artists were given greater incentives to create.

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