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The European Commission is to consult on whether to change the current controversial surcharge on devices or storage media which can hold music or video.

Called the copyright levy, the charge is applied in many EU countries and paid into a fund which pays out to artists thought to be the victim of music and film piracy. It is charged on blank discs, MP3 players and other electronic products which can be used in the pirating of copyrighted material.

The levy is controversial because it assumes that all such devices are used to some extent for copying purposes.

Internal markets Commissioner Charlie McCreevy said that he will not scrap the idea of compensation for artists for copyright infringement, but that the problem was the wide diversity of practice within the EU.

"'I hope this new round of consultations can lead to solutions being found to the discrepancies that the diverse application of these levies have led to," he said. "There can be no question of calling into doubt the entitlement of rights holders to compensation for private copying. At the same time there is a need to look at how the levies are applied in practice."

EU nations can apply the levy or not, but if their copyright laws allow for private copying of already-bought material, such as from a legitimate CD to an MP3 player for example, then Europe's Copyright Directive demands that "adequate compensation" be made to rights holders.

That has generally been taken to mean that countries with private copying exceptions should have copyright levies, but the UK has refused to introduce a levy since it proposed private copying exemptions earlier this year.

In January, the Government published its plans for copyright reform, which included the introduction of a private right to copy. It said it did not believe that the introduction of private copying came with an obligation to introduce a levy.

"The exception proposed in this paper is very narrow in scope and, therefore, we consider that there would be no obligation for payment under the Copyright Directive for a limited format shifting exception, as there is no significant harm to the right holder which would need to be compensated," said its proposal paper.

McCreevy recognised that he will be dealing with parties with entrenched positions on the controversial levy.

"It should be possible to envisage some workable solution that assures the rights holders of their due compensation and at the same time applying the levies in a way that is commensurate with the loss caused by private copying," he said. "If pragmatic and workable solutions are to be found, all sides need to come to this debate with a constructive approach."

Most European countries have some kind of copyright levy, though the UK, Ireland, and Luxembourg have never had one.

McCreevy also announced that he believed that performers' copyright should be extended from 50 to 95 years.

Copyright © 2008, OUT-LAW.com

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

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