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Music industry wins judicial review on private copy levy

By | Published on Friday 19 June 2015

UK Music

The High Court in London has sided with the music industry in its battle for compensation for the introduction of a private copy right in the UK.

As previously reported, UK copyright law was finally changed last year so that it is no longer illegal for people to rip tracks from a CD to their PC for their own personal private use. The so called ‘private copy right’ has existed in most other countries for a long time. Though elsewhere in Europe the music industry is compensated for the private copy exception, traditionally via a levy charged on blank cassettes and CDs. Working out what to charge a levy on in the digital age has at times been controversial.

Nevertheless, some in the UK music industry reckoned that if their counterparts elsewhere in Europe were being compensated for private copies being made, so should they, that being the point of the European Union’s harmonisation laws and all that jazz. So UK Music, the Musicians’ Union and BASCA took the matter to judicial review, and this morning won the argument forcing the government to have a rethink.

Welcoming the ruling, UK Music boss Jo Dipple says: “The High Court agreed with us that government acted unlawfully. It is vitally important that fairness for songwriters, composers and performers is written into the law. My members’ music defines this country. It is only right that government gives us the standard of legislation our music deserves. We want to work with government so this can be achieved”.

The government had argued that the private copy right in the UK was much narrower than elsewhere in Europe, and therefore there wasn’t the same case for compensation. But the High Court did not agree.

It remains to be seen what happens next, though, as previously noted, pushing for a private copy levy in a heavy handed way could further hurt the reputation of music copyright with the wider public, especially if the PR machine of the tech community, which may have to pay the levy, cranks into action. Which could well backfire as the music industry pushes elsewhere for further reforms of copyright law to its advantage, such as on safe harbour issues.

But in the meantime, do check out a very timely discussion on the private copy levy, and how it might be applied in the digital domain, hosted by MusicTank next Thursday, and featuring CMU Business Editor Chris Cooke amongst others. And read up on how the levies work elsewhere in Europe on the MusicTank site here.