Business News Legal Top Stories

Private copy levy on digital lockers proposed in Europe

By | Published on Wednesday 16 October 2013


With the introduction of a ‘private copy right’ into UK copyright law now imminent, and with the music industry’s reported intent to fight the government’s decision to introduce that new copyright exemption without compensation for rights owners, discussions in Europe around copyright levies are becoming increasingly important for the British music business.

As previously reported, elsewhere in Europe consumers are allowed to make back-up copies of sound recordings they legitimately purchase without permission from the rights owner, though the practice has generally been accompanied by a levy system, whereby a levy is charged on devices used in the private copying process (traditionally blank cassettes and CDRs, more recently MP3 players) which is paid back into the music community.

Because the private copy right has never existed in the UK (despite private copies aplenty being made by consumers) there has never been such a levy.

And while the government’s most recent review of copyright law, by Ian Hargreaves, proposed the introduction of the private copy exemption, it said there was no case for a levy system to be introduced too. Much to the annoyance of the record companies, who will mainly rely on the need for parity with their European counterparts when arguing that some sort of private copy levy be introduced over here.

But in Europe the levy debate has not been without controversy, because as MP3 players fall out of fashion in favour of MP3-playing smartphones, a common question is on what to apply the levy. One recent target has been cloud storage platforms, or digital lockers, where consumers may upload and store back-up copies of their MP3 collections. To that end French MEP Fran├žoise Castex recently proposed to the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee such a system.

According to Computer World, Castex says: “The private copying system is a virtuous system that balances the right to copying for private use with fair remuneration to rightholders, and that it is a system worth preserving. [And] private copies of protected works made using cloud computing technology may have the same purpose as those made using traditional and/or digital recording media and materials”.

Although the European Grouping Of Societies Of Authors And Composers has welcomed Castex’s proposals, needless to say, those representing the Pirate Party in Europe have already dissed the plan, with Pirate Party MEP Christian Engstrom stating that “the very principle of levies is all wrong, we should be reducing them, not increasing them”. Meanwhile the European digital sector’s trade body Digital Europe has also raised concerns.

It remains to be seen how Castex’s proposals fair in Brussels, and whether debates on this topic there will ever be relevant to the UK music industry.