EU politicians clash over copyright levies

Copyright levies on cloud computing services would be a disaster, says the Pirate Party MEP

An E.U. proposal to place copyright levies on cloud computing services would be a complete disaster if implemented, according to a member of the European Parliament.

Pirate Party MEP Christian Engstrom said Tuesday that he could not envision a proposal worse than that of French MEP Françoise Castex, who presented her plan for the overhaul of the Copyright Directive to the Parliament's legal affairs committee Monday. She said her proposal will make the issue of copyright levies and downloading clearer across the European Union.

"The very principle of levies is all wrong, we should be reducing them, not increasing them," Engstrom said in response.

Castex believes that "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."

The Castex proposal says that "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" and that they could therefore be subject to levies as well. The Commission should determine how these private copies of protected works could be taken into account by the private copying compensation mechanisms, she said.

It is this part of the text that Engstrom finds the most worrisome. In a worst-case scenario consumers could end up paying twice for transferring legally purchased content between their own accounts.

However, Castex said that "private copying exemption arrangements enable consumers to copy freely their musical and audio-visual material from one medium to another without the need to seek the authorisation of rightholders, provided that this is for private use."

Digitization is having a huge impact on how cultural goods are being produced, distributed, marketed and consumed, according to Castex. Lower distribution costs can facilitate access to creative works, but at a time of budget austerity, private copying levies constitute a vital source of revenue for the cultural sector, she said.

European Commission figures show that the sum total of private copying levies collected in 23 of the 28 E.U. member states has more than tripled since the current Copyright Directive came into force in 2002 and now stands at more than €600 million (US$814 million).

In her proposal, Castex urges member states and rightholders to "replace their anti-piracy campaigns with 'positive' campaigns highlighting the benefits of private copying levies."

The European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers (GESAC) said that it was pleased with the text. The organization represents more than 800,000 creators in Europe across a range of artistic sectors.

"We particularly welcome the report's assertion that private copying levy should apply to all material, media and services whose value resides in their private recording and storage capacity," it said in a statement. "In addition, private copying compensation should also be payable vis-à-vis new online services such as cloud computing."

But Digital Europe, a European association representing the digital technology industry, is strongly against the proposals.

"The current approach of financing culture and creativity by not only protecting an antiquated levy system but by expanding it to new digital developments reduces the use of technology to the consumption of cultural products. Far more it fails to acknowledge market realities and the well-documented mutual benefit and close collaboration of the culture sector and the ICT industry," said the organization in a statement.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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Tags governmentcopyrightregulationlegislationlegalintellectual property

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Jennifer Baker

IDG News Service
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