EU politicians split over digital copyright levies

An overhaul of EU copyright levies sparks debate

Proposals to place copyright levies on cloud computing services have led to divided opinions following an important vote Tuesday in the European Parliament.

Plans for the overhaul of the E.U. Copyright Directive put forward by French Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Françoise Castex were approved by the Parliament's legal affairs committee.

The move was welcomed by authors' and performers' organizations, but Pirate Party MEP Christian Engstrom said the whole idea of copyright levies is an outdated disaster.

"The Castex report rejects even the small improvements that the European Commission suggested in order to reduce the harmful effect that the levies have on the internal market," said Engstrom. "We lost in the committee today, but the next step will be the vote of the whole of the Parliament. I hope activists throughout Europe will take this opportunity to contact their MEPs and explain that this is an outdated system that hurts both consumers and businesses."

Digital Europe, a European association representing the technology industry, echoed those sentiments.

"Unfortunately, the report ignores the views of consumers, Internet users and the ICT industry. The current system was designed half a century ago for the analog world, and is clearly no longer fit for purpose in the digital age. Consumers expect and deserve better," said Paul Meller, the organization's communications director.

However, GESAC (the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers), a group representing more than 800,000 creators in Europe across a range of artistic sectors including music, said that phasing out the copyright levies system is "completely unrealistic."

Copyright levies are taxes placed on products such as printers or smartphones through which content can be copied. The Castex report envisions an updated list of leviable devices and services, potentially including cloud services. In a worst-case scenario, consumers could end up paying twice for transferring legally purchased content between their own accounts, said Engstrom.

If approved by the European Parliament, the plans could disrupt rules in individual E.U. member states. For example, the U.K. plans to allow private copying without passing on compensation to rightholders.

As a result, the current legislation has been referred to the Court of Justice of the European Union, which ruled in January that copyright owners can only object to circumvention of technical protection measures where those measures are proportionate and where the circumvention tools are not mainly used for legitimate purposes.

According to the European Commission, the amount 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$818 million).

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

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Jennifer Baker

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