Out-Law News 2 min. read

Talks aimed at harmonising approach to copyright levies planned for next year

The European Commission has appointed a mediator to hold talks aimed at creating a consistent approach to copyright levies across Europe. Discussions will begin early next year and could result in changes to EU copyright law, the Commission said.

The discussions will involve industry representatives and will seek to establish consistent ways of applying levies for the private copying of copyrighted works, the Commission said as it announced that former European Commissioner António Vitorino had been appointed "mediator" of the talks.

"Vitorino's task will be to moderate stakeholder discussions with the objective of exploring possible approaches to harmonisation of both the methodology used to impose levies and the systems of administration of levies," Michel Barnier, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services said in a statement.

"I believe that a common effort on all sides, under the excellent leadership of Mr. Vitorino, will bring the expected results allowing us to propose legislation enabling the smooth cross-border trade in goods that are subject to private copying levies while ensuring that the rightholders receive appropriate compensation for acts of private copying," he said.

Some European countries allow the unauthorised copying of material that a person legitimately owns, as long as that is for private use. Under the EU's Copyright Directive this is permitted as long as there is 'fair compensation' to the copyright holders. In a ruling by the European Court of Justice last year, the Court said that what constitutes 'fair compensation' must be determined by the "harm suffered by the author".

Countries which allow private copying ensure this fair compensation by charging a levy on the media such as discs and media players – that material is typically copied on to. That levy is then distributed through collection societies to rights holders.

However, in a recent report for the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO), academic Martin Kretschmer reported "dramatic differences" in how the 22 member states that operate a levy system identify the products where levies should be added and who should benefit. The UK does not impose a levy system, but does factor the cost of private copying to rights holders into the price of goods, Kretschmer said.

Kretschmer said that countries do not always apply levies to the same blank media and whilst some enable private copying from unlawful sources others do not. He said countries apply levies different to others dependent on the content of what the media is used for copying, and that the levies charged themselves vary greatly between states.

The Commission said that inconsistencies in how member states approach and apply copyright levying "create difficulties for economic operators and citizens in the Internal Market as well as problems for the functioning of national systems, in each case to the detriment of rightholders".

Discussions with industry are planned to begin early next year and be completed before summer, Barnier said.

The Government has backed proposals to introduce a private copying exemption into UK copyright laws. In his report Kretschmer advised the IPO that the creation of a licensing system for private copying could ensure fair compensation for rights holders whilst freeing-up copyrighted works for private copying.

In its proposals to reform intellectual property laws published earlier this year, the European Commission said that "innovative licensing solutions" were required in order to "promote the seamless sharing of knowledge and culture that allow academic institutions, businesses, researchers and private individuals to lawfully use copyright-protected materials while compensating authors, publishers, and other creators for the use of their works".

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