European Parliament draft report on private copy levies – serious or satire?

By EDRi · November 4, 2013

French Socialist MEP Françoise Castex published her draft report on private copying levies on 9 October. The biggest question that the document raises is… are you serious, Ms Castex?

The policy issue being addressed is that “creators” are meant to be “compensated” for private copies that are made of legally acquired content, such as music or printed material. In some EU countries, there are no levies, in some EU countries there are low levels of levies. In France, Ms Castex’ country, the levies are by far the highest in Europe, generating a well-funded copyright industry that is very effective at lobbying to protect its own interests.

There is therefore a huge problem to be addressed – should we have this extraordinarily inefficient tax, where every euro generated costs 52 cents to collect? Should we be compensating artists – or anyone – for losses that have never been documented? These and many other important questions are diligently avoided by Ms Castex, who prefers to focus on sophistry, misinformation and misdirection.

On the key point of how the levies should be calculated, Ms Castex chooses not to argue for a scientific analysis of whether or not there is a loss that should be compensated. Instead, she argues that there should be a “negotiating arrangement for the rates applicable” and then argues against herself, suggesting that there should be a consultation to “simplify procedures” to ensure “fairness and objectivity”… objectivity that would be impossible if her suggestion that the levels be negotiated were to be accepted. In the increasingly tense Castex vs Castex debate about the calculation of the amount that should be charged, Castex also argues that “levies should be calculated on the basis of the possible harm to rightsholders” (rather than, for example… the negotiating arrangement that she also supports?).

Even though the issue is entirely irrelevant to the problem of private copying levies as the money is collected permits copying of legally obtained content, Castex argues that taxpayers (“Member States”) should additionally redirect their (which?) “anti-pirate” (sic) campaigns to propaganda that highlights “the benefits of private copying levies”. She does not indicate what benefits she is referring to or where the logical link to piracy may or may not be. Bizarrely, she also argues that 25% of the money collected should be actively withheld from the artists and spent on promoting “creative and performance arts”.

Faced with the fact that audiovisual and audio products are increasingly provided on a per-view basis, Castex launches another bitter argument with herself. She says that contractual arrangements (licensing, in other words) “cannot be allowed to prevail to the detriment of private copying exemption arrangements” but also that “licence-granting practices are being viewed as an alternative to the system of private copying levies”. The bottom line is that private copying is being restricted by technological restrictions. While it is illegal under EU law to circumvent these restrictions, even if this circumvention is to allow private copying that is permitted (and paid for through levies), Castex does not propose legalising circumvention. She also does not propose the banning of such technologies. Instead, she calls for their “elimination” – but does not indicate how this should be done. One imagines that if she wanted them to be banned by law, that is what she would have said. We know what she doesn’t mean. What she does mean, on the other hand, is less clear.

It is in the area of statistics where the draft report is its most absurd. The text omits any reference to the cost of the levies to the consumer and whether this is appropriate. It argues that levies represent a “small proportion” of the turnover of equipment manufacturers (possibly because they are equipment manufacturers and not broadcasters or music retailers), yet is “a considerable amount for artists”. Which artists? French artists, whose government imposes high levies, British artists, whose government imposes no levies? We have no way of knowing – Castex chooses not to tell us. She points out that 600 million Euro is collected and that the cultural industries employ 5 million people. If those 5 million people are relevant in this context, they are relevant to the tune of, on average, 32 cents per day per job. Are any of those jobs relying on the 32 cents per day on average, that are received from private copying levies? We don’t know. Ms Castex chooses not to tell us.

Are the 5 million jobs in the cultural sector even relevant in this context? We don’t know. Is there any point in such a directionless, chaotic report? We don’t know.