Saturday, December 03, 2005

MP3/iPOD levy postponed

In the past week there was excitement about a levy on MP3 in the Netherlands. The collecting society Foundation Home Copy (Stichting Thuiskopie) had decided to put a levy on the MP3 or iPODs. It would make the MP3 player in the Netherlands some 10 or more euros more expensive. The collecting society wants to destine the levy revenues to music artists, after deducting administrative costs of 5 per cent.

A storm of protest developed. The Software/hardware association ICT~Office was against it. Consumer organisations protested against the levy as unfair, as a levy for downloading is already paid and a MP3 levy would be paid as an extra. Besides, people in the Netherlands would drive across the border to Germany or Belgium to buy a MP3 player or iPOD without levy. Political parties requested action of the minister of Justice; and as Germany or Belgium is maximally two hours from any point in the Netherlands, the amount of ten euro or more is easily saved. As the collecting society is not a governmental department, the minister can only influence the collection society’s board of directors. The minister indicated that he would talk to the society’s board of directors and talk with his colleagues in other European countries, so that a levy can be charged Europewise. Problem diffused for more than a year.

Part of the problem lies with the collecting societies. The Netherlands is populated with collecting societies. Most (in)famous is Stemra/BUMA for music, but there are also collecting societies to charge people and/or companies for playing a radio at work, for distributing video programs, for making copies on copying machines, for using articles in students’ readers. Use the word mechanical or database reproduction and a collecting society will present itself.

These individual collecting societies are incorporated as foundations and find their legal base in the national copyright act. The argumentation of the proposed levy is that illegal copies of songs can be made with this equipment. The levy is comparable with the levy on blank CD-ROMs and DVDs.

The collecting societies distribute the revenues to publishers and artists. This distribution is dubious. Magazine publishers receive repartition money for articles copied. Magazine publishers, which are members of the foundation, are obliged to divide this repartition money between the publishing company and the author. Only a few publishing companies transfer the repartition money; most companies keep the money using the excuse that they incorporate the money in their author's fee. When a publishing company is not a member of the collecting society, the author can apply for repartition money, but will have to go through a lot of red tape. Also in the music sector the repartition money is split between the music publisher, the distribution company and the artist. Unless you are an established artist, you will receive some money.

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