Europe abandons copyright levy reform

The European Commission has shelved plans to reform the practice of copyright levies on blank media, a key part of European copyright law. The Commission said the contentious issue needs "more reflection".

The European Copyright Directive mandates that any country which allows private copying of material such as films or music must have a system which offers fair compensation to artists.

For many European countries that system is a levy charged on blank CDs, MP3 players and hard disks. That creates a pot of money which can then be distributed amongst artists whose work may be copied using that media.

The levy is controversial because there is no way to know what proportion of the blank media are used to copy material, nor what material is being copied. Consumer rights activists argue that it discriminates against those who use the technology for other means, while artists' groups argue that there is no way to distribute the income fairly.

"The Commission has decided more reflection is required on this complex issue," Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen told a news briefing. "When it is ready, it will bring it on the agenda of the Commission," she said, according to the Reuters news agency.

The Internal Markets Commissioner Charlie McCreevy had been due to produce a report on the degree to which the different levies distort the internal market and what can be done about that. The levy on an MP3 player ranges from nothing in the UK to €90 in Spain.

France has opposed levy reform and French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin had written to Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to urge that he reconsider reforming the system. The Commission has said that there is no date set for further consideration of reform.

Electronics firms have argued that the levy hinders the free movement of goods within the EU and has said that the Commission's decision means that it is deferring to France.

"This is capitulation to France and does not bode well for European citizens or consumers," Mark MacGann of the Copyright Levies Reform Alliance told Reuters.

Of the 25 European Union member states 20 put a levy on goods. The UK chooses instead to outlaw private copying, but the recent review of intellectual property law in the UK by former Financial Times editor Andrew Gowers recommended permitting a right to copy but without a levy.