Private copying – dark art or just fair remuneration

At a rather one-sided event in Brussels last week I heard private copying referred to as a “dark art” that almost nobody really understands.  A ridiculously biased comment.

Let me try and shed light on this “dark art”. 

When we refer to private copying, we are often shortening from private copying remuneration.

Private copying remuneration is what rightholders (be they directors, screenwriters, record labels, film producers) receive to compensate them for the private copies that have been made of their works.  For many authors, private copying remuneration is a valuable source of income in between projects. One of SAA’s members distributed an average of 13,000€ to its top 100 authors in 2010. Not an insignificant amount.

Europe being Europe, each country has set up its own systems for private copying.  The technology industries have long taken issue with the variations that this creates from country to country and after breaking off discussions two years ago have set about trying to dismantle the private copying system through court actions and political lobbying.  I’m sure they have to deal with many other national variations (on areas like taxation) and on a merely anecdotal level, it doesn’t seem like private copying levies have impacted on sales of Apple’s products over the last few years.

The rightholder organisations have remained open for discussions and were very pleased to see the Commission appoint a high level mediator to kickstart discussions on this (here).  Now that Mr Vittorino is getting ready to start his consultation process, SAA and a group of right holders organisations have been preparing themselves for what will surely be a very intense 4 month mediation period. 

We have been reassured this week by a couple of positive messages.  First of all, Wednesday saw the publication of a new study by Compass Lexecon (authored by Lorenzo, Padilla and Requejo).  It countered the arguments of a report published by Oxera (and funded by Nokia) to underline the welfare effects of private copying remuneration.   The other piece of good news was from the Dutch courts that clarified, at least for Dutch rightholders, that the private copying remuneration has to apply to devices that are used for private copying (article here).

Private copying is not a dark art.  It’s a fair way of remunerating authors and rightholders for difficult to license and monitor uses of their works. Constructive dialogue has to be the way forward and I hope that the mediator will be able to foster this and bring this long running issue to a satisfactory conclusion for everyone.