Previously, two Commissioners have had a stab at resolving the hoo ha around private copying levies and failed. This new Commission seemed to have recognised that this was one issue where entrenched, opposing industry positions and overly differing viewpoints between the Member States made progress an unlikely result for a Commission focused on being big on big things and small on small things. Radio silence on the issue was broken on 9th December when the Copyright Communication included an action box on private copying levies.
So, what is big? Well, everything is relative of course. In real money terms, the recently published WIPO/Thuiskopie survey put private copying collections in Europe in 2014 at 731million Euros (greatly inflated by collections in Germany which increased 174% due to the conclusion of litigation). However, compared to EU GDP (13 trillion Euros) private copying levy collections are teeny tiny (0.006%). Compared to the 1 trillion Euro revenues of Digital Europe Members – the organisation leading the charge for the abolition of levies – they are a little bigger, just 0.07%. For the creative industries as a whole they are more significant, representing 0.1% of CCI Revenues (535 billion Euros). For individual creators, they can be essential in keeping them going between projects. So, is this really a big issue? How likely is agreement among the Member States?
Not very likely. The UK is resolutely against levies and compensation schemes in general (failing last year to pass a private copying exception without a compensation mechanism). By comparison, the governments of Germany and France, the two countries with the largest collections, are staunch supporters of the system. It’s difficult to see the halfway house that would satisfy everyone.
Given the political paralysis, the European Court of Justice is being relied upon to fill in the gaps. Authors’ organisations, without the deep pockets of the tech industries, are made to wait years while courts resolve disputes and clarify points of law.
So, does the Commission really want to take another bite of this cherry? SAA has always advocated further harmonisation of the system but is faced with a tech industry that is unwilling to negotiate and ready to burn huge amounts of money (more than they have to pay in levies?) in a coordinated and concerted attack on the system across Europe in national legislation and through the courts.
It is unclear who in the Commission has the appetite for this particular topic. The issue hasn’t come up in any of the “digital single market” Commissioners’ speeches. The copyright unit is already overworked with a shopping list of reforms expected before the summer.
This is a big issue for big tech but I hope that is not what the Commission means when it says it wants to be big on the big things.