01 September 2011

Cents of Entitlement

The "copyright levy" - typically a charge levied on blank recording media such as audio tapes, CDs and DVDs - is a total anachronism. If it ever had a justification - and I don't believe it did - it was that once upon a time the only content that existed came from "professionals"; if you were making a copy of a song or a video, it was, almost by definition, made by somebody else, and so, the argument went, you "ought" to be paying for something for it, since it might be an "unauthorised" copy.

Of course, the big flaw in this approach was that by demanding (and often obtaining) such a levy, the copyright industries lost their right to complain about those "unauthorised" copies. After all, they were being paid for them, just not through the traditional outlets.

But of course, greedy little things that they are, the copyright companies wanted their proverbial cake and to eat it; and so it has arrived at the ridiculous situation that in many countries they get the levy and still have the cheek to push for ever-more punitive action against that "unauthorised" sharing.

Today, of course, even that supposed logic about paying for unauthorised copies through a levy on recorded media doesn't really hold. We have entered an era of democratised creation, where most people in the West, and many elsewhere, have started taking photos and making videos. This means that an increasingly large proportion of the digital files stored on those blank media are probably yours, and have nothing to do with "professionals". So at the very least that copyright levy, where it exists, should be progressively reduced to reflect that new situation.

But that's not what's happening. Indeed, some not only expect to receive those old levies as a right, but want more:

The copyright industry never seems to have had enough. Starting today in Sweden, they demand a private tax for external hard drives and USB memory sticks.

The tax they demand is about 9 euros for an external hard drive, or 10 eurocents per gigabyte for USB memory sticks. They have previously demanded a tax for cassette tapes, which was how this private taxation right started, and gradually expanded it to blank CDs and DVDs, as well as media players with built-in hard drives. Yes, that includes the latest game consoles — Swedish kids pay about 15% tax to the copyright industry on a Playstation 3.

This is entitlement at its most blatant, and it's time to put a stop to it. Assuming that doesn't happen (after all, if the copyright industries lose this source of income, how will theypay for all the fat cats' salaries?), the quid pro quo should obviously be for those industries not only to drop their calls for punitive copyright enforcement, but to accept, publicly, that these levies actually give the public a right to make copies and to share them.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

No comments: