The Trade Union Congress, meeting in Bournemouth this week, has passed a motion put forward by the Musicians’ Union calling on the government to include a levy as part of plans to introduce a private copy-right into UK law. They probably won’t.
As much previously reported, the government is currently pressing ahead with an expansion of the so called fair dealing system in UK copyright law, based on recommendations in the 2011 Hargreaves Review of IP law. This will increase the number of scenarios where people can use or make copies of copyright material without the permission of the copyright owner.
Amongst them is the introduction of the so called private-copy or format-shifting right for sound recordings. At the moment in the UK, if a consumer rips a track from a CD they bought to a PC, they are infringing copyright. Under most other copyright systems that ripping would be allowed, providing the copy is for the private use of the person who legitimately bought the CD in the first place.
Nearly everyone agrees that this is bad law, because it turns millions of music fans into copyright infringers, and even the record industry backs the introduction of a private copy exemption. However, elsewhere in Europe a system exists where the music industry is compensated for private copies being made by a levy being charged on those products onto which copies are transferred – traditionally blank cassettes and CDRs, increasingly MP3 players – which is passed back to the music community.
However, Hargreaves proposed a private copy right without any levy to benefit the music community, and that is currently the government’s plan. The music industry is planning on opposing that element of the private copy right, arguing that rights owners deserve compensation for the new right consumers will enjoy, or at the very least parity with the rest of the European music community. And it’s that viewpoint that the MU promoted at the TUC Conference yesterday, getting support for the levy from the union movement.
MU General Secretary John Smith told CMU: “The MU is not proposing an ‘iPod tax’ on consumers. What we are asking for is fair compensation for creators from the device manufacturers. These manufacturers are already paying patent and software licences for each device sold, and yet, under the UK proposal, the act of copying music onto these devices – the content the consumer is most interested in – will not generate any income for musicians”.
He added: “Despite an outstanding international reputation for British musicians, more than half of MU members still earn less than £20,000 a year from their profession. We have one of the best music industries in the world. The government should be making it easier to survive as a musician – not harder. I am delighted that the TUC have agreed to support us in this battle”.
Where the private copy levy already exists is has proven controversial in recent years, particularly as standalone music devices start to disappear and the question arises as to whether or not it is right to apply a levy to a smartphone, even though many users won’t copy music on to their device, or will only copy music downloaded from a digital music store with a licence that already allows the format shift.
And while some see digital locker providers as the next obvious target for the levy, as those firms are already doing deals with rights owners (to allow scan-and-match type functionality), arguably a statutory levy isn’t required.