EU court rules Spanish private copying levy 'illegal'

21st October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Certain taxes on products like DVDs or photocopiers, intended to compensate authors for "private copying," should not apply if equipment is bought by companies for professional use, Europe's highest court said Thursday.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg was asked by a Spanish court to revisit legislation that stemmed from a 1960s adjustment to take account of the growth in audio cassette equipment and copying machines but which still applies today to all manner of communications gizmos.

That means computer hard disks, memory cards, iPads and mobile phones, among other electronics.

The judges, addressing the practical implementation of the European Union's copyright law, under which "the exclusive right to reproduce sound, visual or audiovisual material belongs to authors, performers and producers," drew a distinction between private and professional use.

They ruled that "the indiscriminate application of the private copying levy to all types of digital reproduction equipment, devices and media, including cases in which such equipment is acquired by persons other than natural persons for purposes clearly unrelated to private copying, is incompatible with the directive."

Spanish Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde said the government in Madrid would study closely the decision's impact on Spanish legislation, after the Spanish society of authors claimed almost 17,000 euros in compensation from a company which markets CD and MP3 devices but did not want to pay.

Spanish law, dating from 2008, was aimed at reducing Internet piracy or the downloading of songs and movies via file-sharing, but went much further in its practical application given EU rules.

A spokeswoman for the EU commissioner responsible in this area, France's Michel Barnier, said the issue of copying levies "is a very complicated one" where despite many attempts at harmonising law it "was not possible to find a consensual way forward."

The commission said it was "encouraged by today's judgment which should help clarify some key issues in the debate, in particular the scope of reproduction media that may be subject to levies."

It too wanted time to examine in more detail.

© 2010 AFP

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