On Piracy Tax and The Regular Legal Channels

The Computer Corner

By Charles Miller

It happens every so often that I will read news reporting of something that is happening half way around the world and wonder if the same thing could be happening where I live. A story I recently read reported from Europe piqued my interest, but try though I did I was unable to learn if what was happening over there is also the case in any of the countries on the North American continent.

The story I read had to do with the fact that several member countries of the European Union collect a levy on sales of blank storage media and use the money raised to compensate rights holders for copyright infringement. This practice is known colloquially as the “piracy tax.” The theory behind this tax is that anyone who buys a blank CD or DVD media is probably buying the blanks to make illegal copies of music or movie disks. Since that is what they are probably using the blanks for that is depriving the copyright holders of the royalties they should receive from legal sales, so everyone who buys blank disks should pay a tax to compensate the artists.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the practice was “flawed,” so it was expected that this system of taxation would begin to be dismantled across the EU. It seems the opposite is the case though.

In spite of the fact the ECJ seemed to have given a pretty clear signal on the subject of the “piracy tax,” it does not seem to be going away and is a hot topic in the Netherlands, Germany, and some other EU countries. In Poland the organization ZAiKS that lobbies for the rights of artists, authors, and performers has been pushing to broaden the “piracy tax” system in that country. Currently, the Polish government taxes blank CDs, DVDs, USB flash drives, hard drives, and copying equipment such as CD burners. ZAiKS is pushing hard to have the list of chargeable media expanded to include smartphones and tablets. Magnanimously they are offering that videocassette recorder tapes that are now taxed could be removed from the list.

According to proposed legislation, devices such as digital cameras, laptop computers, and smartphones would be charged up a 3 percent tax because they could potentially be used to pirate copyrighted works. All this smells much like that old story of the courtroom drama that had the female prosecutor trying to convince a jury that a defendant should be found guilty of committing a burglary on the strength of the fact that he had been arrested in possession of burglar’s tools. The defense council retorted that using that same logic the prosecutor could be arrested for prostitution because she had the necessary equipment.

The existence of a “piracy tax” does not appear to have been directed toward preventing theft of intellectual property, in fact the opposite. It seems to have encouraged the practice. Some people now take the position that since they paid a piracy tax on their blank CDs, which legitimizes using pirated content. There are also some questioning whether or not any of the monies collected through the piracy tax ever make it to the artists who are supposed to benefit.

A story told to me by a good friend was of his experience during an in-person encounter with a musical performer. He handed the drummer a hundred-peso note explaining that he had downloaded a pirated music disk that was simply unavailable for sale in Mexico, and now that he had the opportunity to do so he wanted to pay the artist his royalty. The drummer was first put off to be face-to-face with the pirate who had stolen his work, but quickly smiled when he realized that the 100 pesos in his hand was more than he would have ever seen for one disk if the royalties had gone through the regular legal channels.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044-415-101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.


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