The copyright industry has decreed in Sweden that it will now collect levies for every XBox and Playstation sold – about €10 ($12) per unit. This levy is the “blank media” levy, originally used to compensate for private music copying from vinyl records to blank cassettes, that has crept over all boundaries. It is hard, not to say impossible, to justify the fairness in a single mother having to pay a levy to the richest rock stars when she buys a Playstation for her kids.
The demand – which has legal support – hit like a bombshell on Swedish markets yesterday. The copyright industry is demanding levies for four new classes of electronics products: ordinary computers with hard drives, internal hard drives, tablets, and game consoles with hard drives. They have previously enacted levies for external hard drives, USB sticks, blank CDs and DVDs, and much more.
This means that the copyright industry in Sweden specifically gets to enact a tax on every tablet, every computer, and every game console sold, since they contain internal persistent memory which could – in theory – be used to store music, which is under the copyright monopoly.
This legal levy mechanism is a remnant from the compact cassette days, when people were (legally) copying from vinyl to cassette. The copyright industry went berserk at the time, throwing tantrums about how it was unfair that their monopoly didn’t cover this particular copying. There were huge campaigns about how “home taping was killing music”, which exactly nobody took seriously.
(The band The Dead Kennedys famously reprinted the dumb slogan on the back side of their In God We Trust, Inc. cassette as “Home Taping is Killing Record Industry Profits”, and added “We left this side blank, so you can help.”)
However, politicians in the 1970s did the crucial mistake of throwing some money to the copyright industry to get them to shut up. Thus, they enacted a blank media levy where every blank (recordable) cassette tape sold would be taxed with a small amount that would be distributed to already-established artists. In other words, the struggling artists who bought blank tapes to make demos were to pay a tax to the richest successful artists and to the gatekeeper middleman system.
The blank media levy is not a compensation for private copying that violates laws and the copyright monopoly. The levy is an industry compensation for private legal copying that falls outside of the monopoly.
Did you get that? Let’s take it again: the copyright industry is “compensated” insanely well at the expense of single parents and innovative startups for the fact that there are nooks and crannies where the copyright monopoly doesn’t reach.
Now tell me – what other industries do you know of that get extensive legal protection in law for their business model, and then get compensated with a private taxation right for the fact that they didn’t get as far-reaching legal monopolies as possible?
This doesn’t even take into account the abysmally terrible political leadership when enacting these levies in the first place. The message that got home to the copyright industry when the blank media levy was enacted was “throw worse tantrums, and you’ll get more taxpayer money”. This has been a consistent behavior since, and predictably so.
The blank media tax is a cancer in our economy. There is no justice in a single mother paying the richest artists and exorbitantly paid lawyers in the middleman system when she gets a Playstation for her kids. There is no justice in poor artists being forced to pay a system that works to keep them out of the market. There is no justice in innovative tech startups being taxed by a dying industry dinosaur that uses the money to fight the same innovative startups.
The blank media levy is a gross abomination from every angle. It needs to be abolished, and it needs to be abolished 90 seconds ago.
This article is also available in other languages: Italian.