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Charlie McCREEVY

European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services

Opening speech on private copying levies

Conference on 'private copying levies' – Public Hearing
Centre Borschette, Brussels - 27 May 2008

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to welcome you here today to the public hearing on private copying levies. While the title of the conference is 'private copying levies', the issues we are here to discuss today are obviously much broader. The core of our efforts is to foster an atmosphere and regulatory environment where European creativity can flourish and where artists can devote their life to creation and culture.

Levies are a valuable component in how we presently ensure the livelihood of the creative community. And that authors receive fair compensation for the use of their work cannot be contested.

The issue of how to fairly compensate authors for the use of their works is as old as the issue of copyright itself. Several attempts were made previously to establish certain principles on how such a levy system should function within the Internal Market.

The latest round of consultation, which I initiated, took place between February and April this year. This consultation yielded 130 replies, primarily from collecting societies that administer levies and from the consumer electronics industry that has to pay them. A summary of responses shows not only that the issue is still very much alive but that the two main interlocutors remain the same.

Collecting societies and the consumer electronic industry now need to find common ground and move forward. Member States play an important role in fostering this process at a national level. The views of consumers and artists also need to be factored into the debate. Simply exchanging written statements is no substitute for dialogue. It is time that the parties speak to each other directly.

I want today’s hearing to consider all the different aspects of this complex issue. In deciding to re-launch this debate I wanted to start things afresh. I am coming to this debate and this hearing with an open mind and an open approach. I have a simple wish. I would like this hearing to be the start of a process. A process through which the main participants in this debate can sit down and calmly discuss a number of the issues that this public consultation has thrown up. I had in mind suggesting a Forum where the Collecting Societies and Industry would look at issues involving cross-border trade and electronic commerce of consumer electronics as well as the basis and calculation of the different levies.

I do not want to prescribe what such a forum would discuss but it appears to me that the following points merit attention:

  • First, clamping down on free-riders - the traders who do not pay the levies - leaving legitimate businesses to shoulder the burden and pay while others do not;
  • Second, improving the practical modalities of obtaining reimbursement of levies once electronic equipment is exported to another Member State where a new levy is collected; and
  • Third, seeing if broad principles can be worked out on how levies could be calculated taking into account future technological developments.
  • These would be my suggestions to start the dialogue. But other topics of joint interest are welcome as well.

The levies collected for private copying are not only used to compensate for economic harm suffered by artists whose works and performances are being copied. These levies also fulfil a valuable cultural function in fostering young talent or taking care of the social welfare of older artists for example.

This is a laudable goal and I believe that with goodwill on all sides, a clear and consensual system would provide the financial certainty that the money for cultural purposes will also be there in the future.

This hearing would ideally mark the beginning in the joint formulation of a roadmap for developing a future in which levies take their rightful place compensating artists for losses while giving the electronics industry some certainty on what equipment will be levied and to what extent.

I believe that both the collecting societies and the industries can gain if there was a common roadmap on how the levies system evolves in the future. We all agree that the system needs to continually adapt to technological evolution. Almost every month a new digital product is launched and there is an ever-increasing number of legitimate online services.

While part of the debate should indeed be about expressing our feelings on where we stand on the issues, we should move beyond that and identify those areas where we can begin to seek a practical way forward – maybe along the lines I outlined above.

Together with my colleague in the Commission, Ján Figel, I wish to offer both our joint services to you in helping to move this debate on. Ján and my services will work together with you in taking this debate forward. I am a great believer in win-win solutions. I believe that by working constructively together this Conference can be the start of this win-win process.

I wish you every success in this endeavour.

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