(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition. Please do read that introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)

(continues from here)

Does the money go to the right people?

Even ignoring the huge ethical issue above, however, the levies are and will remain impossible to apply in a rational and fair manner. They totally ignore fair use and format shifting of legally purchased material: if you want to make a backup copy of a CD bought at the store on your computer and portable music player, nobody will reimburse you for the levies paid three times over the same song (on the CD, the computer and the portable player).

It is also impossible, both technically and in the interest of privacy, to know which devices will be used for illegal copies and to what extent. People who just want to save their home movies will pay blank DVDs the same as those who never buy or rent an original DVD at the movie store. The computers purchased by companies, for internal use, or those bought (on budgets which get tighter every year…) by schools for their labs can be easily secured or monitored to prevent illegal copying: are they exempted from the full levy?

Next, paying the levies doesn’t even cancel the crime of illegal copying in many countries. People who pay these “artist compensation” taxes on new computers and CDs but then store copyrighted music on that same equipment will still be sued by recording companies if the latter find them. On the one hand, this may look like the proper reward for fighting a stupid system in a counterproductive, even stupider way, but this doesn’t make the levies less absurd or harmful.

The other huge practical and ethical problem in the levy system is the total lack of transparency and/or fairness in how the collected money is distributed. It is impossible to know how many times each existing song was or will be illegally copied, that is to know how the livies should be divided among artists. No problem: a generic recording company will always get the same part of the levy on each portable music player, even if the person who purchased it will never, ever listen to, or copy illegally, any music distributed by that specific company.

On the other side of the wall, small companies or all independent artists who cannot or do not want to be part of the cartel are simply left without money. Only those who already are under contract with a multinational and in the Top Ten list, that is those who have already made a lot of money anyway, are sure they will get a meaningful slice of the cake.

The only reason why this has gone so far is because the price increases are not spelled out in plain sight. From this point of view, it could be really useful to mandate by law that the price tags of every digital device or storage medium specifies how much of the final price is a copyright levy.