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Germany Increases 'You Are All Pirates' Tax On Solid State Media By 2000% (techdirt.com)
166 points by DiabloD3 1990 days ago | hide | past | web | 110 comments | favorite

While this is already 2 weeks old[1], being german this still drives me nuts. It's not only their refusal to explain why exactly they feel the need to increase these charges, it's their complete ignorance as to the actual use of these storage mediums. I really hope that Bitkom finds a way to fight back.

But the real Problem here is (as almost always when it comes to digital rights) the GEMA. They are the reason why Youtube is almost not usable in Germany (unless you are using some sort of proxying), and that's just the tip of the iceberg as far as I am concerned. Being a former musician myself, I can guarantee that any dealing with the GEMA is nothing short of a PITA. Not only for musicians, but for event managers, shop owners and so on. Their fees are ridiculously high and getting worse each year while their payout to musicians is nothing short of a joke.

Their methods resolve to scaremongering and FUD. They are right up there with the german GEZ, but don't even get me started on those guys.

[1] http://www.heise.de/resale/meldung/ZPUe-erhoeht-Abgaben-auf-... [GERMAN]

To clarify your first point: They've justified this by saying that compression algorithms have gotten better meaning people can store more on less, which is idiotic, seeing how files get a lot bigger because of higher quality. Their explanations are based on a study that isn't even available to the public. The tax is also levied on SD cards, which afaik no one ever uses for anything else than as a storage for media you produce yourself, since they are used mostly in cameras and smartphones.

I use my SD card exclusively to copy pirated movies from my netbook to play in our DVD player :P

I actually use SD-cards for audio files. They're small, sturdy, convenient, every modern macbook has a suitable slot and lots of car audio systems accept them. They're kind of like a usb-stick without the clunky connector and wrapping.

OK, but most people use them for their cameras, I never even heard of anyone using them on car systems, but I'll accept it is true.

Given this, why should the 99% that are taking their own photos pay a tax to support a record label organization that one of the posts above from a German says doesn't even pay out to the musicians?

Could you cite a figure for the 99% figure? Smartphones use them for data storage,... Fact is: neither you nor I know.

But anyways, the same applies to empty CDs, harddrives, DVD-Writers, ... So while I may store more audio on my SD-Cards, others store tons and tons of MP3s on their Harddrives or copy CDs - something I don't do. I still pay for that. I pay a little for what I don't use but they use and they pay a little for what they don't use, but I do. I guess such is life, it probably evens out in the end.

Sidenote: The GEMA is not a record label organizations and it does pay out. There's something horribly wrong in how they distribute the money among their members (the rich get richer, ...) and they keep roughly 20% in administrative costs, but they do pay out.

Could you give me a source on this, please?

We have similar 3% in the US on blank media cds (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_copying_levy#United_Sta...). The Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, the same legislation that put these levies into place, also protected the rights of individuals to make non-commercial copies of copyrighted works. At least that's my read on it, though I am not a lawyer.

All of the comments here seem vehemently opposed to the levy mentioned in the article but if it came with an extension of our rights to non-commercially copy and share works then I think that it would be a very fair trade. I would even be relatively unopposed if this was applied to bandwidth usage. Technologically speaking, there's no reason that a person shouldn't be able to go online and check out almost any song, movie, book, or television show in existence. Many, many people are aware of this and with good reason feel that it should be the case. The barrier to this is in the quagmire of licensing that is exemplified by what we've seen go on with Showtime, HBO, and Netflix.

Imagine if the government would stand up and say that universal access to art, literature, and educational materials is important enough that the laws need to be changed to facilitate it. If non-commercial exchange of copyrighted materials was legalized but in exchange bandwidth was taxed and the money paid out as royalties to rights holders based on torrent activity or something of the sort. To me, that sounds like a better alternative than having a country full of criminals. I'll keep dreaming.

If I lived in a country where the "pirate" levy was in place I would feel justified in copyright infringement because I would feel I have already paid for it.

What country you do live in? I'm just curious where this doesn't exist. In Slovakia (and also Czech Rep.) you have to pay for empty hard drives, DVDs, ... But pirating movies/music isn't illegal so I guess it evens out?

>But pirating movies/music isn't illegal so I guess it evens out?

I don't live in Slovakia or the Czech Republic but I'm just going to go ahead and say you're wrong.

In many countries, downloading (which I assume GP means by "pirating") is fine, redistribution is not. Example: the Netherlands, where the govt. has recently affirmed that not only is it legal, it will remain so: https://torrentfreak.com/dutch-parliament-downloading-movies...

I do live in Czech Republic and it's not illegal to download music and movies. However, sharing is illegal, so e.g. torrents are illegal.

I live in the UK.

I doubt that this is a "pirate levy" at all. The fee on storage media is usually supposed to cover media shared with family and close friends, which is legal in many countries and does not count as piracy.

Why does one very specific industry get government mandated, compulsory tariff?

Hint: starts with "lobby" ends with "ists"

So when i buy media to back up my own work i have to pay a fee intended as a taxation to people that listen to music or watches movies with their family and friends?

mind is full of...

The way the laws worked out to allow pirate taxes in Canada means that a lot of "piracy" is now legal. Though the media companies are now working on having the tax and making it illegal so we'll see how that goes.

Well, your description is more or less how it works where I live (Switzerland). Downloading for yourself is not illegal here (it's in a legal grey zone, there have never been convictions against private downloaders and the government recently explicitly stated that this is how it's going to stay). It's probably only possible because we don't have a very powerful media lobby.

How could that ever be distributed fairly? How do you determine what percentage the Gaga's get versus the indy artist down the street? Given this would cannibalize sales, you wouldn't be able to use sales figures because there would be no way for a new group to get to the level of sales a Lady Gaga had.

If the government starts deciding, you make music a communistic business, which would not be good for music.

(For the record, I think the levies as they stand are wrong for the exact same reasons; you just replace the govt with groups like the RIAA.)

Are you thinking that the money would be distributed to the actual artists? What a crazy notion.

> How could that ever be distributed fairly?

One possibility: http://cabalamat.wordpress.com/2009/01/27/a-broadband-tax-fo...

Yay for communistic showbiz!! (remember that most European cinema is largely funded by the State)

"communistic business" - awesome

It's the laws which create criminals and the law needs to change. Society owns the laws and we have all changed, so the law needs to change with us. Any business which is unable to compete with its customers is out of business - why postpone the inevitable?

I keep seeing comments about how the tax is a tradeoff for certain rights. Last I checked, legality is determined by laws, not by paying $5. I don't pay a "freedom of speech tax" or a "suffrage tax" when I protest or vote.

This should not be a tax. The industries involved are already buying unjust laws from Congress, none of us needs Congress giving them more money to do so.

That only makes sense if the tax money goes to the artists, to offset the income they lose from selling copies.

I wonder why the shops that sell these don't put a sticker on them saying something like 'two out of the seven Euro are a levy'. That for sure would raise public awareness.

Gema is really nuts. I don't understand who lobbies for them, but instead of producing music that people like to buy, they rely more and more on taxes. Even back in the 70s they managed to put an extra tax on tape cassettes, because you could copy vinyl on them. Back then, this might have been the most likely usage for cassettes. But for CDs and USB sticks this is a rip-off.

There is one more nutty thing that falls into the same category. From January 2012 on, every german household has to pay for public TV, even if the household does not have a TV set. The reason is, that you can receive TV programs via internet and thus also a computer is a TV (well - ...).

So also the TV stations, by simply broadcasting their stuff for free in the internet, managed to get an extra tax. Although, there is no medium like the internet where it is easier to make users log in and let them pay exactly for what they use.

(Note: I indeed never owned a tv set. I indeed watch the daily news on my computer and I'd be happy to pay for this. But only for the news, not for the remaining crap).

The fee pays for public broadcasting, not just public TV. Public broadcasting includes TV, radio, and the internet presence of the TV and radio media. I don't have a TV, but I do listen to public radio and I use public news web sites all the time.

I think the new system is much more reasonable than the previous system, which had loads of people claiming they don't own any kind of receiving device when that claim is just patently absurd for almost everybody today. This was different in the 50s or 60s where not everybody had a radio at home, much less a video device. Today it's just a system that rewards dishonesty. It also lead to an expensive byzantine bureaucracy (the GEZ) just for collecting the public broadcasting fees and snooping (in person!) after people who say that don't own a TV/radio/whatever.

What is crazy is that they didn't get rid of the GEZ when they changed the system, but I assume that'll happen sometime down the road. And of course you're free to disagree with having any public broadcasting system at all, or that it should be financed differently (I agree). But the previous fee system was just broken and needed to be fixed.

I agree, the previous system was bad. It has been replaced by a system that is also bad. Even worse, this one can be attacked in court because it is obviously unfair.

This is the only situation I know, where a company distributes their product for free and then asks everybody to pay for it. This is a special situation of course, because the public broadcasting has the official task to educate and report in a neutral way. This is welcome - no doubt.

But the presence in the internet and thus on computers is no excuse to collect money from everybody. In contrary, the presence of the internet allows to measure exactly, who is using the services. In a few years from now, perhaps even today, it would be possible to do the same with the wireless receivers, like TV.

So it would be easy to charge the households who use the service. No GEZ needed any more, but a fair system that charges for usage.

No. The way it's supposed to work is if you can access is, you've got to chip in. It's not supposed to be based on actual usage. In a manner of speaking, it's supposed to be available to everyone, even if no one was watching it.

You're not suggesting a strict improvement but a change, and a drastic one at that (essentially equivalent to a privatization), and I imagine you'd need a national two-thirds majority to change the constitution to implement it. I might be wrong about that, I don't know how much leeway there is regarding the implementation.

Just think of it as a tax, as essentially that's what it is, just a special one that bypasses the government to make it more difficult for them to exert influence on public broadcasting.

Why not just get rid of the state owned propaganda channels? Why is that never an option. It's absurd to have to be subjected to state propaganda and be made to pay for it. Brainwashing should be free, no?

Getting rid of the state owned propaganda channels is not an option because they're not exactly state owned nor are they propaganda channels.

And I'm not sure why I am supposed to prefer the brainwashing provided to me free by private channels -- free as in I pay for it once with further concentrated brainwashing in 3 minute segments and then once more when I pay the obligatory surcharge on everything because the money for those ads has to come from somewhere.

The basic idea was to have a channel that is neither state nor privately owned. This is why the fee is actually not a real tax, the collecting agency is not a federal agency and explains some other idiosyncrasies in the system.

It worked out somewhat ok. I'd say it's better than the Italian or the French system, but far from perfect. Separation from the government could be stronger, ... All in all I'd prefer to keep and fix it over abandoning the split and turning it all over to a private player or the government.

You're confusing GEMA and GEZ. The GEMA is not related to public TV and is (practically) only concerned with music.

The GEZ-issue is a completely separate topic. It's about whether we want an independent, not private or state-controlled broadcasting organization. The GEZ-Gebühr is like a special tax to pay for that. There's quite a bit wrong there as well, but alas, that's a different discussion.

I am not confusing the two.

The issue is the same: static payment in the form of a tax/obligatory fee, without providing a service. You pay a tax for empty CDs, because you COULD copy music onto them. You pay a fee for public broadcasting, because you COULD use it. The companies are different, but the idea and the mindset is the same. Collecting money, even if a service is not used.

No, we pay for public broadcasting because there once was a consensus that public broadcasting is an important thing to have in a democratic society, not because we might listen to it. We also pay for operas, museums, street maintenance, public transportation and another ton of things we may actually never use and might not have a need for. This is a completely different issue and folding them together will not help.

If you disagree on the notion that a public broadcasting organization is required, you're free to lobby for it. Up to now, the democratic consensus in germany is that we're glad to have one, and so we pay for it. I agree that the current way things are organized is royally fucked up, but that's a secondary issue.

"If you disagree on the notion that a public broadcasting organization is required, you're free to lobby for it. "

Read my other posts and you see that I don't disagree. This is about how the internet presence is used as a handle to collect money from everyone, not only the users. The fact that public broadcast is transmitted through the internet is everything BUT a reason to collect money from everyone.

Please note, that currently only the users are charged.

It's a common misunderstanding that only "users" are charged. Currently everyone is charged who owns a device that's in theory capable of receiving public broadcasts in whatever form available - it's irrelevant whether you use it or not. Own a radio - pay. Own a telephone with a radio receiver - pay. Own a TV-Set, but only for watching streams or DVDs on a big screen - pay. It's annoying, but somewhat consequent that everyone capable of receiving stuff on the internet has to pay as well. Actually, IMHO it should be a flat fee that everyone pays, just like the opera funding which comes from taxes. You could abandon all the GEZ and save money along the way.

If you want to pick on the GEZ system, choose a worthy target, such as the bullies they employ that sniff around and try to find people that don't pay their fees or the annoying letter they send you or the bloated administration or whatever. Or the political dependency of the "independent" broadcasting organization.

Still, my main point is a different one: It's been common consensus and obviously we still agree that a public broadcasting organization is beneficial - independent of whether we personally use it or not. And since we obviously both support that notion, we both should pay for it, as should everybody in germany. Just like for the opera.

They all need to start pirating.

Their government is giving them carte blanche.

I'm from other European country but similar things happen here. I disagree with you here. We should register ourselves as content creators and get our money back in other legal ways. We should demonstrate how much those taxes are stupid.

I am also from other European country, but I believe that tax is favourable for me as an ordinary citizen and I am happy to pay it! Really, I don't joke here.

It is not "You Are All Pirates" tax - this tax allows me to legally make a copy of a work of art for my private use, even if I didn't pay for the original - it is enough that the work of art was already presented in the public [for example, song in a radio, movie in the TV or theatre, etc]. So I can legally have that stored on my HDD, if I choose so. For that, I have to pay the tax, and I am ok with that.

But I don't want to do that. I don't want to store anything broadcasted on radio or tv to disc. Why would I have to pay in that case? Make it optional, make it opt-in. Allow people to go to GEMA or equivalent and buy one year subscription if they want to use the "right to make copies of copyrighted content", but please don't force me, or anyone else to pay for it if we don't want it.

I agree - if you don't want that, it is unfair. Making it opt-in would be more fair, but probably much more difficult to enforce.

My main point was, that I personally agree with this model, and it is generally not that disadvantageous as the article and many comments here portraits it. Moreover, even the term "tax" is questionable in my opinion, because in this case you are getting rights for private copy of copyrighted content, it's not that you are paying for nothing specific [like in normal taxes].

I really doubt that it is still legal in all cases. You might assume that it is legal if that makes you feel comfortable but you must be careful here. I personally wouldn't travel with questionable content on my laptop, smartphone or other device through airports only because it might be considered illegal accidentally.

I'm not a content creator myself, but every now and then you'll hear supposed content creators that are registered say that, unless you're a big fish, you're happy just to break even the membership fees.

Don't worry, everyone already is.

Sweden already have this and was lobbied and implemented by an organisation called Swedcopy like a year ago. Most swedes don't know about this extra taxation due to popular news media never really brought it up. I found out about it due to a brief article on a PC magazine.

Those affected and who complained a lot were of course businesses who sell these things. But apparently they were forced into accepting the new taxation.

As a Swede I'm directly affected by that Germany now implemented this slave tax, due to I figured I could import products from Germany instead of buying them in Sweden.

What this seems to imply is that those in power seem to plan this in the EU behind scenes. Keeping it from public as much as possible and using the you are all pirates as an excuse for the extra taxation.

I can't find anything saying where the money actually goes.

One injustice of levies like this is that the money may not actually go to those who piracy is harming, but instead it lines the pockets of whoever can already afford to lobby for the fee.

In the Netherlands (IIRC) it is distributed to producers of music and film (note: not software).

It's 1850%[1] but still outlandish, also they are taxing external hard drives yet not internal ones, it's a farce in every way possible.

Just wait until they figure out what dropbox is.

[1] http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=en&tl...

Fun fact: One of the shareholders of the ZPÜ is the GÜFA [1] (Collective rights management for Adult Entertainment).

Of every ZPÜ taxed media you buy 1% [2] of the video associated part of the ZPÜ-fee goes to the porn industry. This summed up to 1.9M EUR in 2005 and 4M in 2010 including some cumulative special payouts, but its safe to say that the GÜFA gets at least a million Euros a year out of that. [3] [4]

I'm O.K. with people buying porn, but that everybody subsidizes this by buying storage media has just another quality.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%9CFA

[2] http://www.heise.de/tp/artikel/7/7586/1.html [GERMAN]

[3] http://dipbt.bundestag.de/dip21/btd/16/049/1604914.pdf [PDF GERMAN Page 16]

[4] https://www.bundesanzeiger.de/ebanzwww/wexsservlet?global_da... [GERMAN - Session protected - ZPÜ numbers under 4.1]

click on «Jahresabschluss zum Geschäftsjahr vom 01.01.2010 bis zum 31.12.2010» and solve the captcha, remember that the Bundesanzeiger is a by-law-open official publication in Germany, its a farce.

Finland has initial plans to move from levies specific to certain media/storage products to an annual fee. The fee would be collected as a part of TV licensing fee which is also moving from a specific "per tv-owning household" license to cover all citizens, regardless of their TV ownership or lack of it. So, in effect, the copyright institutions effectively have a way to tax people.

It will only amount to less than a handful of euros per year and generally it's more fair than the irrationally random levies (buying an external hard drive implies levy, buying an external harddrive case and a separate hard drive doesn't) but there are two problems.

First, the "tax" will undoubtedly increase every year. The copyright mafia has demonstrated their intention to adjust the levies accordingly to match an annual 10-15 million euros of income. So, now the "tax" might only be three euros. Later it will only be four euros, come on! Then only a fiver, come on, that doesn't hurt anyone! Then only ten euros, it won't make a difference... and so on.

Secondly, having paid the increasing fee (see first point) it's mostly undefined what you will get in return. By paying this fee—that is involuntarily taxed from your income—I think the common attitude will soon turn into "I've paid for it already, so I can at least decide to pirate some movies to get something back in return."

Neither the levies nor the annual fee aren't compensation for illegal copying, just private copying. It's just that the general public already perceives that private copying doesn't need to be compensated. For example, people don't generally take well the idea that after buying a cd they would need to pay again to make copy of it for their car player. Thus, a majority of people will inevitably attribute this forced copyright tax to an implied, unofficial license to pirate.

The legislation probably takes ten years to catch up with that. But I think it might be a good way. Personally, I would probably pay 20-30 euros annually to legally download content from PirateBay. The distribution of the collected money could be based on the popularity rank of Finnish artists and movies on PirateBay, instead of the arbitrary radio playing lists that they use currently.

The power of peer-to-peer would be worth paying for. The MAFIAA guys can handle the creation of the content, let the internet people handle the distribution. That way each party can do what they're good at.

Welcome to the club, Germany. We've had this shit in Finland for ages.

Germany has had it since 1965. The news is the massive increase, not the existence of the tax.

Problem I have with this is that it is incredibly short-sighted. So we know, indefinitely, that our songs, movies and other media will exist on USB/CD/DVD discs, right? Wrong. What about when we all start using anonymous, p2p cloud storage? What about streaming pirated content to my iPhone from my Mac at home? Or any of the countless other innovations that may pop up in the future?

A reliable "tell" that a source is attempting to manipulate you is when they quote any percentage greater than 80%.

Well, I think you are 81% right...... ;)

terrible link bait by the techdirt junk site. flagged, see below for my explanation.

it is not a piracy tax. Germans have a right to copy stuff for their close friends. that's not piracy but a lawful right. that the fee is outrageous is another issue.

That's piracy tax. Other countries have this. It's called "fair use".

In general, and in fact I sort of believe it is also that way in Germany, not a law that allow you to copy stuff to your close friends.

It allows you to make copies for yourself (backups, etc), and to view/listen to those copies or the original with your family. NOT giving or copying it to them.

Anyway, since you're letting your family view/listen, etc. they lose money on "fair use". Thus they made a tax so you pay for it.

And you know what? That's piracy tax with any name. So the site might be crap, I don't know. Germany may or may not have this tax, I don't know.

I know some countries do. France certainly do. And calling it piracy tax is insightful. Its there because of the so-called piracy. It's just a way to steal money really.

In some countries (I don't know about Germany) it is not the same as 'fair use'. E.g. in The Netherlands the result of these levies is that you can legally download music and movies from Usenet for personal use, without purchasing an original copy. However, you are not allowed to upload music or movies.

This was a direct translation of how the law worked before: I could not make a copy of an album for you, but you could borrow it from me, make a copy, and return the original to me.

In the US it is not against the law (yet) to download but it is a copyright violation to share.

you are using a very negative term "piracy" for something extremely beneficial for customers. I really dislike that and I say it is wrong to use the word piracy.

you also use the much beloved "losing money" line.

fair use is a fantastic, culture promoting idea.

As far as I know, every country has Private Copying Levies on storage mediums. This however doesn't legalize casual sharing.

Can you just buy from another European country and import? German customs are pretty rubbish at catching such things from my understanding. AFAIK you only get screwed on retail purchases.

Can you just buy from another European country and import?

Yes that's one of the fundamental reasons for setting up the European Union. A Single Market.

I really like the idea of the EU, a single market no more protectionism and other simular idotic shit. In reallity the EU is just another layer of stupid regulations and now we get protectionism and interventionsim on EU level too.

Im happy that Im not in the EU (Switzerland) but I belive only getting the good stuff from the EU (open borders ...) will get harder and harder with the EU becomming more like a country.

And the great thing is that your country, being entirely surrounded by EU countries, has no choice but to implement all those "stupid regulations" as well as it won't be able to do business with its neighbours otherwise.

Not sure why this is a great thing.

Yes it has to do that to some regard but it can not be forced to and we still hold democratic control over the most importend of these things. Joining the EU would be spitting on the democratic system that Switzerland has built up over the last 200+ years.

"Great thing" is sarcasm.

I don't think there's much "stupid regulation", mostly just actual regulation (which can be a good thing). (There's more to say here, but it gets into politics, which is not good to have on HN)

Going into a huge disscusion on interventionsim is not my intend but let me just make a stament.

Thinking that the waterhead burocarcy in brussel is serving the people at large with there interventions is idialistic at best. The EU is very undemocratic and has been put in place over peoples heads.

Some other European countries are doing the same stupid thing so it might be not an option. E.g. in my country computer price will increase about 7 euros because of that, USB keys and similar devices will be about 20% more expensive.

I'm from Sweden and we have a similar tax. I used to import from Germany but now I need to find a new source.

This is a not-so-subtle way of saying "we own culture" by the elites who 'finance' the 'entertainment of the masses'.

Anyone who can get their bony fingers so far deeply entrenched into the fleshy government/tax-/levy bureaucracy and demand "fruitful payoff" in the form of public taxation is probably working for the Mob, not the Artists, and not content Creators, in general.

Entertainment industry, ruled by the Mob? Big surprise.

ARGGGGGGGG. As someone who doesn't pirate, I really resent having to pay money to media companies just because they feel entitled to it.

I remember years ago there was a tax on cassette tapes, so every tape we made and of our own band we had to pay Michael Jackson and Madonna for the privilege. Completely absurd and infuriating.

Why dont they also put taxes on bags, after all one could carry alot of usb sticks or cds with it...

What concerns me, beyond the broken system we have, in Germany taxes are here to stay. So when this comes through it WILL stay like forever. And not even a world war will get rid of it, we have taxes that survived two of them and we still pay them...

The real problem IMHO is not how high the charges are, but how the money is distributed back to content creators. Ask a German musician or writer how much they get back from the system. Often, the answer is "zilch".

Great, since I then pre-paid my fine, I can use my memory stick to pirate to my heart's content.

In fact, since I already paid for it, I will want to use it for pirating, otherwise I paid this money for nothing.

It's not payment for pirating. The title (and article) is misleading. This is for legal music you are assumed to put there. It's basically the same payment (to the same organization) as radios, concert organizers, and so on have to pay. Royalty fee. It's still stupid though as sellers of the music have to pay as well, so it is double "taxed" (at best).

Pun noted.

In germany it is forbidden to break a copy protection, even if you have paid a fee for your storage media. Obviously it is a better deal to collect the taxes than to copy-protect music.

France has a similarly ridiculous high tax on blank media. The tax level was mostly reasonable when a blank CD used to cost 1 euro, but nowadays, it's a large part of the price. Moronic.

I wonder when we'll see the first copyright lawsuit go down in flames because the defendent claims to have compensated the copyright owner through this tax :-)

Meh, I guess I'm fine with it, they probably just updated it to reflect higher capacities of flash storage. I believe in Italy we have something of the order of 10 cents per CD, so a little more than 10 times that for something that can be rewritten and has a 100 the capacity doesn't seem like a 2000% hike (terrible choice of units if you ask me, they could have said 20 times more).

I'd be willing to pay even more than that if some of it went to public financing of cultural projects that have little commercial viability, such as art films, public space art, preservation of traditional music…

Who is stopping you from financing cultural projects now? Why force me to do the same?

Usual libertarian argument. Then you go on by saying the same of scientific research, healthcare, education…

The reason I believe public funding is a superior option is that the process that decides what is worthy of being financed is democratic (as in one vote per person), while the libertarian argument of everyone does charity with their disposable income is plutocratic (as in one vote per dollar).

Richard Stallman has suggested something similar, but with the tax being on internet use rather than media, and with the money being distributed to artists in proportion to the cube root of their popularity.


It is possible to prove mathematically that a free market doesn't work with goods that that have a significant cost to create but that are infinitely copyable, without restriction, at essentially zero cost once created.

The current copyright laws address this by restricting copying. The basic idea is to intellectual property artificially behave like physical property, so that the market can work.

There are a couple of disadvantages to this approach. (1) it makes IP goods more expensive to the consumer than they "should" be, so there will be underconsumption compared to what people would consume if the price was lower. (2) people can easily cheat.

The major advantage of this approach is that it leaves the decision of what works get made up to the market.

The other major way to address the market failure, which is the one Stallman suggests, is that you do artificially make IP act like physical problem, and so go ahead and let the market make and distribute copies without restriction, and address the problem of creation by public funding.

This is arguably fair since almost everyone does consume music, movies, and other forms of art. Essentially it is treated as a public good.

The advantage of that system is that consumers end up paying close to the marginal cost for their entertainment (i.e., $0), which is the economically "correct" price. Another advantage is that it does not rely on people obeying a legal fiction.

The disadvantage is that if art is being treated as a public good is that you (1) have to decide on the source of funding, (2) the funding level, and (3) how to distribute the money.

For source of funding, the most sensible seems to be some kind of tax specifically for this, probably tied to something that at least vaguely correlates with art consumption.

I have no idea how one would go about determining the funding level.

For distribution, something based on popularity seems sensible. Note that under this approach, all copying and sharing would be completely legal so there would be no need to try to hide it, so it would be feasible to figure out popularity by sampling network traffic. In fact, since it would be in the interest of content creators to ensure accurate measurement of popularity, I suspect that there would be big official free fast download services sponsored by the content creators, with good search and recommendation features, and most people would download through those rather than use P2P.

So instead of adapting to music streaming, the German music industry has developed a new business plan: demand compensation from the government for "lost profits" due to piracy.

What is "lost profits" anyway? Is that like "jobs saved"?

I hope the RIAA isn't paying attention.

The RIAA is paying attention, but this would never fly in the Land of the Free: it's a "social market economy" approach.

Personally, I'm thorn: if this would mean the MAFIAA boys drop their guns forever, I'd be almost happy to have it. Unfortunately, they'd never do that, they'd just keep gunning on top of collecting their racket money.

We already have a tax like this in the U.S. on blank CDs and cassettes, passed in 1992. Despite the rhetoric, the U.S. is not really against "social market" type policies in general. If I'm being cynical, my take is that socialism is only unpopular when it might help anyone poor. :)

blank CDs are one thing, SSD memory quite another.

It's very remarkable to see how that totally absurd law violating all principles of justice is accepted by governments both in developed countries such as the USA and Germany, and not so developed such as Russia. Does it mean that governments around the world are equally ignorant and unprincipled, regardless of a country's wealth, culture or democratic freedom?

EDIT: I was wrong.

Your diatribes would be much more effective if they either had a bit more research behind them or did not succumb to poe's law. - saulrh

Good critique, thanks.

- http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Poes_Law

German native speaker here.

Sadly the basic facts of the article are correct.

There is a levy on different media and also on machines capable of copying content (yes, there is a levy on computers in Germany). The height of the levy is negotiated with the producers of the product, represented by Bitcom, and the respective "Verwertungsgesellschaft" which in this case is the ZPÜ.

The "Verwertungsgesellschaft" negotiating the levy for (paper) copying machines would be the VG-Wort.

Negotiations for USB-Sticks failed, so the ZPÜ made a unilateral move and simply set the new levy to said price.

Bitcom states in the original article (on heise.de), that one part of the underlying law has not been properly respected, namely §54a, Absatz 4 which stated that the levy has to have a sane relation to the price of the media.

They are expecting a lengthy lawsuit with the adverse effect that the producers of sticks have to set aside some money for the case of losing. In addition to that they expect the european market to become skewed since there is no such levy in switzerland and other neighbouring countries where consumers can easily order sticks.

Personal comment:

Most of the people in Germany don't seem to be aware of the situation, simply not knowing that there is such a levy. Most of them also don't even know that they are allowed to make private copies (aka Privatkopie), and fall for the 'U r all pirates' propaganda of the content industry.

Friends are often astonished when they joke about pirating while we swap music and when I subsequently tell them, that what we are doing is absolutely legal.

Those tech savy of us who are aware about the situation are massively annoyed. Basically because THEY are taking our money as compensation for the Privatkopie while spreading propaganda that copying is illegal. WITH THE MONEY WE GAVE THEM.

Head of the ministry of justice, Mrs Leutheuser-Schnarrenberger, recently made a move and suggested a reform of the Urheberrecht and copyright in Germany (http://www.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/Justizministerin-fuer...)

While she is member of the dreaded neoliberal FDP, she is actually one of the very few politicians acting in favour of the developing information society. For example she is taking a stance against the EU data retention laws (Vorratsdatenspeicherung).

PS: whishing the term "Privatkopie" would become part of the english spoken world just like "Zeitgeist", "Gestalt" or "Kindergarten".

Jupp. Not much people in my circle do know about any of these "taxes".

I really "like" (sarcasm) the levy on smartphones. This one is 36 Euros. Sad, but true. The problem with these "taxes" is, that the "Verwertungsgesellschaften" give the money to artists or labels but there the big fishes do profit most.

But the lobbying argument is, that all artists strife, because of these "taxes".

Good luck with all that, in the UK, 'format shifting' (i.e. ripping a CD to mp3 to put it on your phone) is still a criminal offence, copyright act has not been changed despite undertakings from both recent governments.

I'm quite interested in what happens in Germany with second hand computers. Many computers end up in recycling or landfill when they could be used for some further time. Do the small computer shops/people on ebay still have to pay a levy? Is the levy a percentage of the asking price or a flat fee like the original article points out is the case for media?

AFAIK the levy on computers is only for the first retail, not on subsequent second hand sales. It is a fixed rate for a category of products.

First, if you're not entirely sure about the article, relax a bit. The source of this weird site is a well-known and respected IT site, heise.de.

I'd ~translate~ ZPÜ as 'Central authority (Z) for private (P) rights to create copies (Ü)'. They are, for all I can tell, part of the 'GEMA' group, the German "We're responsible to collect money for artists whenever you run a radio/play music in a public place" guys.

These guys set a ~tax~ on anything you can use to create copies. Cd burner? Check. Hard drives? Check. Empty cds/dvds? Check. All of those, if bought here, are supposed to give a portion of their price to that organization. So I guess you can call it a tax on storage media if you want. Let's say it's a .. disputable thing.

The rest of the German article is well-written, reasonable and .. well .. IT biased, of course. They discuss that all manufacturers and traders are a tiny bit unhappy with this situation, but do expect to fight for the next years to correct that idiocy. Until then, prices are expected to be adjusted in Germany: They claim that the prices for a 8 GB SD card currently costs 6-15 EUR and now needs to factor in this ~tax~ of 1.95 EUR for the time being -> Prices for consumers go up.

Edit: To save a click on my profile: I'm German, so that's my native language.

Yep, being german I can confirm that. This tax increase is just another proof that the german GEMA system is really broken. The other on is GEMA demanding payment from Kindergartens for singing childrens songs and printing the texts of these things out. And even if I'm to lacy to look up a link to that story, it really actually happened. Guess what? Nobody here did anything about it. With the next guy shouting "PIRACYYYYYY" all the discussion regarding this "single case" just went away. Just my 5 cents.

So I guess I'll be buying my storage in austria or france the next time. Maybe even amazon.co.uk works in this case...

Well, there's some facts that you still need to take into account:

* The fee used to be a flat 0.10 Euros, negotiated in 2008. Since then, the storage sizes have gone up dramatically, so an increase in price is certainly warranted. * This is the move of the ZPÜ after negotiations failed. Their negotiating partner, the bitcom made an offer that basically called for keeping the old price. So the ZPÜ did what every negotiator will do: The put up a demand where they have room to lower the price.

So all in all, I'm annoyed that the price has gone up, but I'm not as outraged as many are. I don't buy tens or hundreds of USB-Sticks anyways, so the net result for me is negligible. It's the price we chose to pay when private copying was legalized and me for one, I'm happy to pay that price.

In the end, this is the wrong battle to fight, the copyright-issue will be decided on other fronts. We need a complete overhaul of the current system, so don't waste your breath here.

it was not about wether it is 0.10 euro or 1,49. it was more about the reasons why the GEMA and co. are able to pull off what they are able to pull off. This fee is just one symbtom among a lot of others.

It's simple to answer why they are able to pull this off: There's a law for that, a law that dates back to the introduction of tape drives. Back then, there were two options:

1. Allow copying for private purposes, introduce a flat fee on empty media (tapes back then, later cassettes, cd-roms, ...)

2. Ban all private copying, prosecute it at all costs. Ban tape drives, control all technology that can be used for private copying.

3. Copy as copy can, no one gets paid. Ignore that this may be an issue for people that depend on producing (music, films, ...)

The (IMHO wise) decision was to stick with option (1), so that's where we're at. The GEMA and ZPÜ, as much hate is directed at them and as much as is wrong with them, are tasked with collection that fee. It's their job and they do it, even if it's unpopular. It's a bit like the Finanzamt (IRS). You don't have to like them, but at least keep in mind that they're doing what they have to.

Now, one may argue that the current system is not suitable for the digital age where empty media is used for so much more than copying audio, or even that the whole GEMA system should be abandoned - and I'm actually on your side in that respect - but well, that's a different topic.

You could also appeal to the regulatory body and argue that the price is too high, and that's what the bitcom rightfully does, but then you'd have to settle on an acceptable price. So what's acceptable? I don't have an answer, do you? They'll eventually figure this out and the high prices demanded are part of their negotiation strategy.

That was back in what, the 50s and 60s? I completly agree that the system worked back then. But in the 21st century well you can't adopt to new times by charging more from everyone you can. By doing simply that, you will pervert the very idea behind the system. It seems, at least to me, that the systems somehow developed a life by itself. And since that life currently fits into a lot of agendas, nobody will do something about it.

I agree with you that the system does not fit with current times. It's fundamentally incapable of dealing with such basic things as the fact that copying is now digital and lossless, filesharing or the internet as a whole. But still, it's the system we currently have and since we all agreed to some rules we should stick to the rules while we try and find a consensus what the new rules should look like. And part of those rules is that there is a levy on empty media, as much as we both might hate it.

  First of all, a levy on storage media? That is so weird!
  How the hell did that come about?
Erm, multiple countries have levies like this. They, and increases in them, are for exactly what they say on the tin: the money is given to the recording industry to cover the expected cost of any piracy that occurs using that blank media. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_copying_levy

Your diatribes would be much more effective if they either had a bit more research behind them or did not succumb to poe's law.

As aw3c2 mentioned, it is not officially intended to compensate for losses caused by illegal copying (that would be highly debatable juridically) but for the fact that it is legal to make a few copies for friends and for personal use. At least as long as there's no copy protection. Not much of a right when you have to collectively pay for the "free" personal copies anyway.

Sorry, replace "piracy" with "lost sales" in my post; even if we don't believe that, the recording industries certainly seem to.

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