Systems for private copying and reprography levies are not going to disappear for lack of alternatives but "they need to be improved" to respond to the requirements of the single market. That general and rather consensual conclusion of a report, presented by the former Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino on 31 January, contains several recommendations aiming to harmonise levying systems in the EU and could lead to legislation.

For private copying, levies are imposed in about twenty European countries on recording material (DVDs, CDs, USB keys, MP3, etc) to compensate for the lack of earnings for rightholders on copies that consumers make of their work for private use. For years, technology manufacturers (against) and rightholders (for) have clashed on the legitimacy of systems. While the former criticise the lack of clarity on tariffs and the quantity of products taxed, the latter say they are ready to improve them as long as they are always on the recording material and are not, for example, reduced to a one-off fee paid by the state, as was the case in Spain.

"Drawing the divergent positions closer will ultimately depend on the willingness of all stakeholders to commit themselves to finding workable compromise solutions," said the 30-page report.

For Vitorino, who has seen dozens of representatives of manufacturers, from cinema, from music, from online companies etc, the system needs to be clarified. Payments need to be received in the member state where the final customer lives in cases of cross-border transactions. It is the retailers and not the manufacturers or importers who need to collect them. This implies simplified tariff systems and an obligation for manufacturers and importers to inform collective management societies of their transactions on products subject to a fee.

Another solution would entail establishing clear and predictable exemption schemes for some operators. The former commissioner recommends licensing agreements and technical measures "allowing rightholders to be remunerated directly for all forms of consumption of their creative content". The fees also need to be made visible for the consumer...

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