The idea of a blank media levy is not at all new. The debate has been around since cassette tapes enabled affordable, large-scale private copying. Today, it seems as if this idea is losing importance given that the ‘access’ model of music consumption is gaining ground against the prevailing ‘ownership’ model in which music is purchased and technically ‘owned’.
Historically, most compensation systems for private copying have targeted the consumer as the payee, based on the notion that as it is the consumer who makes the duplication of a copyrighted file, it is they who should pay for doing so. Yet under that premise, the only reason to demand financial compensation for copies made of copyright files is if someone is actually profiting from it.
Putting commercial pirates to one side, what consumers gain from private copying is simply the ability to format-shift music that they have lawfully purchased onto different devices that they own, for their own personal use and convenience.
In my free paper, recently published by MusicTank – Private Copying Of Music: A New Model For Artist Compensation – I’m not arguing that private copying of music needs to be paid for simply to compensate rightsholders for the act of making personal copies in themselves. Were that the case, it would probably be better to include any copying licence fee in the purchase price of the original file instead of charging consumers for buying devices or media that might or might not be used to make any duplications of copyright material.
But there is a market that absolutely profits from the ability to make copies of files for personal use - digital storage. Manufacturers of devices and media that facilitate the duplication of copyright files profit from selling consumers the tools with which to make any number of copies.
In my paper, I propose that a ‘blank media levy’ should therefore take the shape of a licence that is retrospectively paid for by the manufacturers of devices that allow the duplication of copyrighted files. The interaction should happen solely between the music industry and device manufacturers, at a stroke, removing consumers from the equation.
However, the fee that is charged cannot be based on the price and storage capacity of the devices as this would not take into account that many device and media purchases are not used for the purpose of private copying of copyright material, nor would it accommodate the shift that is currently taking place in consumption behaviour. Many of the devices that are used to own and store music are also used to access externally stored catalogues of music.
Given that private copying exception is concerned only with lawfully purchased files, it follows that private copying can only derive from the ownership model of consumption. Therefore, the income generated from private copying should always be directly proportional to the income generated from the ownership model of consumption itself.
And the concept of making copies of an ‘original’ item is about to enter a whole new dimension…
My guess is that 3D printing is the next big thing and it will have an impact similar to the one the Internet has had for all digitised content. Soon enough, we will be able to make limitless, perfect copies of virtually anything, not only digital media files. There are a few TED talks about this topic - one by Avi Reichental grabs my attention the most; he’s wearing 3D printed shoes that perfectly fit his feet…
So are Nike and Adidas taking into consideration that one day, consumers might be able to take their designs and print their own shoes at home…?
Far from the concept of private copying being perceived as yesterday’s concern, the ramifications for IP and ‘makers’ could not be more current - it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.