German copyright levy on PCs worries many

Plenty of anxious eyes are following a feud escalating in Germany over attempts to impose a copyright levy on computers.

Even though the country’s Patent Office, serving as a mediator in a year-old fight, has recommended cutting in half a proposed fee on PCs sought by rights societies to pay copyright owners, IT companies argue even the reduced fee will drive up the cost of computers, with no additional value to customers. And they are quick to point out that new CD copy protection and digital rights management (DRM) technologies eliminate the need for copyright levies in the digital age altogether.

Germany is the first country in Europe to see a rights society impose a copyright levy, similar to a royalty collection, on new PCs. What worries IT manufacturers is that there could be more.

Fujitsu Siemens Computers (Holding) BV, Germany’s largest computer manufacturer, is at the centre of a dispute involving the German rights society VG Wort, which has sought compensation for private digital copying. Germany is one of several European countries in Europe that for decades has been collecting special copyright fees on the sale of analog copying devices, such as blank audio and video cassettes. The fees are intended to compensate rights holders for lost royalties from private copying of music, images and movies.

Now it’s the first to try and extend the same levy to digital products, like PCs and CD writers.

Functioning as a mediator in the dispute, the German Patent Office has asked Fujitsu Siemens and other computer makers in the country to pay copyright holders