Industry mulls German fee for CD-RW drives

Germany's IT industry is taking a wait-and-see attitude on a new fee to be charged on CD burners, which is meant to compensate artists and authors whose work is duplicated without their permission.

          Germany's IT industry is taking a wait-and-see attitude on a new fee to be charged on CD burners, which is meant to compensate artists and authors whose work is duplicated without their permission.

          Hewlett-Packard (HP) agreed in a settlement last week to pay 3.60 marks ($US1.54) per CD burner, retroactively to February 1998. New drives sold will be subject to a fee of 12 marks.

          The agreement applies only to HP, but other manufacturers could agree to pay the fees, Iris Köpke, spokeswoman for the industry association BITKOM (Bundesverband Informationswirtschaft, Telekommunikation und neue Medien) says.

          HP is acting in court on behalf of the entire industry, which has until mid-January to decide how it will react, she says. She adds that she expects a decision by sometime next month. If the rest of the industry decides not to sign on to this agreement, BITKOM will most likely ask HP to again act on the industry's behalf and make an appeal to the court.

          In a statement, HP called the settlement an "important partial victory," since the fees agreed to are significantly less than the 23 marks per unit demanded by the authors'-rights consortium Zentralstelle für private Überspielungsrechte (ZPÜ) in its lawsuit, which was filed against HP as the leading seller of CD burners in Germany.

          The musicians' guild GEMA (Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte) welcomed the settlement, saying in a statement that it brings composers and artists up to date with the rights guaranteed them under law, while avoiding lengthy legal wrangling.

          ZPÜ based its lawsuit on a 1965 law, originally aimed at tape recorders and photocopiers, which levies intellectual property fees on the sale of duplicating devices. Despite having agreed to the settlement, HP says that in today's digital world, such a lump-sum fee on the sale of devices is unfair and unnecessary. The company called for "technical digital solutions" that will compensate individual copyright holders for specific works copied. HP said the flat-fee system, which doesn't apply in other countries, puts German industry at a competitive disadvantage.

          Köpke says that even if German sellers of CD burners agree on the fee structure, parallel efforts to slap fees on PCs and fax machines will remain unresolved.

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