Tape tax for surf pads?

One of the basic concepts of copyright is "reproduction". The concept refers to the author's right to control the production of the number of copies, or the act of copying the works created, which can be various written texts or TV programs/films.  The act of copying used to mean long hours in front of a copying machine or connecting various recorders in order to create a replica of what was displayed in a book or on a screen. It could be a matter of recording the sound of a televised rock-concert by way of a tape recorder (and woe be on the poor wretch who even dared to cough mid recording) or recording onto - the then high-tech format VHS - where each subsequent copy was of a steadily deteriorating quality.

At the time when this technology, today Stone Age but then at the forefront of technology, was most popular a cassette-tax was levied, a small sum that was added to blank audio- and videocassettes. This  tax was intended to compensate the copyright owner for his/her works being copied. At the time, it was easy to tie the empty recording media to the intent of copying and it was pretty clear that the buyer intended to record an album or a movie onto the blank tape, making the tape 'specifically suited' to copying/recording.

With today's technology the situation is somewhat different with digital copies, such as text loaded onto a USB stick, allowing for immediate production of copies without any loss of quality. The cassette-tax was replaced in the 1990s by a ’private copying fee’ meant to target copying in the digital world. So far the fee has been levied on actual storage media such as USB sticks, hard drives and memory cards.

Copyswede, an umbrella organization of 14 organizations in the cultural field including journalists, writers, musicians, actors and others, monitors and manages fees paid to cover use of copyright protected works of its members. Copyswede has for some time pursued the line that the ’private copying fee’ should also be levied on smart phones and tablets, with the specific reference to the fact that these too are 'particularly suitable' for private copying. A large number of manufacturers have accepted Copyswede’s request and thus have provided information and accepted to pay the private copying fee. Samsung, however, has refused, mainly based in their view that computers and tablets are not primarily intended for copying and are instead intended for other uses, and thus a fee for copying is not needed. Holding this view, Samsung refused to provide information on how many of their computers, tablets and the likes are sold into the Swedish market and also the size of the data storage space, which is supposed to serve as the basis for calculating the fee.

On 20 October, the judgment in the dispute between Copyswede and Samsung was given. Solna District Court stated that the legal basis for demanding compensation in the form of a private copying fee is met with regards to computers and tablets, a view based among other things on the fact that these products are sufficiently  suited for de facto copying, and also the knowledge that they are also actually used for copying, to the extent that may constitute the base for levying a private copying fee. Although the vast majority of owners use their computers and tablets to 'stream' music and films, a recent survey (referred to in the court-case) show that fully 47 percent of the respondents, over the past two years, have used their computers/tablets/smartphones in the act of copying. In the younger age groups as many as 65 percent used their computers for private copying.

The resistance to paying the fee remains strong among producers of computers and tablets and the verdict will likely be appealed.

// Lena Ericsson