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Blank media tax

A blank media tax (or blank media levy) is a government-mandated scheme in which a special tax (additional to any general sales tax) is levied on recordable media[?]. Such taxes are levied in various counties and the income is typically allocated to the developers of "content".

Such a tax may be linked to a corresponding relaxation of copyright law, by permitting the recording of copyrighted works on media for which the tax has been paid. It may operate in principle as a system of collectivisation[?], partially replacing a property approach of sale of individual units.

A difficulty that immediately arises is the practical impossibility of devising a mechanism for distributing the proceeds to copyright holders that is considered "fair" by all copyright holders. Implemented systems are typically restricted to music and may distribute the proceeds proportionally to a measurement of sales of CDs in music shops or amount of air-play on radio or the like. This will ignore other distribution channels such as the Internet. Fairer methods would arguably involve extensive sampling of purchasers to determine actual recording behaviour, or alternatively paying all musicians at a simple flat-rate (the preferred method will depend on ones political views).

An implementation question that arises is whether the tax applies to any type of copyrighted work or is restricted to a limited field such as music. If it is restricted then the issue arises of how to collect the tax on media which can also be used for other purposes. The options include:

  • Collecting the tax on all media, regardless of the end use, and ignoring the injustice to purchasers with non-covered uses
  • Allowing taxed and untaxed media to be sold, but with only the taxed media providing the copyright-relaxation benefits.
  • Collecting the tax on all media but allowing purchasers to claim a refund for media applied to non-covered uses.

Examples of countries operating such schemes:

Canada

A scheme was introduced in Canada in 1999 or 2000, following a modication of the Canadian copyright act[?]. The power to set rates and distribute the returns is vested in the Copyright Board Canada[?]. The Copyright Board has handed the task of distributing the funds to the Canadian Private Copying Collective[?], which is a private organisation. The Copyright Board has retained the task of setting the rate of the tax.

In Canada:

  • The levy applies to "blank audio recording media", such as CD-Rs.
  • The levy is paid by importers and manufacturers of such media sold within Canada.
  • The levy is collected regardless of the end use of the media.
  • Only copyright holders of sound recordings of musical works are entitled to a share of the proceeds.
  • The Canadian Private Copying Collective has devised a scheme by which the proceeds are to be allocated to registered music copyright holders.
  • Copying of sound recordings of musical works is legalised, but only for "personal use".

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