Tape levy threatens newspapers for the blind

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THE COST of home taping could rise next year under controversial European Community plans for a levy on blank audiotapes and videotapes to compensate copyright holders.

Organisations representing Britain's one million blind and partially sighted people say the levy would threaten dozens of 'talking newspapers', already struggling to survive.

Britain has already rejected the idea of a levy and opposes a compulsory EC-wide scheme. The EC is being forced to act because some European countries have introduced levies and it needs to harmonise the situation because trade is being distorted. 'Since the introduction of a levy in Denmark the market has collapsed there because everyone travels to Germany to buy their tapes,' said a spokeswoman for the European Tape Industry Council.

Since the levy is a harmonisation measure, it could be imposed by a majority vote of EC ministers. Commission officials will start consulting members states on the principle of a tape levy next month, and hope to implement the charge by the end of next year.

A draft EC directive, which has been passed to the Independent on Sunday, allows member states to operate exemptions. But the Home Taping Rights Campaign, an alliance of consumer and disability organisations, says the administration of exemption schemes would prove too costly to make them worthwhile.

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) supports a levy, calculating that the music business loses pounds 140m every year through home taping. Its research indicated that one in eight of the 113 million blank audiotapes sold every year are used for illegal taping.

It wants a 15 per cent levy - equivalent to 45p on a pounds 3 tape - to be redistributed to record companies, publishers, composers and artists. This, it argues, is a balance between the zero levy in some countries and the 30 per cent charged in Denmark and the Netherlands.

The 1988 Copyright Act gives copyright owners the right to prevent domestic recording, but they cannot enforce this. The Act did not include a levy.

David Uwemedimo, head of legal affairs at the Performing Right Society, said: 'Our view is that home taping should be made lawful and, in return, the copyright owner should be given a royalty based on the sale of blank audiotapes and videotapes.'

The Home Taping Rights Campaign vigorously opposes the levy, arguing that it would penalise people who do not infringe copyright. It argues that the recording industry has seen unparalleled growth in recent years, with album sales rising from 1.65 billion in 1981 to 2.59 billion in 1988.

'There is no justification for a levy because home taping causes no damage to the pre- recording industry,' said Malcolm Willings, deputy managing deputy of Sony Music UK and a member of the Tape Manufacturers Group.

Since the introduction of digital tape equipment, which allows superior quality in home-recorded material, both Japan and the United States have introduced minimal levies only on digital equipment.

David Mann, a spokesman for the National Federation for the Blind, said any levy would hit thousands of blind people, many of them elderly and with low incomes. 'Exemptions would simply create bureaucracy and confusion since there is no universally recognised system of certification for blindness or partial sight.'

Most of Britain's 'talking' newspapers are run on a shoestring; volunteers operating them fear extra costs will make it even harder to keep going.