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Ministers have been accused of caving into big business after scrapping EU plans for a levy on tablet computers aimed at raising money for struggling young musicians.
The levy, which has been adopted throughout most European Union states, is part of a EU directive aimed at legalising the practice of copying music for private use from CDs to tablet computers – such as iPads – or from one computer to another.
In return the computer manufacturers pay the levy, usually set at around £10 per tablet or hand held device, into a fund to supplement the income of musicians, as compensation for their music being copied across different devices for free.
In some countries, such as France, money from the fund is also used to help develop and fund new talent.
But those same manufacturers have lobbied the British government not to implement the levy in this country when the directive is adopted later this year.
The Musicians Union (MU) said: “Unfortunately the big tech companies, who do not want to provide fair compensation have been applying pressure on the Government not to introduce levies.”
Now the MU, which includes Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney among its members, is calling for a change of heart and has accused ministers of paying too much attention to the interest of technology corporations at the expense of more poorly paid artists.
Horace Trubridge, former saxophonist with the seventies hit band Darts and now assistant general secretary of the MU, said: “With fewer record’s being sold because of Internet download today’s musicians are increasingly reliant on small amounts of income from different sources, such as radio play fees, concert tickets and merchandising.
“A levy would be a welcome addition to that stream of revenue and for ministers not to introduce it would remove a potential source of income for struggling artists.”
It comes at a time when musicians and songwriters are already struggling financially, as fewer people buy CDs and rely instead on downloading music from a variety of often cheaper sources. The MU points out that more than half of working musicians earn less than £20,000 a year.
Mr Trubridge, who had hits with Daddy Cool, The Boy from New York City and Duke of Earl, added: “The UK music industry is worth a huge amount to the British economy and for its musicians to be denied revenue because of lobbying by the big technology companies is simply unfair and ultimately counterproductive.”
The campaign to reinstate the levy element of the Copyright Directive has won the backing of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) and Lord Berkeley of Knighton, the composer, peer and BBC Radio 3 presenter.
They says the way the Government has drafted the copyright exemption contained in the EU directive will disadvantage musicians, as it does not provide fair compensation and would therefore hit new talent, such as songwriters, composers and musicians.
Campaigners argue the levy would not be passed on to consumers, as it is absorbed by the manufacturers.
A spokesman for the MU said: “Big tech companies absorb the cost and the price of the devices that they sell does not increase. Spain changed its compensation system a few years ago and it had no impact on the price of a device.”
The only other countries in the EU not to have what campaigners call a ‘fair compensation system’ are Cyprus, Ireland, Luxembourg and Malta.
A spokesman for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, said: “The Government considers private copying levies to be unfair, unnecessary and bureaucratic taxes on business and consumers. We have always said that we will be the first government in modern history to reduce rather than increase the amount of regulation in existence.
“This change to copyright law will mean millions of people no longer have to break the law just to listen to music that they have already paid for – as long as it is for personal use and not for making copies for other people. The changes will be introduced into parliament shortly.”
CASE STUDY: Helen Parker-Jayne Isibor and the Venus Bushfires
There have been several times during Helen Parker-Jayne Isibor’s music career when – like so many other struggling musicians – she has been forced to rely on income from other jobs to make a living.
She’s worked as an office manager, a receptionist, a PA and even a film and TV extra, just to earn enough so she could carry on writing and making music.
Helen Parker-Jayne Isibor (MarpLondon)
It was precisely those moments when any extra form of income from the kind of levy on tablets and computers adopted in many European countries, would have been a lifesaver, allowing her to focus more on her music. And it is why she believes it should be introduced in the UK.
Even now money from the a levy would provide a useful supplement for the Nigerian-born Londoner, who has performed with her band The Venus Bushfiresalongside Sir Paul McCartney and created music for Sony PlayStation, Disney and Channel 4.
Miss Isibor, who moved to Britain with her family at the age of seven, currently relies on fees from concerts, along with selling CDs and merchandising, such as T-shirts, direct to fans at her gigs. “There have been various points in my career when money from the kind of levy the EU is proposing would have been a big help for me,” she said. “There are some young musicians starting off now for whom it could mean the difference between carrying on with music and simply giving up.”
Miss Isibor, who sings and plays the hang drums, also believes the technology companies who make big profits from the sale of tablets and computers to music fans have a responsibility to put something back into the music industry.
She said: “Basically if it wasn’t for the music we produce as artists they would sell far fewer of these items and its only right they put something back to help nurture new talent. It’s not a tax on consumers, which I wouldn’t agree with as I’m one of them, its a small cost the manufacturers can absorb.”
Miss Isibor, 35, who has also performed at London Fashion Week, is currently writing an opera in west African pidgin – about her own experience of growing up with two cultures – to be premiered in Lagos in July followed by performances in the UK.