Wandering through my neighborhood Radio Shack not so long ago I saw a large handwritten sign on the shelf holding recordable CDs. It proclaimed that posted prices were before the levy, which would be added at the cash.
Good for them! It was the first time I’d seen any retail-level admission
that the blank media levy even exists. I’ll bet there were LOTS of questions once customers saw how heavily their purchases were being hit in the name of compensating artists for their supposed music piracy. And if the disks were being used for data backup, or storing digital pictures? Too bad for the buyer, whose photos are now subsidizing big-label artists.
The sign has disappeared now. Perhaps it was put up by a staff member who wanted to alert consumers to the levy, and the boss objected.
Perhaps the franchisee got yelled at by head office — the levy, after all, is really applied at point of manufacture, so the practice of “”adding it at cash”” was wrong.
But the idea behind it was sound. If consumers know about these carefully hidden charges, many will object. Loudly. I hope the stores selling the now levy-ridden MP3 players (up to $25 per unit for models with non-removable memory) make it very clear that they’re not jacking up prices arbitrarily, but are complying with some misguided legislation that assumes every purchaser of such a device is guilty of music piracy, and fines them in advance for their crimes.
Until the end of 2004, levies on other blank media have been frozen, and no new tariffs were established after the latest round of hearings. But vendors fear that the Canadian Private Copying Collective (CPCC), the agency that administers the levies, will continue its quest to apply them to more devices. They’re especially nervous that hard drives will be next.
The Copyright Board, which sets the amounts and determines the media to be taxed (yes, I know — they claim a levy is not a tax …) behaved quite sensibly this year, after being bombarded by over 1,500 submissions against the levies. But it cannot dispense with them, and it cannot grant exemptions. The CPCC got its nose slapped for trying to create a zero rating system in the hope of pacifying businesses.
The only hope is to educate consumers and businesspeople so they can make their feelings known where it matters. The CPCC certainly isn’t going to do it — it profits most when the levy is just a hidden piece of the price of the media. The government isn’t going to do it — it receives the fringe benefit of sales tax on the levy. The folks in the best position to do it are resellers. They have to raise their prices to cover the levy, which is totally out of their control. They can show customers how much the levy really costs them, and they can raise warning flags over proposals that would make blank media even more expensive.
It’s an election year — a great time to encourage politicians to revisit the Copyright Act and come up with ways to ensure everyone is treated fairly. And resellers can lead the charge by showing customers what they have to gain — and what they have to lose.