An EU stakeholder platform on private copying levies has been ongoing since July 2008. On Thursday, collecting societies, industry representatives and consumer organisations failed to find common ground on which products should have copyright levies and how they should be priced.
"This is obviously an unfortunate outcome for all concerned, particularly for European consumers who bear the burden, as it is consumers who ultimately pay the private copy levy," said Bridget Cosgrave, director-general of Digital Europe, an advocacy group whose members include the likes of Sony, IBM and Oracle.
GESAC, which represents 34 European collecting societies, said it was surprised by the sudden breakdown in talks, because stakeholders were reportedly close to agreement on a number of issues regarding levies in a European single market.
"The first set of recommendations, on which agreement was in reach, included exemptions and refunds for the cross-border movement of goods subject to levies, a regime for distance sales and product definition throughout the EU among others," read a GESAC statement.
Levies are intended to compensate rights holders for private copies made on MP3 players or printers, among others, which consumers are legally allowed to make. The levies go to collecting societies which then redistribute the revenue among rights holders.
Digital Europe maintains that rules on copying levies developed in the 1960s, the analogue era for tape cassettes, are out-of-date and unfair to consumers.
Alongside consumer group BEUC, Digital Europe is calling on the incoming commissioners for the internal market and the digital agenda, Michel Barnier and Neelie Kroes respectively, to establish criteria on which products are levied and at what price.
"That consumers can be charged as much as a €15 levy in Austria, or €25 in France for an MP3 player but only €3.15 in Spain is not only unfair, it goes against the very nature of the single market," read a statement from BEUC.
"Consumers are not even aware that a levy for private copying is integrated in the final price," the statement adds.
Current EU copyright rules do not provide guidelines on which products are subject to levies and how much is charged, and as a consequence levies vary from country to country.
Instead, EU rules allow member states to have "exceptions or limitations to the reproduction right for certain types of audio, visual and audio-visual material for private use, accompanied by fair compensation".