In February a Green paper, a discussion document, went before Parliament which proposes the levy of 10p on an audio tape and 25p on a video tape. The reasons behind this unwelcome addition to personal finances lie in the estimated 65 million LPs lost every year to the illegal taping of music and startling statistics which suggest that up to 90% of blank tapes are used for reproducing copyright material.
Could I take this opportunity to put a voice to what many must think of this bill, that it is ill-conceived and insensitive. The loss of LP sales is a very difficult commodity to quantify as the figure assumes that a fair proportion of those who tape LPs would have been prepared to buy a good number of their taped collection. My own experience, and that of many of my acquaintances, does not bear this judgement out. Before looking at the bill’s effects on computing let us first analyse another vested interest which has called for the levy.
Video cassettes are used to tape TV programmes more conveniently viewed at a later time. It is hard to visualise exactly where the TV companies are losing out. The idea that taping reduces the life span of a TV programme as it reduces the number of occasions on which it can sensibly be repeated is not borne out by the facts which relate an increase in the number of repeats since the meteoric rise in video recorder sales. It is true that three years ago, say, all blank tapes could be used for were dictating machines or copying but now a significant number are used in the home computer sector, for example, in the legitimate acts of saving adventure games or, for that matter, programming itself (the pile of blank cassettes which build up developing a complex game can grow incredibly high).
So the question is, how is the money raised by the levy to be split between the music and computer industries and if the Government seriously intended to include the computer industry why are discs and microdrives not included in the bill? If money is to be appropriated to the computer industry how will distribution be achieved amongst all the companies vying for a share of the proceeds when some are reticent over sales figures and other distort figures up to a factor of ten?
It would seem this bill could end up as a direct tax on adventuring with the levy (which amounts to a fine) being added to the amount already allocated in the price of adventure games to offset the proportion lost to illegal copying. The bill is an insult to all those who have never made an illegal copy of a computer game. A law which assumes everyone to be a criminal and punishing everyone as such will set a bad precedent and is the equivalent of imposing a levy of 20p on a gallon of petrol to combat speeding.
By imposing this levy the Government would be virtually legalising the copying of copyright material and instill a feeling that has it that, since the levy has been paid then it must now be all right to copy. In short, if you’ve paid the fine you might as well commit the crime.