The Catalan regional government and several other local administrations in Spain have demanded collecting society SGAE return taxes paid since 1987 on purchased devices that can be used to record protected cultural content.

The European Union's Court of Justice ruled Oct. 21 that the private copying levy - known as the 'digital canon' - applied to digital media (PCs, blank CDs, MP3 players, mobile phones) was "indiscriminate" and was not in accordance with European legislation. De facto, the application of the Spanish levy against companies, professionals and administrations, became illegal.

Joining the Catalan government are the town and city halls of Barcelona, León and Cádiz, as well as the Balearic Islands parliament. Others that have announced their intention of demanding a return of the tax include the town halls of Sant Adrià del Besos (Barcelona), Calafell (Tarragona), Teulada, Benissa and Gata de Gorgos (Alicante), plus the Chamber of Commerce in the Galician city of Lugo.

Spain's Intellectual Property Law allows the copying for private use of protected works without the author's permission. But to compensate for this, a digital canon has existed since 1987 on all gadgets that can record these works, whether the purchaser plans to copy or not. In 2008, the tax was broadened to cover digital devices.

The digital canon has been the source of much conflict between Spain's eight collecting societies, led by SGAE, and Internet users and those who pay the levy.

Only Barcelona city hall has put a price on the tax to be returned - €74,142 euros ($101,437) - and only the small town of Teulada has said when it will make the demand - "before the end of the year". Collecting societies registered a digital tax income of €90 million ($123.1 million) in 2009.

The administrations are awaiting the sentence that the Barcelona provincial court will impose on SGAE in a case bought in 2008 by a Barcelona-based retail company called Padawan, which sells electronic storage devices and equipment, including blank CDs and DVDs and MP3 players.

Rafael Sánchez, spokesman for the collecting societies, says no administration has so far asked for the digital canon to be returned. He says the societies have not committed any offence, as they have charged only the amounts allowed by law, and adds "a hypothetical return can never be demanded with a retroactive character, because there is no sentence or law that demands that to be the case."

In any case, says Sánchez, the Oct. 21 ruling "affects not only Spain, but the 22 European countries with a system of compensation for private copy."