Artists fear revenues will be stemmed.
A European Commission document has called for the copyright levies imposed on consumer electronics in Europe to be reduced to a minimum, saying they are often redundant in today's technological environment.
The document says consumers are often forced to pay copyright fees when they buy personal computers or MP3 players, and again when they download music legally online. However, the proposal baulks at actually scrapping the levy, and instead calls for an overhaul of the diverse copyright collection systems in the European Union's different member states.
The Commission document also encourages more efficient use of digital rights management (DRMs), and suggests a lump sum annual payment from the consumer electronics industry rather than the levy.
The Commission -- the EU's executive authority -- has launched an internal consultation on the draft recommendation and should publish it before the end of the year. The latest draft states that "no obligation for further payment in another form may arise in relation to the private copying by the consumer" following an initial fee.
The consumer electronics companies says slashing the levies could save hundreds of millions of euros every year on products such as Apple, Siemens, Nokia and Sony on products ranging from iPods and DVD players to mobile phones and PCs.
The scope and extent of copyright levies varies from country to country. France, for example, applies a levy of €51 ($64) on an iPod with 4GB memory. Germany has a levy of €2.74 ($3.48) on the same product while the Netherlands and Belgium impose no levies on iPods at all.
Paloma Pertusa of independent label lobby Impala said the proposals effectively signaled the end of the levies. "It does not say so directly in the recommendation, but says so indirectly," she said. "This proposal is obviously reflects the concerns of the ICT sector far more than of rightholders."
The recommendation says the levy system should be operated more openly, and should reflect the actual copying and piracy levels recorded by the industry, not levels that are merely speculated at. It calls on EU governments to ensure that the amount of fees "takes into account the degree of use of a technological measure by comparing the licensed use with any other actual use on a sliding scale."
Mark MacGann, director general of EICTA, the European information and communication technologies association, said this was only a momentary pause in the campaign to end the levies. "I can understand that the Commission might feel that scrapping the levies is too much hassle right now, especially given the hysterical recent comments by certain artists about the issue," he said.
"But this is a stepping stone, and the issue has gone beyond the point of no return. Once you accept that there can be no 'double dipping' - no double payment for copyright - then you accept that there should not be levies on legal content."
MacGann said he expected the levies to be gone in about two to three years. "Why should an iPod bought in France have a €51 copyright levy on it when it already has copyright protection measures to ensure legitimate content?" he said.