The European Commission today (Sept. 13) unveiled plans to set up a clear, efficient system on copyright levies, and to boost intellectual property rights.

The European Commission today (Sept. 13) unveiled plans to set up a clear, efficient system on copyright levies, and to boost intellectual property rights.

The Commission said action on IPR and copyright levies was essential if the European Union was to meet its aim of becoming the most dynamic, knowledge-based region in the world.

The move to slash levies could save hundreds of millions of euros every year for consumer electronics companies such as Apple, Siemens, Nokia and Sony on products ranging from iPods to DVD players and mobile phones.

The levies were introduced in the 1960s to compensate artists for the fact that consumers used photocopiers and cassette recorders to make private copies of books, and records. The payments must be paid by companies producing or distributing equipment that allows content to be copied and have increasingly been applied to new media, including blank CDs and DVDs, and equipment, including MP3 players, PCs and printers.

The Commission -- the EU's executive authority -- said its initiative will bring greater efficiency, clarity and transparency to how the system of providing 'fair compensation' to rights-holders operates. "From an innovation perspective, an improved regime should assist information and computer technology companies and equipment producers in bringing new and innovative products and services to market, including on a cross-border basis," the Commission said.

Many media and tech companies believe that uncertainty surrounding the application of levies to new products currently impedes their development and roll-out. National collecting societies slap the levy on an increasing number of products, including MP3 players, mobile phones and TV set-top boxes. The scope and extent of copyright levies vary from country to country, but the overall amount of copyright levies raised in the EU has risen from around €500 million ($628 million) in 2001 to €1.2 billion ($1.5 billion) last year.

Brussels' believes its action on IPR is a step towards the launch of a common, integrated and affordable strategy that balances the protection of right holders and facilitates the circulation of innovative ideas. The Commission said it will unveil a new patent strategy before the end of 2006, establishing affordable patent procedures that also balance cost with quality and legal certainty.

This action should boost the patent system and its procedures; adapt copyright rules to the new digital markets; improve awareness of IPR in the innovation community; and improve IPR protection on foreign markets.

European Commission VP Gunter Verheugen said rules that were too rigid and detailed were just as dangerous for innovation as none at all. "Who would be interested to innovate if there is no guarantee that the results obtained, often after long and costly research, will not provide any returns?" said Verheugen, who is also in charge of enterprise and industry affairs. "Structural change must not be seen as a threat, but as an opportunity to become more competitive."