Campaign put forth by authors, songwriters, artists.

European authors, songwriters and artists launched a high profile campaign in Brussels Wednesday (Oct. 18) to protect copyright levies on consumer electronics.

The “Culture First” campaign includes European authors' group GESAC, international authors' group CISAC, international performing artists' group GIART, the International Confederation of Music Publishers ICMP/CIEM, independent music label group Impala, and European actors' federation EuroFIA.

The campaign -- backed by Belgian singer Axelle Red, Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar and fellow Spanish actress Penelope Cruz -- argued that the levies provide artists with a vital revenue stream.

The levies -- worth €560 million ($703 million) in 2005 -- compensate artists for private copies of DVDs, CDs, books, and other media products. They are paid by consumer electronics companies such as Apple, Siemens, Nokia and Sony on goods ranging from iPods and DVD players to mobile phones and PCs.

Impala president Patrick Zelnik said changing technologies meant the computer has become a major music device, loaded with music files. "Independent record companies recognize this new form of consumptions and do not wish to prevent it," he said. "But right holders should receive a fair compensation in exchange of the private copy exception. As a result levies for private copying must remain and should cover all sorts of recording machines and means."

The European Commission -- the European Union's executive authority -- wants to streamline the system compensation to rights-holders operates, while helping ICT companies and equipment producers in bringing new and innovative products and services to market.

The Commission is backed by the IT and consumer electronics industry organized as the Copyright Levies Reform Alliance, which says the levy, introduced in the 1960s on blank tapes, is outdated in a digital age.

"We remain confident that consumers and their elected representatives, will come to embrace the pressing need for transparency in the practices of these collecting societies," said Mark MacGann, the Director General of EICTA. "It will lead to an end to copyright levies in cases where consumers are legally paying for the private copies they make, through digital rights management and other remuneration mechanisms."

The Alliance gathers the European information and communication technologies association (EICTA), the Business Software Alliance (BSA), European American Business Council (EABC), European Digital Media Assn. (EDiMA), and Recording-media Industry Assn. of Europe (RIAE). It says that due to disputes over how much should be paid, it sets aside €3 billion ($3.7 billion) a year to cover disputed amounts