The Court of Justice of the European Union handed down a ruling today that paves the way for levies on anything that can print from a computer. Inkjets, laser printers, multifunction devices, you name it — they’re all in line for a price hike.
The legal shenanigans were kicked off by Verwertungsgesellschaft Wort, the group that handles the collection of secondary royalties for copyrighted works in Germany. VG Wort brought a suit against Canon, Epson, Fujitsu, HP, and Kyocera’s German branches.
The complaint? That printers allow people to reproduce copyright-protected works. That being the case, VG Wort believed that a levy should be collected by the companies that sell printers to compensate rightsholders.
That’s right. VG Wort went to court because the printers HP sells in Germany might be used to print out a copy of the latest Neil Gaiman epic. Amazingly, the Court of Justice agreed. According to the ruling, any EU member state that allows its citizens to make copies of a work for private use must set up a system that compensates authors for those potential reproductions.
Computer-attached printers are targeted, but the ruling actually says that computers are fair game, too. Yes, HP may be forced to pay a printing levy on a computer and pass that expense on to consumers — even if they never hook that computer up to a printer.
Companies that sell other devices that can be used to reproduce such works — like pencils, pens, and typewriters — are apparently off the hook. Unless, of course, VG Wort can convince the Court that a hand, a pen, and a sheet of paper constitutes a “chain of devices.”
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