March 17, 2017 / 8:37 PM / a year ago

Austria's supreme court orders Amazon to pay copying levy

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria’s supreme court has ruled against in a decade-old dispute over a national levy on sales of blank data storage products, ordering it to pay the fee aimed at supporting musicians and other artists.

The case arose after copyright collection agency Austro Mechana presented a bill in 2004 to Amazon of nearly 1.9 million euros ($2.1 million) for blank media such as cassette tapes and CDs it sold in Austria.

Following the final ruling by Austria’s court, Amazon must report the number and type of media storage devices it sold in Austria from 2002 and subsequently pay the levy.

An Austro Mechana spokesman estimated that Amazon may have to pay a “double digit million euro” amount. The final sum will be determined by the court after Amazon provides its records.

Amazon did not reply to requests for comment.

The e-commerce giant took the case to Austria’s supreme court, arguing that the levy violates EU law, which then asked the European Court of Justice to interpret whether this was in fact the case.

The Luxembourg-based court ruled in favour of the private copying levy in 2013, but it also made clear that EU law does not allow the levy to be collected in cases where the intended use is clearly not the making of private copies.

More than twenty European copyright laws include private copying levies, also known as blank media taxes, covering the sales of media devices. They date back to the audio cassette and video tape era, but now cover all manner of digital devices.

In contrast, Britain and the United States offer some forms of “private use exceptions” which allow consumers to make personal copies of digital or analogue music recordings without infringing the creator’s copyright.

The artists’ collection agency distributes half of the levy income to individual artists including musicians, authors and film producers and half of it to Austrian cultural projects.

The spokesman said the agency was prepared to have to wait several more years before they receive payments from Amazon.

Major electronics makers argue that technology changes such as the growth of streaming media and video music services make the Austrian laws tied to storing media on local devices outdated and they long have called for such up-front levies to be eliminated. (Additional reporting by Eric Auchard)

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