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UK firms could escape price increases if HP, Canon and Fujitsu raise printing costs to deal with EU copyright ruling

28 Jun 2013
The headquarters of the European Court of Justice

The price of printers and related accessories could rise in the future as print giants such as HP, Canon and Fujitsu face the prospect of huge payments to copyright holders for selling devices that allow such works to be reproduced.

A ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) agreed that all printers that facilitate the reproduction of copyrighted works, by being connected to a computer, are liable for financial levies.

However, UK businesses might avoid any printing price increases, at least in the short-term, as the nation approaches copyright law differently to other European countries. 

Vanessa Barnett, technology and media lawyer at law firm Charles Russell LLP, told V3 that the UK does not have a private copying permission under copyright law, which is the basis for the levy system existing in many other countries. 

"The levy system is essentially a way to compensate copyright owners for private copying by placing a levy on items which are used to copy. [Outside of the UK] this obviously has cost consequences for suppliers and users," Barnett said. "But the UK shouldn't feel too smug: the possibility of a levy system in the UK still does rear its head every now and then. It's particularly relevant right now, because of the push in the UK for a private copying right to be introduced into UK law. If that does happen, a levy may not be far behind."

The ruling was made by the court at the request of the German Court of Justice for clarification on a case brought by publisher VG Wort against Canon, Epson, Fujitsu, HP and Xerox on the issue of payments for its copyright works that their printers allow to be reproduced in private.

“It is open to the member states to put in place a system in which the fair compensation is paid by the persons in possession of a device contributing, in a non-autonomous manner, to the single process of reproduction of the protected work or other subject-matter on the given medium,” the EU ruling reads.

In reality, this means printer companies will assimilate the levy into their pricing at the point of sale, thereby increasing the price of their goods, such as printers or printer ink, in a move that is likely to lead to higher prices for consumers and businesses alike.

Furthermore, because the decision has been handed down from the ECJ and is binding across all member states, it opens up for the possibility for all copyright holders to demand levies from printer companies. The potential costs to the affected IT firms could be huge, forcing printing prices to rise significantly.

HP told V3 it would comply with the EU copyright rules, but declined to comment on whether this would lead to price rises. "We believe HP’s printing systems provide the best overall value by offering customers an unrivaled combination of quality, reliability, speed and ease of use at competitive prices. We will continue to aim to protect our customers’ interests and the value we offer while diligently complying with European copyright framework,” the firm said.

V3 also contacted Canon, Epson and Fujitsu for comment but had received no reply at the time of publication.

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Dan Worth
About

Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal

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