On the Portuguese Private Copy Levy

I’ve always kept out of politics, and made it a point to never address political issues here unless they had some bearing on technology - or, as it turned out sometimes, when they were so bafflingly misguided that a hatful of spoons would seem sane by comparison.

So it took me a while to muster enough time, will and detachment to address the current draft bill for enforcing a private copy levy on storage devices being discussed in Portuguese Parliament, which would, in decreasing order of technological ignorance and increasing order of knavery, result in:

  1. Among other things (like taxing printers), a levy of 0,02€/GB being applied to hard disks - a per gigabyte levy that makes absolutely no sense given the normal evolution of storage and that risks doubling the effective cost of a 2TB drive (the current bulk item in retail, as we begin to move to 3TB+ platter sets) within a few months.
  2. Said bill being unabashedly pushed through the legislative process by the SPA (the local Authors’ Guild, with all the medieval undertones my translation implies), so far without official, on-the-record inputs from anyone with electronics retail experience or (apparently) basic technological acumen.
  3. The enshrinement of the assumption (apparently quite popular in certain circles) that everyone buying a storage device should effectively be considered guilty of using it for storing pirated content.

Given that I’m now at an average of 5GB of photos and movies of my kids a month and that I’ve recently invested in a NAS and a set of external disks to make sure all our data (i.e., our photos and videos, our laptop backups, etc.) is safe on at least two other physical locations, I’m more than slightly annoyed at the whole thing as a matter of principle.

So over the past few days I watched bemusedly as spokespeople of various parties stammered, sidetracked or gave befuddled half-answers to an interesting (and increasingly loud) online siege laid by the local technorati that caused me to ponder:

  • If bills like these are actually read at all by experts in the field1 before being proposed, and (amazingly) approved at numerous stages, without any real public input.
  • How anyone elected to Parliament could be so fundamentally naïve, technically ignorant or consider themselves immune to public ridicule for drafting or supporting it in its present form.
  • How long it would take for people to figure out that online retail knows no boundaries, or that legislation like this completely breaks the free trade zone.

Furthermore, the whole thing seems positively medieval if you consider that the stated motivation behind the bill is to recoup the content industry’s “losses”, at a time when media locker services (like, say, iTunes Match) and content streaming services (for both music and film) are reaffirming the two basic tenets for any market:

  1. People will always take the legal option when it’s available.
  2. Only the good stuff sells.

So perhaps the local Authors’ Guild might, say, instead of spending roughy €6 million a year on staff (which, I’m told, totals around 160 people, goodness knows what for), want to consider sponsoring its members to make the leap towards digital publishing and distribution - otherwise I’ll just keep buying readily available, guilt-free and sensibly priced English-language books, movies and computer accessories online, and my kids will grow up bilingual and perfectly in tune with what is happening outside Portugal without owing the SPA a dime.

Which, all things considered, might well be the best way to deal with all this nonsense.

  1. And by that I mean experts in the matter, not by experts on lobbying. ↩︎