HP dragged through German courts over music copyright

German copyright law turns its attention to CD burners and Hewlett Packard gets scorched

Hewlett-Packard has been forced by a court in Germany to shell out an undisclosed sum for manufacturing hardware that allows users to burn copyright protected music to CDs.

The case highlights the epidemic proportions of Internet music piracy and the difficulty of clamping down on it, according to one legal expert and could lead to copycat actions from other European countries.

"In a way [the German government] is giving an admission that it can't control piracy," says Robin Bynoe, partner at Charles Russell law firm and Internet specialist. "But it's a very blunt instrument."

Under this German statute, because it is impossible to know which music might have been copied, royalties are distributed to the best selling artists. Bynoe says that this sort of levy is unfair and does not take account of legitimate CD copying.

A spokesman for Rio -- a manufacturer of MP3 players -- agrees. "Someone could be using this for legitimate reasons and so could be punished for the illegitimate copying of others," he says. He believes the ruling could have implications for Rio and other harware manufacturers in Europe.

Hewlett-Packard will be required to pay an undisclosed levy for creating CD writers and rewriters. A similar law already exists in Germany regarding the manufacturing of blank cassette tapes. Other European countries could introduce similar measures in an effort to recoup some of the cost of music piracy, estimated to have cost the music industry around £3.5bn last year, experts believe.

The music industry has been rattled by the emergence of technologies allowing music to be copied and distributed more quickly. In a highly controversial and publicised case the creators of Napster -- the Internet file sharing application which gives users access to thousands of copyright protected music on a peer-to-peer network -- were sued by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for allegedly facilitating wholesale piracy. Later a deal was struck between Napster and Bertelsmann allowing for the legitimate distribution of music.

The UK music industry is also increasing its opposition to technologies such as Napster. Next week sees an awareness week organised by British Music Rights to highlight the importance of protecting copyright. "The impact of new technology is a significant issue for everyone who cares about the future of music and the livelihood of those creating the music we enjoy. To support the music we care about, we need to respect and protect its value, to see it grow, not diminish," says Frances Lowe, director general at British Music Rights.

Hewlett-Packard could not be contacted for comment by time of publishing.

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