The debate on content copyright in the digital age has taken another twist as the European Commission announces a new public consultation on copying levies on electronic and digital equipment.

The EC aims to simplify the way levies are dealt with across all 27 Member States and address the latest issues raised by advances in digital and electronic equipment.

Announcing the consultation, Commissioner Charles McCreevy of the DG for Internal Market and Services underlined the entitlement of rights holders to compensation for private copying. However, he also stressed that, 'At the same time, there is a need to look at how the levies are applied in practice.'

Copy levies are not intended as direct compensation for piracy, but they are applied to electronic goods to compensate rights holders for the potential loss of earnings through copying.

Copyright levies were originally applied to equipment such as cassettes and then video recorders. However, rapidly evolving technology has lead to litigation in several EU Member States as manufacturers and distributors battle claims for the levy to apply to other digital devices, including computers, hard drives, new high-definition DVD media, mobile phones, printers, and external USBs.

This is the Commission's second attempt to address the issue. In November 2006, Commissioner McCreevy presented a plan to develop a Commission Recommendation on copying levies that reflected the fast changing nature of digital technology.

The approach was short-lived though and the debate was suspended when artists associations which strongly opposed the measures were backed by support from France.

Commissioner McCreevy aims to ensure that the outcome will be different this time around.

'I hope this new round of consultations can lead to solutions being found to the discrepancies that the diverse application of these levies has led to,' he said. 'If pragmatic and workable solutions are to be found, all sides need to come to this debate with a constructive approach.'

The announcement was warmly welcomed by the European digital technology industry.

Mark MacGann, director general of EICTA, which represents Europe's information and communications technology (ICT) and consumer electronics industries, said, 'As an industry, we fully support fair and proper compensation for artists, creators and other rightholders. Industry is not advocating private copy levies be abolished, but has repeatedly demonstrated that the current system of 'rough justice' is opaque, unfair to consumers and industry, and does not fulfil the stated purpose of fairly remunerating right holders'.

The public consultation will run until 18 April, 2008 and will be followed by an open hearing in June.