PARIS – The French have a knack for a sort of curious logic that justifies a harebrained idea and even embracing it with a straight face, especially if the issue gets framed patriotically in the name of culture. French culture.
Here’s an example.
As the Financial Times reported Tuesday (May 14), “France is preparing to tax smartphones, tablets and all other internet-linked devices to help fund the production of French art, films and music.”
A report commissioned by the French government and endorsed by President Francoise Hollande outlines a proposal to impose a tax of up to 4 per cent on the sale of all devices, including gaming consoles and e-readers that allow access via the internet to “cultural content.”
At a press conference, Aurélie Filippetti (left), France’s minister of Culture and Communication, explained that the new tax on smartphones and tablets would be “extremely low.” It would consist of a “contribution, but at an extremely low level.”
She added, “This tax will feed some sort of account to support creative industries such as music, cinema, photography, video games that generate jobs in France.”
However, the new proposal, which specifically asks for a certain tax per device, runs counter to what an IT lobbying group, DigitalEurope, has been advocating.
The Brussels-based group -- representing the interests of smartphone makers such as Apple and Samsung -- denounces the device-based levy system as “notoriously controversial,” and calls it “a relic designed for a by-gone analogue era.” The group wants the European Union to find alternatives to device-based copyright levies currently implemented by many EU member states.
Curiously, though, even in France, nobody wants to talk about yet another tax on people or corporations.
In a report submitted to the Hollande on Monday (May 13), Pierre Lescure, former president and CEO of French TV channel Canal+ who was commissioned by Hollande to make recommendations, tried to downplay the “taxing” part of his proposal by describing it as “more a license or a contribution” than a tax. He went on: “The fiscal measures we are proposing are very light and currently bring little money… However we think that they could become relay tools if tomorrow’s habits are such that content is exponentially transferred.” (Whatever that means.)
Behind the French insistence on preserving French-language culture, there is a concept described by the French as l’exception culturelle. The idea, originally introduced during trade negotiations in 1993, demands the treatment of cultural goods and services differently from other traded goods and services, due to the intrinsic differences of such goods and services.
The cultural exception argument has protected the French cultural market from other nation’s cultural products, especially from America, the leading invasive species in the world’s pop-culture ecosystem. L’exception culturelle maintain quotas on French music on broadcasters, for example. The concept also let France establish a system for funding film-making via taxation on television companies and other distributors.
Further, France also put device-based copyright levies in place, charging levies on analog devices such as tape recorders, faxes and copying machines. Reportedly, France already raises almost 200 million euros a year in copyright levies -- similarly imposed by many EU countries -- on hardware storage to compensate artists for the loss of income through private copying.
I have more French in ancestry than any other nation and from this perspective suggest that France use the tax buy a lot of English words to expand the French vocabulary enough to bring French culture into the 20th century.
If the collection is indeed to pay the equivalent of copyright fees to those artists whose work is peresnted through the smart phones, then the whole thing makes a bit of sense. If it is anything else, then it is just one more money-grubbing tax by a government that is not in posession of even a shred of sense, bowing constantly to the socialist agenda. Which, by the way, socialism has been proven deffective repeatedly over the past hundred years or so, and it is not clear why the idiots who keep promoting the concept never learn.
During the recent brouhaha caused by French actor Gerard Depardieu leaving France to protest new taxes on his fortune, it was pointed out that French culture industry is quite handsomely supported by the state; apparently this sponsorship translates into fat salaries for e.g. the film industry, which apparently contributed to Mr. Depardieu's wealth. Someone cynical could argue that it's just another cozy insider deal, not substantially different from the US subsidies for the oil industry, or for corn alcohol or cotton farmers. Did you know that Brazilian cotton industry sued and won at WTO, and as a result US is paying subsidies to BOTH US and BRAZILIAN cotton producers?
Kind of like the State of Illinois, where one of the selling points for a State Lottery was that the proceeds would go to the schools. And they didn't exactly lie - Lottery proceeds do go to the schools - but the amount the schools receive from the general revenue fund was decreased by the same amount.
"...feed people and improve their lives." Fine, you go right ahead, with YOUR money. I'll donate to the Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries and local food pantries. Don't go asking the government (any government, not just France) to take money from me, under threat of fine and/or imprisonment, to support "the less-advantaged." Regardless of whether it's ostensibly to support starving artists or starving people in general, when government is involved more goes to administrative costs, advertising, waste and fraud than to the people the program was designed to serve.
Frank, nobody in France would believe the motivation is other than "grab money whatever the source". Memory of a tax on cars said to provide funds to elder people is already present: collected money went into common pool, period.
The motivation seems similar to the motivation behind the annual TV license fee that funds public television. But in that case, it is a small pool of defined content creators. In the case of mobile devices accessing content on the internet, it is difficult to see how this tax revenue would be distributed to French internet content creators. Award tax money to the creators of the most popular French language YouTube channels?
With all of the other problems facing France, I just do not see how this tax would help. All cultures either evolve or die. When was the last time you spoke Latin.
Trying to maintain a mythical ideal French culture just cannot be done. French culture varies from one end of France to the other. Each area has its own, which they defend to the death. So what French culture do they hope to save?
Use the money to feed people and improve their lives. Otherwise you will not have anyone left to inherit the culture.
Just my opinion.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.