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.