For many years (since 2003) the Netherlands was a renowned hotbed of copyright piracy, thanks to the fact that downloading copyrighted material was legal. In theory, there were strict limits to this freedom – only movies and music could be downloaded (not computer software), and only if you already owned it. In practice, however, copyright laws were not enforced, resulting in something of pirate free-for-all.
In order to compensate copyright holders their loss, since 2003 the Dutch government levied a “personal copy fee” tax on all blank storage media such as CD-Rs, DVD-Rs, and USB thumb drives.
This all changed in 2014, however, when the EU Court of justice declared the local legislation unlawful,
“If Member States were free to adopt legislation permitting, inter alia, reproductions for private use to be made from an unlawful source, the result of that would clearly be detrimental to the proper functioning of the internal market.”
The Court further determined that the “personal copy fee” was also illegal, as it unfairly penalised consumers who had never pirated anything in their lives.
The Netherlands has since complied with the CoJ’s ruling, but old habits die hard, and a culture of piracy ensures infringement remains popular in the country.
The Association of Professional Film Entrepreneurs (VPSO), a group of Dutch film producers and distributors, decided to try and something about this, and has demanded (Dutch language) that the Dutch government pay it €1.2 billion EUR (approx. $1.3 USD) damages in compensation for earnings lost since 2004,
“The Dutch State has maintained for years that copying from illegal sources was allowed. The result was that an entire generation of consumers believes that downloading without paying for it is simply allowed. Through this letter we hold the Dutch government liable for the damage. We want the Dutch State to take responsibility for its unlawful legislation and the resulting damage.”
According to a report (.pdf, Dutch language) by legal firm Considerati, VPSO companies lost €78 million per year.
“The actual damage is expected to be even higher. Recent figures show that the revenue from video-on-demand have dropped off massively in 2014 and 2015, compared to 2013.”
The Dutch government, however, has rejected (Google translate) this claim. In a letter (.pdf, Dutch language) to VPSO sent last week, Minister of Safety and Justice, Ard van der Steur, stated that,
“The State does not consider itself liable for the damage allegedly suffered by VPSO. Contrary to VPSO’s claims, the Copyright Directive wasn’t applied incorrectly, so there’s no question of illegality.”
Van de Steur also challenges the link between piracy and industry losses, as well as the figure claimed for losses,
“In addition, the alleged claim of VPSO encounters limitations with, among other things, the absence of a causal relationship, and also the cost of the allegedly suffered damages.”
Taking a more placatory tone, de Steur noted that the government is willing to discuss what further measure it can take to counter copyright piracy, and suggested VPSO member recoup their losses by suing downloaders directly.