The Case Against The Levy
The debate over home-taping has been going on for so long now, one would have thought the two opposing sides would have given up long ago. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
The record industry, through its administrative mouthpiece, the British Phonographic Institute, continues to claim that home recording of records on to blank cassettes is costing it hundreds of millions of pounds in lost sales every year (though as yet they've failed to produce any figures to substantiate these claims).
Blank tape manufacturers - through their own, recently-formed diplomatic body, the Tape Manufacturers' Group - point out that home taping is unquantifiable and accuse the BPI of manipulating market trends to suit their own devices. They say the decrease in LP sales is due more to a decline in pressing and packaging quality than to the increase in blank-cassette use, and there can't be many record-buyers who'd disagree with that...
The BPI have made it plain that they see the only solution to this problem as being a levy on the price of blank-cassettes, an idea that so far has won little support from Government. Not unnaturally, the TMG reject this move utterly, and have just produced a booklet entitled 'The Case Against A Levy On Blank Recording Tape' to back up their side of the argument.
Since every recording set-up, from the most sophisticated recording studios to bedrooms, uses cassette recorders for copying, it came as no surprise to us when we started receiving letters asking us which side of the dispute 'Home Studio Recording' as a magazine was on.
Our answer is simple. To misquote a television advertisement for a well-known building society: we're with the TMG.
Home recordists who use blank cassettes simply as a medium on which to store their own musical endeavours can scarcely be expected to help finance a minority of 'pirates' who tape records for financial gain. Yet this is exactly what would happen if a blanket levy - industry spokesmen reckon it could be as much as £1 per tape - were to be imposed on all cassette sales.
And recording enthusiasts aren't the only ones who would be unfairly hit if the record companies had their way. There are more home computers per head of population in the United Kingdom than any other nation in Europe. A great many of their owners use blank cassettes as a means of storing software. How can their activities be contributing to the record industry's problems? And what about the thousands of offices and administrative organisations that use cassettes for dictation purposes? Should they be forced to subsidise Britain's purveyors of mass-market music?
Our view is that they should not.
We can see not one scrap of evidence that home-taping is robbing the record industry of millions of pounds in vital revenue. Neither can we see any evidence that, if a levy were imposed, the extra capital it would give the BPI would be used to improve the quality of the products they manufacture.
More fundamentally, a blank-tape levy would cause an irrevocable split between the hardware and software manufacturers of the music industry. At present, neither seems to realise that they depend on each other for their mutual survival. Without the audio hardware, nobody would have anything to play records on: without records, nobody could listen to pre-recorded music in the home. The division between the two sides is already a wide one. To make it wider still could signal an unstoppable decline in the fortunes of both sides of the industry.
Philips' ingenious 1963 invention has spawned the generation of countless new commercial and leisure interests. It so happens that taping from records is one of them. To make the rest of the cassette world pay for the activities of one group is both unjustifiable and impracticable. And if anyone has any evidence to the contrary, we'd very much like to hear it.
Editorial by Ian Gilby
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