France considering smartphone, tablet tax to fund cultural content

France is considering imposing a tax on smartphones, tablets and other devices that connect to the internet and using the revenue to fund the creation of French film, music and other cultural content.
France is considering imposing a new culture tax on any device that connects to the internet. Most people use these devices to access a variety of cultural products, most of which they consume for free, so it's not unreasonable to ask that a portion of the profits from the sale of these devices goes toward supporting creators of those products, concludes the report that proposed the new tax. (Vincent Kessler/Reuters)

France is considering imposing a tax on smartphones, tablets and other devices used to access the internet and using the revenue to fund the creation of French cultural content.

The proposal for the tax was made in a report submitted to the country's president, François Hollande, Monday. Hollande had tasked Pierre Lescure, the former head of private television channel Canal Plus, to come up with suggestions on how to adapt France's policy of promoting French culture to the digital age.

Lescure made a total of 75 recommendations, including the new tax, which would apply to any device that connects to the internet, including tablets, computers, digital TVs and game consoles.

The report suggests that the tax could be initially set at one per cent of the sale price and eventually be raised to three or four per cent. Lescure estimates a one-per-cent tax would raise 86 million euros (about $113 million) per year.

France's minister of culture and communications, Aurélie Filippetti, endorsed the tax, saying the "contribution" device manufacturers would be making is "extremely small."

Revenue would go into cultural support fund

The money raised from the tax would go into a fund to support creative industries, including music, film, video games and photography, Filippetti said, stressing that these industries are significant job creators.

Camille Bedin, the secretary general of the opposition UMP party, denounced the tax, which he said was out of step with the harsh financial realities of the day, in which, for example, purchasing power had decreased by 0.4 per cent last year. Bedin accused Hollande's socialist government of being "high on taxes" and seizing any opportunity to impose more taxes on the population.

Adapting 'cultural exception' policy to digital age

Distributors of French cultural content like cinemas and radio and TV stations have had to divert a portion of their profits to the creation of French content since the 1980s as part of France's "cultural exception" policy — which aims to defend French culture against the globalizing influences of entertainment industry giants like Hollywood. But newer distributors of cultural content in the digital sphere like Amazon, Google and Netflix have not been subject to the same rules.

Lescure's proposed tax is an attempt to make those internet giants, which make many of the devices that would be subject to the new tax, pay their share.

Given that the consumption of cultural content accounts for a hefty share of the overall use of internet-connected devices, it's not unreasonable to ask those who make and distribute these devices to help fund the creation of that content, Lescure wrote in the report.

"The success of these connected terminals and the high price that consumers are willing to pay to acquire them are in part due to the possibility that these devices offer to access a quasi infinite amount of rich and diverse cultural content, for which, conversely, the users are less and less willing to pay," Lescure wrote.

The report also proposed the abolishment of the government agency in charge of policing illegal downloading of copyrighted material and the law that allows the agency to sever the internet connection of those who don't secure their internet connection against illegal file sharing.

Hollande said in a communiqué that he hoped the necessary legislative measures to make the proposed changes would be adopted by the summer.