More expensive refurbished phones coming soon? We explain why the private copying levy divides so much

the essential
In a column published this Sunday, June 6 in the “JDD”, several employees working in the reconditioning sector challenge the government. They oppose the possible establishment of a private copying levy on refurbished smartphones. Since this Sunday it is therefore the world of culture that is opposed to the world of reconditioning. But why is this royalty controversial?

The government will have to arbitrate a standoff between two worlds, that of culture and that of refurbished devices. By setting up a private copying levy, as provided for in an amendment to the bill aimed at reducing the environmental footprint of digital technology in France currently under discussion in Parliament, the authorities would help a world of culture more weakened than ever by the health crisis. But does that mean repackaging reconditioning, a booming market against a backdrop of virtuous recycling? The choice is difficult.

An important aid for the world of culture

Today, the private copying levy indirectly allows the payment of copyright. A manufacturer of devices with storage space (USB key, hard drive, new phone, etc.) pays this fee at a price that varies according to the storage space offered. For example, according to Frandroid, for a new Iphone 11 with 64 GB of space, the manufacturer pays a fee of 14 euros. To “reimburse” this royalty, the manufacturer increases the price of its device accordingly. The user therefore pays this royalty indirectly, which allows him to store films or music downloaded on his device while respecting copyright. The money collected is then donated to the various authors or artists. It is therefore very important funding for the world of culture.

A subject that divides even within the government

Until now, the fee therefore only concerned new devices. But the world of culture is asking to extend this royalty to reconditioned equipment. The Minister of Culture Roselyne Bachelot, who supports this idea, would like to see article 14 bis of the law disappear, which stipulates that a device cannot be subject to the license several times.

For her part, the Minister of Ecology Barbara Pompili and the Secretary of State for Digital Cédric O are against this modification of the text in order to support repackaging, a practice which encourages consumers to be eco-responsible by betting on second-hand devices. The bill, already adopted by the Senate on January 12, must be debated this Thursday, June 10 in the National Assembly.

Devices that are necessarily more expensive

The reconditioning market has never done so well. Despite the health crisis, the sale of used smartphones in particular saw a 25% good between 2019 and 2020 according to Recommerce: according to a study commissioned by this specialist in the recovery and resale of refurbished mobiles, more than a third of French people have already bought a used smartphone.

If the levy is implemented, the prices of refurbished smartphones are bound to increase. An increase far from negligible, as shown by this example taken by UFC-Que Chosir: a cheap refurbished phone would thus suffer a 10% increase in its price.

Such a price increase could therefore dissuade potential customers from consuming second-hand goods and benefit the new home market. This measure could also affect people with a very limited budget, more inclined to favor refurbished products in line with their financial possibilities.

A real ecological impact

If reconditioning is doing so well today, it is also thanks to the ecological argument. Favoring a refurbished telephone limits the production of new telephones. However, according to Apple, producing an iPhone 12 represents 83% of the CO2 that the phone will emit during its lifetime, against 14% for what weighs its simple use. If the production is polluting, it is in particular due to the extraction of rare metals, essential for the manufacture of smartphones. As summarized by the UFC-Que Choisir, the opponents of article 14 denounce the paradox crying “that a text of law aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of digital technology makes it possible on the contrary to strengthen it”.