Why celebrities are calling for a ‘gadget tax’

The scheme could generate £250-£300m for the arts, say backers

Olivia Colman at the Bafta Film Awards 2020
Olivia Colman at the Bafta Film Awards 2020
(Image credit: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Some of Britain’s biggest stars are calling for a portion of sales from tech devices to go towards a fund for performers and creators in the UK.

Olivia Colman, Imelda Staunton and Celia Imrie are among dozens of artists calling for a so-called “gadget tax” that could help boost the creative industries that are “battling to recover” from the pandemic, reports Sky News.

The arts industry is worth some £10.8bn a year to the UK economy, but the crisis has “caused venues to close, events to be cancelled, and left thousands of jobs at risk”, says the news organisation.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

In a letter to The Times – the signatories to which included “three Academy Award winners and nominees, five Turner prize winners, and eight Royal Academicians” – stars called for the establishment of a fund that would see “between 1 per cent and 3 per cent added on to the price of electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets”, said the paper.

The letter claims the fund could help bring “cultural and economic renewal to the whole of the UK” as well as “generate £250-£300 million a year for the creative sector” bringing “boost a wider UK economic recovery”.

And the so-called Smart Fund would “bring Britain in line with about 44 countries around the world that all have similar schemes”, said the group behind the campaign.

But critics say it would amount to “a new tax” on consumers, reports the BBC, as it would apply to all devices that can “store and download creative content”.

“It is an arbitrary tax on consumers that is hugely bureaucratic to manage, and with no transparency on how funds are disbursed and spent,” said a spokeswoman for Tech UK, a network for the country’s tech sector.

But with “tech companies not exactly popular” and “the government keen to find some easy way of helping the arts”, the idea could carry some “political weight”, says the BBC’s technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones.

The campaign is being led by the Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS), a management organisation for visual artists. Its chief executive, Gilane Tawadros, said: “We want the levy to be in partnership with the tech companies so that the cost of the devices to the consumer doesn’t have to go up at all. We’re talking about a very small amount of money really, in relation to the cost of a smartphone.

“It’s not a charity – artists don’t want charity,” she added. “It’s a catalyst, a development fund for supporting creative individuals so that they can help rebuild and regenerate our communities.”

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.