Copyright Blacklist Threat
The Motion Pictures Association of America has recommended that the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) place The Bahamas on a watch list for copyright infringement that could lead to the U.S. government imposing sanctions.
The MPAA argues that Bahamian copyright law is in violation of international law and is harmful to the U.S. film industry.
If The Bahamas moves from its present position on the USTR priority watch list to the priority foreign country list, this could mean withdrawal from The Bahamas of the benefits of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), Minister of Financial Services and Investments Allyson Maynard Gibson said in the House of Assembly Wednesday.
The Minister, who was speaking on a bill to amend the Copyright Act, noted that getting on the priority foreign country list is the "last thing in the world The Bahamas would want."
The USTR first placed The Bahamas on its watch list in 2002 and in 2003 moved The Bahamas to the priority watch list, which indicates that it believes that The Bahamas was not acting in good faith to resolve the problem. At present, there are 11 countries on the priority watch list.
The CBI allows a wide range of products grown and manufactured in the English-speaking Caribbean duty free entry to the U.S. market. In 2001, The Bahamas' total exports to the United States stood at approximately $154.2 million.
The government is attempting to amend the necessary legislation to ensure that no sanctions are imposed on The Bahamas.
The Copyright Act, which was passed in 1998, provides for the creation of a system of compulsory licenses which enabled the sole cable operator in The Bahamas, Cable Bahamas, to offer premium channels to the Bahamian public, and pay royalties into a special fund.
But U.S. copyright owners have accused Cable Bahamas of stealing their signals.
The Copyright Royalty Tribunal has on its accounts some $934,917.92 in copyright fees from Cable Bahamas, but there have been no claims to the Tribunal, Minister Gibson said.
She said failure to narrow the scope of the compulsory license, as is the intention of a bill to amend the Copyright Act, could also have a negative impact on tourism in that it is possible that the U.S. could respond by withdrawing the pre-clearance benefits both tourists and Bahamians have come to enjoy.
Minister Gibson added that inadequate remuneration for the compulsory licensing of free-over-the-air broadcasts is a concern for the Americans, particularly with respect to uses by hotels and other commercial enterprises. Under the present Act, cable operators are required to provide "equitable remuneration" for their transmissions.
But the USTR determined that the rates are too low.
Minister Gibson pointed to the difficulty regional cable providers face in trying to secure U.S. cable programming in English.
"A number of premium cable providers in the U.S. had over a number of years seemed to be unwilling to negotiate to allow their U.S. based channels to be broadcast in The Bahamas and other English speaking Caribbean countries," she explained. "They offered instead their Latin channels, which happen to be in Spanish, for broadcast in The Bahamas."
Brendan Paddick, CEO of Cable Bahamas, told the Bahama Journal in an earlier interview that Caribbean nations have a lot of problems entering into agreements with many U.S. networks.
"Despite our efforts to enter into agreements and to pay them on a basis similar to what cable companies in the U.S. pay them, these companies essentially refuse to enter into licensing agreements with Cable Bahamas," Mr. Paddick said. "[They claim] it would be too expensive for them to secure rights for many of the Caribbean nations...to pay for their programmes."
Minister Gibson told parliament Wednesday that, "Our legal advisors and international legal opinion are of the view that compulsory licensing is allowed under current international agreements.
"The government is satisfied that the compulsory license as provided for in the current legislation is allowed under international law."
She explained that, "It should be noted that the U.S. does not argue that compulsory licenses are not allowed under international law, it rather argues that such international law does not allow the compulsory licensing of encrypted signals."
While appreciating the argument made by the U.S. for the protection of the rights of the copyright holders, she said the most important issue for the government is to ensure that the Bahamian public is able to obtain quality cable programming in English.
"It is my understanding that this is why the government agreed to a compromise with the U.S. government," Minister Gibson said. "Under this compromise, The Bahamas agreed to narrow the scope of the compulsory license provided for in the Copyright Act and to begin consultations with U.S. copyright owners on increased remuneration for the compulsory licensing and to amend its royalty rate structure."
The U.S. government, meanwhile, undertook to encourage U.S. copyright owners to enter into good faith negotiations with Cable Bahamas to provide voluntary licensing on commercial terms.
"It is also likely that the former government considered the investment of the numerous Bahamians and pension funds in the only licensed cable provider," she noted.