March 21, 2005
The Bahamas is under attack from a powerful U.S.-based anti-copyright coalition, which has mounted an intense lobby, aimed at preventing this country from getting off a watch list for violation of intellectual property.
The International Intellectual Property Alliance says in a new report that copyright legislation in The Bahamas is poor.
The IIPA is a private sector coalition formed in 1984 to represent the U.S. copyright-based industries in bilateral and multilateral efforts to improve international protection of copyrighted materials.
The Bahamas could face sanctions from the U.S. government if this lobby is successful.
This could mean withdrawal from The Bahamas of the benefits of the Caribbean Basin Initiative, which allows a wide range of products grown and manufactured in the English-speaking Caribbean duty free entry to the U.S market.
“Little or nothing is currently being done to provide effective enforcement against the spread of physical goods piracy,” the IIPA says.
“We are not aware of any police actions that serve as real deterrents against the commercial sale of pirate goods. The lack of adequate legislation and enforcement discourages potential local and international investments and threatens the growth of a local music industry.”
Just last week, Bahamian police announced a national effort intended to target pirate goods, including DVD’s and CD’s.
The IIPA also says that The Bahamas has the potential to be a successful market for the legitimate recorded music industry due to high levels of tourism and per capita income, and adds that the legitimate industry is also very interested in the exploitation of local and international repertoire in public locations, including cruise ships, and by broadcasters.
On February 18, 2000, the Motion Picture Association and the Television Association of Programmers filed a special petition that highlighted the fact that the Government of The Bahamas had implemented a compulsory license, which they claimed violated international copyrights norms.
As a consequence, the Government of The United States entered into negotiations with the Government of The Bahamas. Those negotiations resulted in an exchange of letters dated October 26 and November 9, 2000 constituting an agreement between the two parties.
Under that agreement, The Bahamas committed to conform its cable compulsory license to international norms.
The compulsory license allowed Bahamian cable operators – in this case Cable Bahamas – to retransmit premium cable television programming in the absence of agreements with those cable companies.
Cable Bahamas had argued that the cable operators refused to enter into agreements with them to transmit certain English language programme because The Bahamas was viewed as being a part of the Latin American market.
“Even though more than four years have now passed, The Bahamas still has not met its commitments under that agreement,” the coalition claimed, referring to the one between The Bahamas and the United States.
But Minister of Financial Services and Investments Allyson Maynard-Gibson, who has responsibility for copyright issues, said this is inaccurate.
“The Government of The Bahamas has honoured a commitment made by the previous administration to curtail the compulsory licensing regime,” she said in an interview with The Bahama Journal.
“Both houses of parliament have passed that amendment to the Copyright Act. Submissions made this year to the [United States Trade Representative] by the Government are that The Bahamas should be downgraded because its commitment has been honoured.
“The Bahamas also points out that we hope that the USTR would be able to facilitate our effort to cause the USTR and the other specific parties, the IIPA and the Motion Pictures Association of America to honour its side of the agreement by causing the cable service providers to have premium service provided to The Bahamas.”
In its annual trade report released this month, the USTR noted that The Bahamas remains on its priority watch list for inadequate protection of intellectual property rights.
But as indicated by Minister Gibson, government officials expect that the country will be downgraded when the list is revised this year.
“You would recall that the previous administration exchanged a letter with the USTR that we would curtail our compulsory licensing regime and they would encourage the service providers to cause premium service to be provided to cable providers in The Bahamas,” she said.
“We, The Bahamas, have honoured our side of the bargain. The United States has not yet honoured its side of the bargain and we are looking forward to them honouring their side of the bargain.”