Have the chickens arrived?

First Published: 2003-02-23

In recent months it appears as if all hell has broken loose from international quarters. If the US Ambassador is not trying to bring us in line it is the International Intellectual Property Alliance urging the US Trade Representative to name us to their “Priority Watch List” because the country is not living up to its commitment letter of November 2000 with the US.

The issue is our apparent disregard for Intellectual Property Rights.

Disregard for agreements

Apparently, the Bahamas has a reputation internationally of signing on to agreements and returning home to the cheering crowds only to pretend that they never even went to the signing. Successive governments are guilty of signing agreements and doing nothing to implement the necessary changes, either legislative or simply enforcing the law.

Adding insult to injury

Video stores are a perfect example of government’s duplicitous standards.

At the end of 2000 there were numerous video stores in the Bahamas renting movies that were pirated off satellite and/or the video store owner(s) bought the originals, made copies and subsequently rented them to their clients.

This was a vibrant business sector for many years. However, the owners, producers and actors of the films realised this pirating of their property was, and is continuing to cause them to lose royalties due to them. Pressure to stop the pirating of copyrighted material was brought to bear through diplomatic channels, and a new law was passed to much fanfare in the House of Assembly. Many video store owners went out of business at the time to comply.

Despite the new law, video stores remain open. As one of the store owners commented at the time: “Man I don’t worry about that. I know the law won’t be enforced any way.”

The indiscriminate pirating of programmes using DSSL satellite systems and the market for music that has been downloaded from unauthorised web sites for resale, combined with the video store violations seems a bit much for the international community to ignore.

Law abiding citizens are wondering why one branch of government (Parliament) outlaws copyright infringement and another branch (business license) grants licenses to the video stores that continue with this practice.

Who owns what and for how long?

The March 2003 issue of Reason Magazine http://www.reason.org/ offers an article by Douglas Clement titled Creation Myths – Does innovation require intellectual property rights? Asking questions like how an economy should promote innovation, if patents and copyrights nurture or stifle innovation and if things have gone too far in protecting intellectual property, some interesting answers emerge.

Full circle

As can be seen, the country has come full circle and is once again receiving international pressure to live up to the commitments made regarding intellectual property.

The Bahama Journal (Thursday, February 20, 2003) reports that the mother of a Parliamentarian voted in the MICAL constituency when she was not qualified to do so, and The Tribune (Friday, February 21, 2003) reports that a former M.P. his wife and daughter did the same. Is there any wonder Bahamian society cheerfully ignores the law and ethical norms?

In a nutshell, the chickens have come home to roost. The question is does the government have the political will to enforce its own laws? It is doubtful, but work has to begin somewhere to ensure the country understands the rule-of law and the difference between right and wrong.

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