Two chambers ask president to veto change gutting copyright

President Laura Chinchilla is poised to sign a new law that essentially guts copyright protection for artists, authors and manufacturers of music and movie discs.

This is a measure that ostensibly was designed to allow students to photocopy textbooks for academic use. What the revision does is eliminate stiff prison penalties for stealing all copyrighted materials and, instead, imposes a fine.

The measure comes from Frente Amplio, which characterizes copyright as furthering neoliberal philosophy, protection for transnational firms and a step toward monopoly. A supporter of the amendment said that such restrictions limit the free circulation of ideas.

Also opposing the original law and backing the change, which already has been approved by the Asamblea Legislativa, is the local association of photocopying stores. The operators of these stores have said they were concerned that they would be jailed for photocopying school texts.

Photocopying texts is business around universities even though under current law these are punishable acts.

Opposing the amendment are the Cámara de Tecnologías de Información y Comunicación and the Cámara Costarricense Norteamericana de Comercio. In a press release, these organizations said that if Ms. Chinchilla signed the revision the acts of pirating software, multimedia, a painting, an architecture plan or even a book of poetry would no longer be considered the Costa Rican equivalent of a felony but would be sanctioned with a fine from one to 500 base salaries.

Intellectual property pirates would consider such a fine as just the cost of doing business, said the two groups.

They are calling on the president to veto the measure.

The new copyright provisions were consistent with the Free Trade Treaty between the United States and Central America. The leftist Frente Amplio strongly opposed the free trade treaty.

The treaty leaves the decision up to each country on how to punish copyright infringement, but the nations that signed the
treaty agreed to enact “remedies that include sentences of imprisonment or monetary fines, or both, sufficient to provide a deterrent to future acts of infringement.”

The current law provides from one to six years in prison for copyright infringement.

The two chambers of commerce said that their representatives met with the photocopying organization last week and agreed that they could accept photocopying for educational purposes.

The measure that is on the desk of Ms. Chinchilla specifically exempts photocopying for educational purposes, but an additional paragraph removed the prison penalty for all acts of piracy. The law that is about to be changed is No. 8039 that was passed in October 2000, and the disputed amendment is No. 17.342.

The measure originated with José Merino del Río, who represented Frente Amplio in the previous legislative session. The amendment received overwhelming support in the legislature when it was brought to a vote for the required two times.

Former president Óscar Arias Sánchez reduced copyright protection for music when he signed a decree changing Costa Rica’s acceptance of international treaties on copyrighted music.

The International Intellectual Property Alliance issued a blistering report on copyright protection in Costa Rica. Said the organization:

“Both physical and digital piracy in Costa Rica have caused such major losses that many in the content industries have been forced to leave the market. For example, only two international record companies still conduct operations through offices and staff employed in the country. Unfortunately, one of them has had to significantly reduce operations in 2011. Further cutbacks could be necessary in 2012. Local independent producers have practically disappeared because of the lack of real opportunities to sell recorded music profitably.”

The U.S.-based alliance represents associations that encompass more than 1,900 producers of software, movies, television programs and even computer games.

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