Commercial chambers unite in support of photocopying veto

Four business chambers called on legislators to uphold President Laura Chinchilla’s veto of a revised copyright law.

Students and photocopiers have been some of the most zealous proponents of the bill because they say it would allow greater freedom for copying textbooks for academic purposes.

However, the directors of the chambers said that academic copying is not what concerns them. They fear a particular amendment in the bill that takes away prison sentences as punishment for copying books, movies and music for resale.

“Our big issue was with eliminating jail time,” said Catherine Reuben, executive director of the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce. “We support the academic exception.”

“The student movement is saying that they want the protection of academic exception, and what we are saying is that already exists and that is already protected in current Costa Rican legislation.”

However, a student movement called Fotocopiando para Estudiar announced last week that it would hold a march in defense of the bill today. The march will start at 10 a.m. at the University of Costa Rica in San Pedro and go to the Asamblea Legislativa building.

The chambers urging legislators to sustain the veto of the bill were the Cámara Costarricense del Libro, the Cámara de Tecnologías de Información y Comunicación, the Asociación de Profesionales en Propiedad Intelectual de Costa Rica and the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce.

This bill, Reform of several articles of the law on procedures for enforcement of intellectual property rights, passed through two votes in the Asamblea Legislativa with overwhelming support and was sent to Ms. Chinchilla for approval in July.

However, under pressure from the chamber of information technology and the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce, Ms. Chinchilla vetoed the bill Sept. 25.
Enacting stiffer copyright infringement penalties is something that Costa Rica agreed to when it became part of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Even though these revisions to Costa Rica’s intellectual property protections meet the standards of the agreement, enforcement of the regulations already in place is rare compared to the United States.

It is common to see vendors along Avenida Central openly selling pirated music and movies in front of police. Additionally, Costa Rica does little to restrict access to Web sites that allow people to download copyrighted content.

As for students copying textbooks, Ms. Reuben explained that short of copying an entire book, the existing law already allows students and professors to copy any part of a literary text that they require as long as it is for academic use. However, photocopiers worry that they will be prosecuted for fulfilling the requests of students and professors.

She said that the chambers have no complaints with this academic exception. Their only complaint is that removing prison sentences for violating intellectual property makes it even more difficult to control organized piracy, or groups that sell large amounts of copies.

“It’s not that anything you do you go to jail,” said Ms. Reuben. “If it’s a very small infringement in monetary numbers, then you may just have to pay a fine, you won’t go to jail.”

Current law gives jail sentences from one to six years for copyright infringement. Members of the chambers said that these are necessary, because organized crime can factor fines into their overhead costs.

A spokesperson at the chamber explained that the vetoed bill must be published in La Gaceta, before it returns to the legislative assembly. In the assembly it will first go to the commission on legal affairs and then to the general assembly. Two-thirds of its members must vote to affirm the bill in order for it to override President Chinchilla’s veto. Although the group has 30 days to complete this process, lawmakers can ask for additional 30-day periods indefinitely.

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