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Bahamas Restores Copyright Protection For US Pay Television

by Glen Shapiro,, New York

05 October 2009

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk has welcomed steps by the government of the Bahamas toward fulfilling its commitment to restore copyright protection for US pay television content in line with a Letter of Understanding signed with the United States in November 2000.

"Tomorrow, a new law will go into effect in the Bahamas that should provide the legal tools necessary to ensure that legitimate American companies don't have to compete with unauthorized transmissions of their own shows," Kirk commented in a statement issued on September 30. “This is a victory for American businesses and a victory for Caribbean audiences."

"USTR is dedicated to delivering the benefits of trade commitments to US creative industries and their workers," he added. "If properly implemented, this law should help to open a new export market for the programming of American pay television channels and provide a positive example of respect for intellectual property throughout the region."

The government of the Bahamas has recently authorized the entry into force of amendments to its copyright law, passed in 2004 but which it had not previously entered into force.

According to Kirk, the delayed amendments were designed to fulfill a commitment made by the Bahamas in a November 2000 Letter of Understanding with the United States to "make amendments to the Copyright Act and Regulations so as to narrow the scope of its compulsory licensing regime for the reception and transmission of copyrighted works to permit only the compulsory licensing of copyrighted works broadcast free over-the-air."

The Bahamas has moved to tighten its copyright laws at the behest of the US after Cable Bahamas was accused of illegally broadcasting content belonging to US cable television channel HBO and other cable channels, which resulted in an investigation by the US authorities. Whilst Cable Bahamas appears to have paid for television shows belonging to US cable TV companies, it has done so without establishing service agreements to re-broadcast such content and it came under the regulatory microscope in the both the Bahamas and the US last year.

In April, the Office of the US Trade Representative released the 2009 Special 301 report announcing that, among other things, the USTR would review the intellectual property practices of beneficiaries, including the Bahamas, as part of its bi-annual review of the operation of the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act. That review will assess countries' compliance with the preference program's eligibility criteria, which include the extent to which a country prohibits its nationals from broadcasting US copyrighted materials without permission. The review will be concluded no later than December 31, 2009.

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