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This article was published on September 26, 2012

Proposed copyright bill in Panama sets new standard for egregious, broken legislation

Proposed copyright bill in Panama sets new standard for egregious, broken legislation
Alex Wilhelm
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Alex Wilhelm

Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected] Alex Wilhelm is a San Francisco-based writer. You can find Alex on Twitter, and on Facebook. You can reach Alex via email at [email protected]

Update: Moment after posting, TNW found a report [Spanish] indicating that Bill 510 has passed. This is going to be interesting.

Copyright law in the United States leaves much to be desired. However, as the country’s internal wranglings dominate the international discussion of such legal questions, it’s important to keep in mind that a great host of other countries are struggling with the same issues.

Enter Panama.

Bill 510, Proyecto 510-2012, is a proposed piece of legislation sent from the country’s executive branch to its legislative. It’s not a good bill.

It has two key flaws, as pointed out by legal blogger Andres Guadamuz. The translated pieces of legislation are via his post; TNW thanks him strongly for his work. The first flaw is how capricious, expensive, and quick proceedings against supposed copyright infringers can be executed. From the bill:

Without prejudice to the civil and criminal penalties that apply, violations of the provisions of this Act or the Regulations the offender can be sanctioned administratively by the General Copyright Directorate, after a hearing, to a fine of one thousand balboas (B 1,000) to one hundred thousand balboas (B 100,000) according to the seriousness of the offence, and the publication of the relevant resolution at the expense of the offender.

To this end it shall notify the alleged perpetrator, summoning him submit evidence in his defence to within fifteen (15) days. In case of re-offending, which is regarded as being the repetition of an act of the same nature within a period of one (1) year, the fine imposed may be doubled.

In certain cases, the minimum fine of 500 Balboas may be charged. For the curious, the conversion rate of Balboas to US dollars is 1:1. So, the fines listed above can be read in USD and not the local Balboa. Thus, if an offender was fined twice in a year, that person could be hit with a maximum charge of $300,000.

However, quickly re-scan the method by which a person is charged and fined: the government, apart from civil or criminal thoughts, can simply notify an individual, who will then have just over 2 weeks to prepare and submit evidence in their defense. That’s all that’s listed. They tell you that they think you are an infringer, and then you have two weeks to convince them otherwise. As this isn’t a normal proceeding – say, in a civil court – the amount of patience you could expect while trying to explain your innocence would be minimal.

Here’s the kicker: the monies collected from infringing parties do not go to those infringed. In fact, they go right into the pocket of the enforcing party:

The funds accrued by the General Copyright Directorate from the fees for the services it provides and the fines imposed in the exercise of its powers, will be aimed at improving its operational infrastructure and to boost the performance of its officers, complementary to the funds that the State Budget reserves for the operation of the entity[…].

The amounts corresponding to each official, shall not exceed fifty percent (50%) of the total basic salary monthly remuneration.

I’m not exactly sure, but that last bit may indicate that officials could be paid bonuses for effective milking of the Panamanian citizenry through extra-legal extortion.

Our original translator, Andres Guadamuz, has a good take on what this all means:

So the law gives unprecedented powers to impose harsh administrative fines on infringers on top of possible future civil litigation, and the money obtained goes to the entity and the employees that acts as judge and jury on the imposition of those fines. This is an incentive to hunt down and fine everyone, with an added incentive to find re-offenders, as you double your earnings.

If that sounds like a terrible idea, you are right. Say no, Panama.

Top Image Credit: Martin Garrido

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