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'Worst copyright law in history': Panama set to crack down on piracy

Published time: September 28, 2012 02:43
Edited time: September 28, 2012 11:07
AFP Photo / Ed Jones

AFP Photo / Ed Jones

Panama's legislature has approved a draconian file sharing law that gives law enforcements free hand to pursue and punish file sharers directly, and grants officials bonuses based on fines levied.

­Proyecto 510-2012 “On Copyright and Related Rights,” or the 510 Bill, which legal watchdog InfoJustice calls "incredibly unbalanced," was passed in the Panamanian Congress Thursday. It is now awaiting the approval of President Ricardo Martinelli, which could happen in the immediate future.

The bill, which Andres Guadamuz at tech-law blog TechnoLlama called the "worst copyright law in history," was written by Panamanian officials in order to bring the country's Internet regulations into accordance with the US-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement – but overshoots many of the requirements it's meant to fulfill.

For example, it ascribes copyrighted status to temporary electronic files, like those held in a computer's random access memory (commonly known as RAM). According to InfoJustice, the 510 Bill is unique among national Internet laws in that it does not contain provisions for these so-called "transient" and "incidental" files. This means that users who stream paid-for content through services like Netflix or Pandora could be prosecuted and fined as much as $100,000, or $200,000 for repeat offenders, for having copyrighted material on their computers.

It also gives law enforcement officers incentives to punish file sharers – over and over, if they see fit – as the money collected from the fines goes directly to the Panamanian copyright office's bonus pool, with the copyright holder not seeing a dime. “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," the law reads.

However, the file sharer could still be liable to civil action should the copyright holder wish to file for it. And if convicted in either case, file sharers could be forced to pay for the publication of a press release noting that they've been fined for piracy.

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