Sep 222012

Photo by James Grimmelmann (CC-By-2.0)

[Reposted from the author’s blog technollama]

In a Rogue’s Gallery of copyright legislation, many efforts deserve mention. The DMCA is surely there, together with Japan’s new copyright law, the Digital Economy Act, and Ley Sinde. But a new Panamanian copyright bill is giving those laws a run for their money.

The excellent project at have directed our attention to a new bill that has been sent to the Panamanian legislature by the executive branch. This is Proyecto 510-2012 (henceforth 510 Bill) for a new copyright and related rights law. At first glance, this looks like your average piece of copyright legislation: rights, exceptions, limitations, terms of protection, provisions on digital rights, etc. What makes the new law completely different to others I have seen is in the enforcement section. Most copyright law relies on the actions of the injured party to initiate legal proceedings in the shape of civil copyright infringement suits; usually there is room for some ex officio actions, such as criminal prosecution, customs seizures and so on and so forth. The 510 Bill gives new powers to an administrative branch of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry called the General Copyright Directorate (Dirección General de Derecho de Autor, henceforth DGDA). Unlike similar copyright administrative offices around the world, the DGDA will have the power to impose fines on infringers without prejudice of further criminal or civil actions. You read correctly, the DGDA will be able to initiate non-judicial actions on its own, or on behest of an injured party, and will be able to impose fines of up to $100,000 PAB (about $98,000 USD $100k USD). I do not know of any other copyright office with so much power. Art 157 reads (translation mine):

“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 case of minor offences particularly, the financial penalty may be reduced to a minimum of five hundred balboas (500.00), without the publication of the resolution at the expense of the offender.
To the extent applicable, it may order any civil action on the merits of the case as a result of any administrative procedure.”

In other words, the DGDA has the power to unilaterally haul any alleged infringer, ask them to mount a defence within 15 days, impose fines of up to $100k USD ($200k for re-offenders), and on top of that this person may still have another civil case against them added to the administrative fine. Adding insult to injury, they also have to pay for the publication of the fine so that everyone knows what a nasty pirate they are.

The above is bad enough, but what really makes this law unique is the fact that the fine does not go to the copyright owner, which is why the administrative action does not preclude future civil proceedings. The money goes to the DGDA and its employees! Art. 153 reads:

“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.

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.

This is what I think will happen if the law passes as it stands. The DGDA will immediately try to monitor all torrent use in Panama, be it legitimate or not, and all people identified with IP addresses will be summoned and summarily fined. After all, the institution and its employees will have a direct financial incentive to assume guilt. Then those same people will be sent again and again, as there will be clear incentive to fine re-offenders.

This is a toxic piece of legislation any way you look at it, and we urge the Panamanian Congress to modify Chapter I of Title XII, or to remove it altogether.

  33 Responses to “Is Panama About to Pass the Worst Copyright Law in History?”

  1. this law is a fucking piece of shit. in other words it’s useless for me to sue for copywrite cause I’m not getting anything out of it! the government refused PIPA and ACTA and other to then come up with this garbage. it sucks.

  2. Some people just want to watch the world burn…

  3. If thinks continues this way I´m gonna run away of this country.

  4. Well, i’m part of the four or five people who made the saddest demonstration against ACTA and PIPA in January this year (the facebook group consisted of at least 70 members) . The fact is that no one actuallly gives a damn about their liberties here, unless off course, the government starts messing with their ability to drink and fuck on a regular basis. Thats really the glue that keeps this nation togheter. Drinking and fucking. Anything else, they don’t care. I’ll just sit back and watch it burn.

  5. This proposal will never pass with the bonus format. Every funcionaro will want performance pay. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of it goes through.

  6. Further evidence is bullshit and has no place in a natural rights philosophy. It is statist protectionism; anti-innovation, and anti-market. I highly recommend the book “Free Culture”, TEDtalk “Law is strangling creativity”, “How Intellectual Property Hampers Capitalism” on youtube, and the movie “Steal This Film part II”.

    The rebellion against IP is not just just kids looking to get free stuff, but a strong intellectual argument grounded in philosophy and history. The reason prohibitions against the sharing of our culture feels wrong is because it is. Information is meant to be shared and it is one of our deepest instincts.

    It is really worth studying, and loudly speaking out against.

  7. Surprise! It already passed Second Reading, it only needs Three to become Law

  8. Could you provide details about the Chapter I of Title XII???

    Thanks in advance.

  9. Even with the protest of Panamanian artist that took place this morning, sadly this project has been approved by the legislature. Now all that is missing for it to become a officially a law is for the President to sign it. According to the government this law was a requirement made by the US government in order to have the Free Trade Agreement between both countries completed.
    The most upsetting part of this is that in Panama people sell counterfeit products in stores and on the streets, but nobody stops to think that the in order for that small business to even have those products for sale somebody must be allowing for them to be imported. Will these big business be targeted? I seriously doubt it, it is after those business men the same people who contribute money to political campaigns. So in the end only the small business that might not even be aware that they are selling counterfeits will pay the consequences.

  10. When the Chinese say copyright, it’s two words, copy, right? So they steal, hacking into US companies for propitiatory information. This isn’t stealing, it’s murder of copyright law. I spent a day at the World Bank Institute reviewing updates to our pen and paper century’s old copyright law.

    Saw excellent video a 17-y-o created of G.W.Bush and Tony Blair lip syncing a famous lounge lizard’s song together. 1,000’s of hours work, never shown outside the World Bank because the song rights were $40,000. Mitt’s now famous $50K dinner, one plate would have played for the song, since owners of copyright wouldn’t cut a break for real artwork.

    Paper copyright centuries out of date for digital milieu.

  11. This sounds like a job for the lawyers in Panama who specialize in private interests and keeping business operations secret.


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