to the Digital Economy Act
to the DMCA
, there's no shortage of bad legislation built to serve various copyright-driven industries. But just when you thought you'd seen the very edge of how far legislators were willing to go, someone comes along and tops it.
Technollama brings news that Panama is attempting to raise/lower the "bad legislation" bar (not sure which direction the bar would actually be traveling...) with its Proyecto 510-2012 bill, dealing with copyright and related rights
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.
It's exactly what it looks like: the Panamanian copyright office is being given the power to chase down filesharers and fine them up to $100,000 PAB ($100,000 USD). In addition, the "without prejudice" portion means that filesharers can still be pursued by rights holders, even if the government has already levied a fine.
The bill goes even further than this astounding bit of rent-seeking:
[T]he 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.
So, you have a government entity pursuing citizens for copyright infringement (a civil matter, or so it used to be...), an act which opens them up to further civil action from the rightsholders. With this kind of enforcement, the Panamanian creative industries should be rolling in extracted filesharer dough. Or so you would think, if this bit of wording wasn't present in the bill:
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.
That's right, none of it goes back to the rightsholders. These fines get fed right back into the system that levied them. Not even back into the government in general, but directly back to the DGDA. Wow. How could that possibly be abused?
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.
Well, that's sounds like all the fun of copyright trolls combined with the "answer to no one" power of the government all rolled up into big ball of perverse incentives. I suppose the government will turn these filesharers over to the rightsholders once it's drained them of money to toy with the drained corpse through civil proceedings.
Meanwhile, the industries seeking this sort of protection will find that no one has any money left to purchase their products, much less pay off another set of hefty fees. While this may provide the rightsholders with some sort of second-hand vindictive high, it's hard to see how this betters their financial situation in the least.
Technollama calls the legislation "toxic." It is. And more than that, it's completely perverse in every sense of the word. It hooks an agency up to an IV full of money and trusts it not to repeatedly press the "dispense" button. Sure, it may cut down on infringement, but once a government agency is hooked on steady income, it usually comes up with new (and worse) ways to keep the buzz going. The dollar amount of the fines will be ratcheted up and the definition of "infringing activity" will become broader, perhaps encompassing such maximalist wet dreams as embedded video
. It's ugly, any way you slice it.