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Multi-Million Copyright Dispute Nears Resolution


As of Tuesday, January 28, 2014

#By NEIL HARTNELL

#Tribune Business Editor

#nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

#The Bahamas was yesterday on the verge of resolving a second multi-million dollar copyright royalties dispute, a development that will “work to our benefit” on the accession to full World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership.

#Obie Pindling, the Copyright Royalties Tribunal’s chairman, told Tribune Business that an agreement to close the long-running dispute with the Performing Rights Society (PRS) had been agreed “in principle”.

#The PRS represents all music rights holders in the Bahamas, and Mr Pindling said the Tribunal was only awaiting a ‘deed of release’ from its London-based attorneys before it made the necessary compensation payment.

#“All done, all resolved,” Mr Pindling said yesterday, when asked about the status of the PRS dispute. “We had agreed in principle on the settlement in the third quarter last year, but we’ve just gotten the approval to go ahead and make the payment.”

#That approval had come from the Attorney General’s Office, but Mr Pindling declined to reveal the precise dollar amount that will be paid to the PRS and its members from the Bahamas’ Copyright Licensing Fund.

#This was because the Tribunal had yet to receive the ‘deed of release’ from the PRS, the last step in concluding the agreement. It is likely, though, to be a multi-million dollar sum.

#Indicating that he expected no hold-ups at the 11th hour, Mr Pindling added: “Once we receive it [the deed], funds will be exchanged. It’s just a formality. It’s all done.”

#The ‘deed of release’ is intended to release the Tribunal from any further obligations or liabilities to the PRS.

#Bringing the PRS dispute to a satisfactory conclusion will be a timely boost for the Bahamas’ continuing moves to obtain full WTO membership, a process the Government is hoping to complete by year-end.

#Intellectual property rights, and their adequate protection, will be a key issue in discussions between the Bahamas and the WTO Working Group, comprised of this nation’s major trading partners, which will thrash out the terms of this nation’s membership.

#“These are the types of things that work to our advantage, and work to our benefit, in terms of the accession,” Mr Pindling told Tribune Business of the PRS resolution. “It’ll be very highly regarded.”

#He added that the latest agreement marked the second successful dispute resolution achieved by the Tribunal under his chairmanship, with the claim by HBO, the US’ largest pay-TV network, also settled last year.

#“Two outstanding matters have been done in the last 12 months,” Mr Pindling said.

#There is little doubt, though, that the Bahamas’ major trading partners are keeping a keen eye on this nation’s trading regime, and its intellectual property rights safeguards in particular.

#Tribune Business has seen documents showing that the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has been lobbying the US government over the Bahamas’ WTO accession, no doubt hoping it can bring its weight to bear - and use this as leverage - in the PRS situation.

#And the US Trade Representative’s 10th report on the Caribbean Basin Initiative, released on December 31, 2013, noted that while the Bahamas had made progress in dealing with intellectual property rights, concerns remained.

#“Earlier this year, a long-standing dispute between HBO and the Bahamas Copyright Royalty Tribunal was successfully resolved,” the US Trade Representative’s report said.

#“There are pending issues related to copyright enforcement for musical composers, and some concern over the slow processing of royalty payments.”

#This seemingly fails to give the Bahamas the credit it deserves for resolving the PRS dispute, with Mr Pindling saying that a settlement both sides could live was better than resorting to litigation where intellectual property rights were concerned.

#“All I can tell you is that I know the dispute has been outstanding for quite some time, and we’ve been successful in resolving it amicably where both sides are happy,” he told Tribune Business.

#“I don’t know the reason why it’s not happened before, but I am very proud and happy to say it’s been settled.”

#Tribune Business reported in December 2012 that the Bahamas’ Copyright Licensing Fund does not have enough monies to fully compensate intellectual property rights holders, who have made “quite significant”multi-million dollar claims against it.

#The Copyright Royalties Tribunal had been trying to obtain a completed audit of the Fund to determine how much money had been paid into it, and compare this sum to what was expected to have been received.

#It was also seeking to develop a methodology/structure that would regulate how monies were paid out from the Fund, which was set up to compensate rights holders for use of their work in the Bahamas. It would also determine how payments to rights holders were calculated.

#It was this ongoing situation, and the inability to claim against/access these funds, that angered royalty rights holders and the organisations that represent them. The delayed payments have caused much frustration.

#ASCAP raised the issue in numerous US Trade Representative consultations, saying: “The Fund, which the Performing Rights Society (PRS) estimates to be in the amount of approximately $3 million, remains undistributed.

#“However, there has been no confirmation of the amount being held nor any publication of procedures to make claims against it.

#“Frustratingly, PRS continues to seek responses from the chairman of the Copyright Tribunal for updates on progress, without resolution.

#“In his most recent communications, the chairman has asked questions about aspects of the agreement reached between PRS and Cable Bahamas, without providing the reasons for seeking such information,” ASCAP added.

#“At this time there remains no clear date by which the PRS claim to the Copyright Royalty Fund will be settled, nor any clarity as to the amount PRS might receive on behalf of the members and sister societies for whom it also seeks compensation.”


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