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February 26 2014

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February 13 2014

Ecuador to Implement Charges for Private Copying Levy

Image from Shutterstock. Copyright: S_L

Image from Shutterstock. Copyright: S_L

UPDATE: Since the original publication of this article in Spanish, there have been no significant changes to the information reported, except that the list of products to be taxed by the Levy was publicized on Facebook [es] by the association Usuarios Digitales (Digital Users). 

[All links lead to Spanish language pages, unless otherwise noted.]

A proposal put forward by the Ecuadorian Institute of Intellectual Property (IEPI) would impose an additional tax of 4%-10% on the importation of all music and video players, such as cell phones, personal computers, and tablets, as well as storage devices (CDs, DVDs, etc).

Faced with rumors and varying opinions about the proposal, known as Compensated Remuneration for Private Copying (RCCP), or private copying levy, the IEPI released a statement on December 10th explaining that the proposed measure is not a tax and that it falls under the provision of the current Ecuadorian Intellectual Property Law. The statement emphasizes that the current law already establishes the RCCP in its articles 105 to 108, so the project they are working on has to do with the implementation of the RCCP, as well as the distribution of the compensation that is collected. The IEPI added:

Se desinforma cuando se afirma que existe un impuesto a descargas, o un cargo tributario dirigido al Servicio de Rentas Internas, al Servicio de Aduanas o directamente al IEPI por cada descarga que se realiza. Eso es falso y contiene una intencionalidad deliberada para confundir a los usuarios.

It is mistaken to claim that there exists a tax on downloads or a fiscal tax going to the Internal Revenue Service, Customs Service, or directly to the IEPI for each download that takes place. This is false and is intended to deliberately confuse users.

Roberto Aspiazu, executive director of the Ecuador Business Council and the Ecuadorian Telecommunications Association (ASETEL), is one of those who has made clear his rejection of the measure, saying that it is only a different name for a tax of 4% for cell phones and other devices.

In an interview with local media on the subject, Aspiazu criticized the contradictions of the Ecuadorian government: “We will end up with a 24% tax. Brazil, which produces electronics, has a 16% tax, but that is in order to protect its industry. We, who have no industry, are raising the tax to 24% and then claiming that we want public policy that facilitates access to mobile Internet.”

JJ Velasco, writing for ALT1040, compares this measure to similar laws in Mexico and Spain (the Sinde Law [en]), and explains that it is not a tool of dissuasion, but rather a collections process whose original model dates back to around 2007. This model assumes that everyone is pirating and therefore increases the cost of devices that can be used for such activity. Velasco continues:

En estos años el escenario ha cambiado mucho y la oferta de contenidos legales es enorme y sigue estando a buen precio. Spotify sigue su expansión por Latinoamérica (acaba de aterrizar en Chile y Colombia), Google ofrece música a través de Google Play, Apple también ofrece música a través de iTunes y, gracias a Netflix, también podemos encontrar películas y series en streaming legal; con tanta oferta multidispositivo ¿en serio van a imponer un canon a los dispositivos? El Gobierno defiende la medida porque supone una fuente de financiación para los artistas ecuatorianos pero, realmente, tiene un impacto directo sobre el usuario final.

In these years, the situation has changed significantly: the availability of legal content is enormous and continues to be affordable. Spotify is continuing its expansion in Latin America (it just made its debut in Chile and Colombia), Google offers music via Google Play, Apple also offers music through iTunes, and, thanks to Netflix, we can also legally stream movies and TV shows. With so many multi-device options, are they really going to impose a levy on these devices? The government defends the measure because it would be a source of funding for Ecuadorian artists but, in reality, it has a direct impact on the end-user.

On the blog Derecho en Bicicleta, the anonymous author lists several reasons that s/he believes justify his/her opposition to this project: first, it is unconstitutional, and second, it contradicts the concept of the social knowledge economy, which was defended by the President of Ecuador himself. Regarding the unconstitutionality of the project, the blogger argues that it violates Article 287 of the Ecuadorian constitution, explaining:

La remuneración por copia privada es una tasa creada en una ley de 1998, que establece la obligación de que un particular (el importador o fabricante) pague a otro particular (la sociedad recaudadora creada por los artistas) por algo que no han acordado mutuamente: es una imposición. Puede comprenderse que el Estado imponga la obligación de pagar impuestos, pero es irracional que una ley obligue a un privado pagar un valor a otro privado, sin que haya mutuo consentimiento. Por esto es clave enfatizar que quien recibe el canon digital no es una entidad pública: no es el Estado, es un particular. Es esto lo que lo hace (a mi juicio) inconstitucional.

The private copying levy is a tax created in a law from 1998, which establishes the obligation of one party (the importer or manufacturer) to pay another party (the collections society created by the artists) for something that has not been mutually agreed upon: it is an imposition. It is feasible for the State to impose an obligation to pay taxes, but it is irrational for a law to require a private entity to pay a given amount to another private entity without mutual consent. For this reason, it is important to emphasize that the recipient of the private copying levy is not a public entity: it is not the State, but a private entity. This is what makes the levy, in my opinion, unconstitutional.

Various discussions on the topic can be found on Twitter under the tags: #Impuestospordescargas (Taxes on downloads), #pagoSINreproducir (I pay WITHOUT copying), and #noalcanon (no to the levy). Below are several highlights from the Twitter debate.

Efrén Guerrero speaks out against benefiting a dubious group of Ecuadorian artists: 

Everyone should earn their living through their work. Not by being compensated for not being able to compete in the market.

Diego Cevallos put together a Storify with tweets on the subject: 

Levy for “Compensated Remuneration for Private Copying”

Carlos Correa of Creative Commons Ecuador shares a video conference with Santiago Cevallos, the National Director of Copyright and Derivative Rights of the IEPI:

video conference with Santiago Cevallos of IEPI.

Mauricio Becerra argues that the anti-pirating measures should be focused elsewhere: 

They're inventing this to avoid dealing with who knows who… they're so afraid of going up against the real pirates.

Finally, Guillermex of the blog The Wild Children suggests that we should keep in mind the old saying “Innocent until proven guilty,” and then reflects:

Mientras el resto del mundo se vuelve loco por compartir y poner la música disponible y al alcance de todos; mientras en otras regiones, los computadores, laptops, tablets y todo aparato tecnológico se liberan de aranceles; mientras en todo el planeta tierra, los artistas suben a internet su material para que sea escuchado grateche; aquí, en el país de la revolución, hacemos todo mal y todo al revés.

While the rest of the world goes crazy sharing and making music available and accessible to everyone; while in other regions, computers, laptops, tablets, and all sorts of technology become free from taxes; while all over planet Earth artists are uploading their material to the internet to be listened to for free; here, in the country of the revolution, we are doing everything wrong and backwards.

For the time being, the result of this proposal is that internet users are putting forward a comprehensive discussion about the copyright model and casting doubt upon the government's proposal regarding digital media and the society of knowledge. Let's wait and see how the discussion develops.

February 12 2014

Drug Bust Holds Lessons for Caribbean Distribution Chains

Of the recent drug bust originating out of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados Underground says:

The fundamentals are clear. Supply chain security in the Caribbean is weak, and known local and regional solutions need to be applied and strengthened.

China: Cleaning Up The Yellow

In Chinese language, the color yellow also signifies sex and pornography. The crackdown of sex industry and pornographic materials is termed as “cleaning-up the yellow”. Political cartoonist @remonwangxt's latest work is about the “Cleaning-up yellow” campaign in China.

February 09 2014

Campaign to Demand Saudi Nationality Gender Equality

A campaign aimed at enabling the children of Saudi women to be granted the Saudi nationality is currently underway.

The Campaign to Amend Article 7 of the Nationality Act demands granting Saudi nationality to children whose mother is Saudi and whose father is not. Currently, only children whose father is Saudi are granted the nationality. This means that the children of Saudi mothers, whose fathers are of another nationality, cannot benefit from public education and health coverage, among other perks.

The campaign website shares this example [ar]:

سيف بن يزن، كغيره الكثير، ابن مواطنة سعودية من أب غير سعودي. لا يعرف وطناً غير المملكة العربية السعودية. حصل على الثانوية العامة بمعدل 98٪. بعد ذلك حاول ان يدرس الطب ولكن مُنع من تحقيق هذا الحلم بحجة أنه “أجنبي” لذلك اضطُر إلى أن يكمل تعليمه في احدى التخصصات الأخرى المتاحة للأجانب “في نظر النظام” في ذلك الوقت. فالتحق بكلية الحقوق “القانون” بجامعة الملك عبدالعزيز. وفي عام 2010 تخرج من جامعة الملك عبدالعزيز مع مرتبة الشرف بمعدل 4.69 من 5. ثم قرر مواصلة تعليمه في الخارج. لكن مرة أخرى، برنامج الابتعاث لم يقبل ضمه نظراً لأنه من “الأجانب”. إيماناً بأهمية العلم، قرر والده أن يرسله على حسابه الخاص للدراسة، وبذلك اقتطع والده من دخل العائلة وتحملت العائلة مشقة مالية مُرهِقة. حصل على ماجستير القانون التجاري الدولي من جامعة بوسطن ثم حصل على قبول بجامعة هارفرد وألتحق بها. الآن يعيش الحلم واقعاً بدراسة ماجستير القانون في جامعة هارفرد.

Saif bin Yazen is, like many others, the son of a Saudi mother and a non-Saudi father. He does not know any home but the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He graduated from high school with an overall 98 percentage. He tried to study medicine but he was prohibited from that dream for being a “foreigner” and because of that, he had to join a different field to complete his education in one of the specialties that are open to foreigners (according to the law then). He joined the Rights College at King Abdulaziz University and in 2010 he graduated with an honours degree with a 4.69 out of 5 GPA. He decided to complete his education abroad, but, again, the Scholarship Program did not accept him because he was a “foreigner”. Since his father believed in the importance of education, he decided to pay his son's expenses, which the family had to bear with very expensive costs. He got the Masters degree in International Commercial Law from Boston University and he was accepted to and joined Harvard.

Article 7 states the following:

يكون سعوديا من ولد داخل المملكة العربية السعودية أو خارجها لأب سعودي، أو لأم سعودية وأب مجهول الجنسية أو لا جنسية له أو ولد داخل المملكة لأبوين مجهولين، ويعتبر اللقيط في المملكة مولودا فيها ما لم يثبت العكس.

Those who were born inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or outside it are considered Saudis if their father is Saudi or their mother is Saudi and their father is of an unknown nationality or with no nationality or was born for unknown parents. Illegitimate children are considered born in the Kingdom unless proven otherwise.

The campaign has launched a petition and called people to sign it.

Twitter user @Delilah_SD commented:

We grant [the Saudi] nationality to football players and singers, and those who do not belong and who have never done anything for the nation, and the children of a Saudi mother are not grated the nationality!

Abdull Yazan adds:

Women are half of society. They are the ones who give birth to and bring up the other half.

And Jameel concludes:

Isn't it a shame when a Saudi woman has to go to the Immigration department to get a visit permit for her own son?

February 08 2014

Station's Rights to Sochi Games Leaves Caribbean Viewers in the Dark

Six Caribbean teams are competing in this year's winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia: Bermudathe Cayman Islands, Dominica, Jamaica, the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands. Naturally, sports fans throughout the region want to watch – but there's a problem. SportsMax, a premium subscription-based television station, has been awarded exclusive rights to the 2014 Sochi games in the Caribbean. “Inside The Games” reported on the details:

The deal, announced between the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and  International Media Content Ltd (IMC), the parent company of SportsMax, is applicable for 21 nations and territories ranging from Anguilla to Trinidad and Tobago.

It consists of exclusive English language broadcast rights on all media platforms, with live coverage to be provided on both SportsMax and SportsMax2 for the duration of the Games when they get underway in Sochi.

Columbus Communications, owners of the Flow cable network which operates in several Caribbean territories, took to its social media outlets to address the issue:

Flow Fans, please be advised that SportsMax holds the exclusive broadcast rights to the '2014 Winter Olympics’ in the Caribbean for the period February 7th to 23rd 2014. Olympic programming will be broadcast mainly on Sportsmax 1 with some content on Sportsmax 2. Consequently, we are legally required to blackout the coverage of the games on all channels including but not limited to NBC & CBC who will be carrying portions of the SOCHI games. During the blackout periods the affected channels will carry a notice to our customers advising of the blackout requirement and directing you to SportsMax. 

We understand the inconvenience that this issue poses and are aware and acknowledge that blocked content is disruptive for our viewers, however we MUST comply. Once the broadcast rights to air a program is (sic) purchased we are obligated to block out that program (when requested) as both a legal and regulatory (TATT) obligation. Failing to comply could lead to legal actions against Columbus Communications Trinidad Limited. This arrangement is not unique to Trinidad, all video service providers worldwide will be required to take similar action based on the Network which has purchased the rights in that country. 

Irate Jamaicans posted on Flow Jamaica's Facebook page about having to pay to watch their team parading in the opening ceremony and competing in the games. Diego Armando Thomas had this to say

So because i don't have the #SportsMax package on #Flow I am not allowed to watch the #Olympics? This is BULL. You block the channels am paying for? Really!!!

Another viewer, David Valentine, urged Jamaicans to take action by writing to the Jamaican Broadcast Commission:

This is a sheg up situation, taking advantage of the people who no have no options. The blasted Olympics should not be held ransom, by forcing people to pay for some purely subscriber based channel. Imagine if Showtime did have the exclusive rights to the Olympics? Something wrong with this blow wow picture man. Them really corrupted. PEOPLE WRITE TO THE BROADCAST COMMISION!!

Others expressed their disgust on Twitter:

One viewer who subscribed to the SportsMax service was dissatisfied with the coverage of the opening ceremony:

Competitor cable provider Lime has been offering viewers in some of the countries in which it operates, a free trial of SportsMax for the duration of the games:

The issue of broadcast rights for local television stations versus those of the cable company was discussed in this post:

Television programmes generate advertising revenue for broadcasters such as TV6 and CNC3. While customers pay cable providers for premium channels, it should be noted that  the programmes which occupy the schedules on these channels are governed by separate contracts.

While SportsMax is indigenous to the region, it is a pay-per-view service, and some netizens have complained about the failure of free-to-air broadcasters to obtain rights to the games. Yvon Tripper commented on an article in the Bermuda Royal Gazette:

IOC simply gives rights to the highest bidder. Nothing is stopping a Bermuda-based broadcaster from asking the IOC for Bermuda-only rights, and then just using the American and Canadian feeds. If no one in Bermuda pays for broadcast rights for the island's Olympic coverage rights, then there's no point in complaining when someone else does. The IOC would be happy to exclude Bermuda from the Caribbean region if it mean that they got more money — it's all about the Redbirds, baby.

While Trinidad and Tobago is not competing in the games, none of the terrestrial broadcasters have purchased rights to the games, forcing interested viewers to subscribe to SportsMax for live coverage. Annoyed cable subscribers vented their feelings on Twitter:

The Sochi Games run until February 23, 2014.

February 07 2014

Caribbean Numbers Involved in Telephone Phishing Scam

If you see a missed call originating in the Caribbean from someone you don't know, it is likely that you have been targeted by perpetrators of the ‘one-ring phone scam’. While the numbers used in these phishing activities can originate anywhere in the world, Slate reports that Caribbean numbers have been noticed with alarming frequency over the past few weeks:

The Better Business Bureau lists calls from Antigua and Barbuda (268), the Dominican Republic (809), Jamaica (876), the British Virgin Islands (284), and Grenada (473) as potential scam threats. People who do call back could be charged something like $30 for the international call, depending on the carrier, and see fraudulent service fees showing up on their phone bills. This process of ‘cramming,’ when third-party scammers sneak bogus charges onto legitimate phone bills, is ever on the rise, according to the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission.

Affected persons around the world took to Twitter to report the issue:

Occurrences of these calls have also been reported in Trinidad and Tobago on Facebook. Shelley-anne L Thompson weighed in on the discussion:

I get that like once a month and have never called. come on, people you know this scam! dont let your curiosity trap you.

Maisha Hyman had this to say:

I'm glad to see this! I've recently had hang up calls from Antigua and Grenada! Like wtf?!

Others were more concerned about the impact of the scam on the region. Michael Nahous of Trinidad and Tobago was not amused:

How can they charge you $30.00 without some contract arrangement with the telephone carrier….its only digicel, cable wireless and the local telephone companies in these islands…if they know its a scam why cant they just disconnect the number.

People affected by the scam are being urged to alert their service providers if they spot any unusual charges on their phone bills.

February 06 2014

Kazakh Bloggers: Some Dine With Mayor, Some Get Jail Terms

alm

Almaty Mayor and selected Kazakh bloggers, February 5, 2014. Image by @evlaman, used with permission.

A court in Kazakhstan has sentenced three bloggers to 10 days in jail on “minor hooliganism” charges. Nurali Aitelenov, Rinat Kibraev, and Dmitry Shchyolokov were detained by police outside a restaurant in Almaty, where the city's mayor, Akhmetzhan Esimov, was meeting with selected bloggers on February 5. The three young men were prevented from entering the restaurant because they had not been invited to the meeting. They were also not allowed to film the restaurant. Police detained the three bloggers after they unfolded posters saying ”Esimov Talks To Tamed Bloggers Only” and “Esimov! Come Out”.

‘Corrupt bloggers’

The meeting with the mayor has split the Kazakh blogger community. Those who had not received an invitation to the event accused the invited bloggers of being “venal” or “corrupt”. One of the detained individuals, Aitelenov, tweeted one day before the meeting:

Tomorrow at #Esimov's lunch… [Text under Esimov's photo reads, "Dear corrupt bloggers"].

Shortly before his detention, Aitelenov tweeted this image:

Rally against corrupt bloggers

Several social media users found it strange that the bloggers who had frequently criticized the Almaty mayor were dining with him at one of the city's most expensive restaurants, apparently at his expense.

I hope at least some of the bloggers attending a lunch meeting with Esimov have taken out their wallets and paid for their food?

Some netizens interpreted the meeting as a deliberate tactic by the mayor to divide the blogger community and improve his own image.

Brilliant move by the [mayor]: If bloggers don't come to the meeting, they don't want to hold a conversation. If they do come, they are corrupt.

Blogger Ernar Prediktor suggests [ru] that the Kazakh public views bloggers as “just and independent”. He argues that the meeting with “not the most prominent or popular” bloggers was part of the Almaty mayor's public relations campaign:

[P]ебята, вас просто поюзали. Использовали имидж блогера для достижения своих целей. Теперь на каждом углу будут говорить (писать), что аким такой распрекрасный и демократичный, без проблем встречается с представителями алматинцев, решает совместно проблемы и пр..

You have been used, guys. They have used the blogger's public image for their own benefit. Now they will claim everywhere that the mayor is good and democratic, that he easily meets with the representatives of the residents of Almaty and solves problems jointly with them, etc.

‘Useful’ meeting

But those who attended the meeting and some of their followers on social media sites thought the event was useful.

Judging by the bloggers’ meeting with Esimov, he has made a good impression and evoked their empathy.

Following the meeting, bloggers have also responded to criticisms.

If someone thinks that an opportunity to have at least some kind of a civilized conversation and discuss problems is a matter of who pays the bill at the restaurant, unfollow [me].

Only recently they all complained that they could not get hold of #Esimov; now those who are not at a meeting with him curse those who are there. Typical #Kazakhs.

Bloggers Samson keeps a record of online discussion related to the Almaty mayor's meeting with bloggers here [ru].

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