Cable TV piracy in RP 'getting worse'

By Lenie Lectura, Business Mirror

Posted at Feb 23 2009 11:21 PM | Updated as of Feb 24 2009 07:26 AM

The Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (Casbaa) is recommending that the Philippines be included in the priority watchlist of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) because the cable television (TV) piracy in the country has gone worse.

“Casbaa continues to believe that the long history of inaction in the face of blatant public piracy by cable companies warrants serious reconsideration of the Philippines’ status on the Watch List,” said the Hong-Kong based group in its official report submitted to the Office of the USTR last week.

“The USTR’s ‘engagement’ strategy designed to coax improvements out of the Philippines by keeping this country off the Priority Watch List is perilously close to failing. We recommend therefore, that USTR schedule a formal out-of-cycle review four months from now, and if notable progress has not been achieved on outstanding cases, and on legal and institutional reforms that would quickly produce real action against cable pirates, the Priority Watch List status be restored,” said Casbaa.

Figures released by Casbaa and its research partner Standard Chartered Bank said about $95 million was lost to cable TV piracy in the Philippines last year, an increase of 11 percent over the previous year. There has been no change in the cable piracy situation in the Philippines, noted Casbaa. It reported to the USTR the following issues: intellectual property violations remain a widespread problem; no pirate cable company has been sanctioned by the courts or government; judicial cases lodged by US-owned content companies have languished; and unscrupulous cable operators continue to freely steal broadcast signals (mostly US-owned) and resell this to subscribers without making any payments to copyright owners.

To top it all, Casbaa said no aggressive regulatory action has been taken against these violations. In fact, it said, cable company licenses continue to be renewed by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), without regard to whether the company is engaging in signal theft.

“The Philippine government has been unable or unwilling to take action to change this trend. The NTC has solid grounds for revoking the pay-TV operator licenses which it grants to pirate companies, but it has not done so. Instead, every government action is subject to interminable delay and blockage,” said Casbaa.

The group added that the international TV broadcasting industry has so far seen no evidence of material change in the acts, policies and practices of the Philippines which have denied adequate and fair protection of the intellectual-property rights of Casbaa members.

Casbaa member-companies have been doing business in the Philippines for almost 20 years. They have seen a promising commercial environment drastically deteriorate because of unchecked signal piracy.

The group said cases filed against the Maguindanao Skycable firm. The cases stemmed from a series of complaints by TV channel owners that the company pirated their signals and distributed them to customers without authorization and without paying the required copyright licensing fees.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) had reaffirmed its determination finding probable cause for filing charges against Maguindanao Skycable, and ordered the state prosecutor to proceed with charges for copyright violation. But the courts, according to Casbaa, have not yet ordered the defendants arrested to answer the charges. “There seems no reason to believe that any real relief is available under current law through the Philippine judicial system," Casbaa said.