(3rd UPDATE 5:00 P.M.) MANILA, Philippines — In a bold move, a solon from the House of Representatives has filed a bill that aims to penalize acts of online piracy in the Philippines, with fines as hefty as P1 million for convicted offenders.
House Bill No. 6187, also known as the “Anti-Online Piracy Act,” was filed by Buhay Party List Reps. Irwin Tieng and Mariano Michael Velarde in an attempt to protect the intellectual property rights of workers in the creative and entertainment industries.
Tieng lamented the ease of doing piracy online considering the availability of new technology that makes song and movie downloading “relatively fast and free of charge.”
“With the tremendous expansion of the Internet, it has regrettably become a cash-cow for the criminals and organized crime cartels that profit from digital piracy,” Tieng said.
The bill describes as unlawful the act of copying “music recordings or films, in complete or substantially complete form, by any means, including but not limited to uploading, downloading or streaming” in a manner not authorized by the copyright owner.
In the same manner, the bill also penalizes those who will offer online services that promote piracy, as well as the mere “provision of a link or aggregated links to other sites,” according to a copy of the measure obtained by InterAksyon.
Under the proposed measure, those who are found guilty of online piracy will be charged two years in prison and a fine ranging from P50,000 to P150,000 for the first offense; three-year imprisonment and a fine ranging from P150,000 to P300,000 for the second offense; and a 5-year imprisonment with a fine from P300,000 to P1 million for the third offense.
Velarde, meanwhile, said that as a signatory to the WIPO Copyright Treaty, the Philippines must “recognize the right to develop and maintain the protection of the rights of authors in their literary and artistic works in a manner as effective and uniform as possible.
“Regardless of how the infringer sees it, piracy is theft of intellectual property and is no more justifiable than shoplifting,” Tieng added. “The damage done to the entertainment industry and legitimate end users do not outweigh the few advantages that piracy does have.”
Aside from this, Tieng also co-authored two technology-related bills in his short sting in Congress, including the Anti-Camcording Act of 2008 and the Anti-Photo and Video Voyeurism Act of 2009.
The young solon is the nephew of Filipino entertainment magnate Wilson Tieng who owns Solar Corporation, which operates a number of channels on local cable TV.
The two are also co-authors of the recently filed measure that seeks to criminalize phishing, a form of cybercrime that uses deceptive means to force users to divulge sensitive information for their online or credit card accounts.
A ‘draconian’ measure
People advocating the rights of Internet users decried the filing of such a bill, citing the lack of consultations with Internet users — often called netizens — on the issue of online piracy.
Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino said such a bill is unnecessary and can be considered a “big threat” to free speech and expression online, considering how it would virtually make every Filipino netizen a pirate and a criminal.
“Internet legislation should seek to improve access, deepen democratic potential, and discourage draconian regulation,” Palatino said in a text message to InterAksyon.
It will be remembered that Palatino famously denounced the inclusion of online defamation in the recently passed Cybercrime Prevention Act, citing the broad power it gives government to silence critics in various online venues.
Meanwhile, consumer group TXTPower stressed how new law seeking to regulate the Internet shouldn’t thwart the concepts of fair use and creative commons –”concepts that benefit everyone including artists and record companies but especially the public.”
“Netizens should be vigilant about this bill, demand consultations, hold discussions and prevent it from becoming a draconian measure that might adversely affect the Internet as we know it and as we wish it to be,” said Tonyo Cruz, president of TXTPower and an active advocate of Internet rights via email.
Cruz pointed out that such measures only divert the public’s attention away from the fact that the government has yet to enact a Freedom of Information Act, which seeks to establish the free and unregulated flow of information from the government to the people.
“Instead, they are working ceaselessly to limit Internet access and our right to information in the name of fighting online crime, online piracy and cyber bullying,” he added.
Lobbying for the bill
It will be remembered that early this year, InterAksyon reported that recording companies in the Philippines have been lobbying for the passage of an anti-online piracy bill, citing losses incurred due to the rampant availability of MP3 and digital versions of songs and movies.
These groups reportedly include the Philippine Association of the Record Industry (PARI), of which Chuaying is a board director; the Anti-Film Piracy Council; the Motion Picture Association; the Business Software Alliance; and the IP Coalition.
“Without protecting the rights of the composer and record companies, there will be no more music industry,” said Ramon Chuaying, executive vice president at Universal Records and board member of PARI, in an earlier interview.
“Kasi wala nang mag-iinvest eh. Lahat ng mga gingawa mo, pinipirata. So who will be investing in discovering new talent, going to spend for the recording?” he added.
Early this year, it has also been widely reported that Sony closed its music-producing business in the Philippines presumably due to the debilitating effects of online piracy.
Following US footsteps
The Anti-Online Piracy bill in the Philippines comes on the heels of a similar effort in the United States in the form of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which drew violent reactions from various camps not only in the US, but also in other countries.
Under SOPA, access within US territory of sites found to be in violation of the bill will be restricted and their Domain Name Servers (DNS) — basically a website’s home address on the Internet — blocked effectively.
The unclear and vague provisions in the law led many to believe that a mere link to a website in violation of the bill on a legitimate online service will be penalized, which has vast implications on Internet freedom and the basic principle of freedom of expression.
Major Internet companies such as Google, Wikipedia, and Reddit have actively spoken out against the bill and similar measures seeking to limit free speech on the Internet, resulting in a massive online protest in January that saw websites blacked out and content redacted to show the effects of censorship on the Internet.
The bill and its iterations in the US Senate has since been shelved, although authorities in the US remain unrelenting to penalize the unauthorized spreading of copyrighted digital content through other regulatory means.