Local viewers to lose several cable channels as operators ordered to cease illegal showing of content
Within the next month, Jamaicans can expect to start losing a large number of their favourite cable offerings, as cable service providers have been cited for breaches of United States (US) intellectual property rights, with many not licensed to broadcast several of the channels and programmes viewers have been enjoying for years.
The Gleaner understands that coming out of discussions with US trade representatives, who formed part of US President Barack Obama's April 9 visit to Jamaica, the cable providers will now have to desist from illegally transmitting several channels and programmes.
By the end of May, 19 channels will be removed, followed by significantly more in the second phase of the exercise.
According to sources at two of the leading local cable companies, cable operators were called to a meeting on Monday with government officials and the Broadcasting Commission to discuss the intellectual property rights breaches and the new directives.
"At the meeting, we were told that one of the issues discussed during Obama's visit to Jamaica was protection of intellectual property rights of US companies and Jamaica's breaches of those rights," one source told The Gleaner.
"Coming out of the meeting, we now have to correct those breaches, beginning with removing the channels being illegally transmitted in a two-part exercise - and there are a lot of them. In fact, one cable company was cited for illegally transmitting 63 channels."
The cable companies were given the option to regularise their licensing agreements with the relevant US companies, however, that would not apply to several channels and programming which can only be licensed for airing in the US market.
"Under US FTC (Federal Trade Commission) laws, a lot of programmes and channels are licensed for US viewing only and, therefore, cannot be shown outside of the US, but we have been showing them here in Jamaica."
It was noted that at the recently concluded seventh Summit of the Americas, held in Panama earlier this month and attended by Obama and CARICOM heads of state and government, the protection of intellectual property rights of US businesses was discussed.
Strengthening US-CARICOM trade relations has been an ongoing discourse, and the protection of intellectual property rights of US companies is critical to bolstering those ties.
US content generators have long had an issue with Caribbean cable and television companies illegally transmitting their material.
Over the years, legislation has been put in place and significant changes made by these companies to regularise their licences, including with companies like HBO among other networks. However, the challenges continue.
In March, HBO's corporate vice-president, affiliate sales, Latin America and the Caribbean, Javier Figueras, told The Gleaner that he had been meeting with the Broadcasting Commission for several months on licensing issues in Jamaica.
This is the second time in five years that HBO has moved to protect the airing of its content, claiming copyright infringements. In 2009, the company fought and successfully won a battle against three cable operators who were airing HBO and Cinemax illegally.
Figueras also noted that the Starz, Encore and Showtime channels should not be aired in the Caribbean, as they were meant for the US domestic market only.
According to him, HBO has been losing millions of dollars to pirating.
"The argument that has been used by the cable companies is that the rights owners allow a Latin American feed, stating that if Caribbean countries want to show their content then they have to use that feed," a Gleaner source said.
"However, the content is predominantly Spanish and doesn't necessarily have what viewers in Jamaica and other English speaking countries want. Therefore, regulators tend to go easy on cable providers and have tried to push it as a trade issue that because you are not providing something useful to us, we will take the US feed, and be happy to enter into a licensing agreement once you have worked it out and pay for it," said a source.
The source continued: "No doubt, customers will not be pleased about this move. In fact, each time they lose channels or programmes they are used to getting for free or have to pay extra for, they are upset. The history of cable in Jamaica has spoiled us in being used to getting everything for free. Most Jamaicans don't understand that they were getting those channels illegally. But it can't be business as usual anymore."
The source added: "Cable providers now have to figure out how to give customers the channels and programmes that they want and are used to without breaching intellectual property rights."
Another media source said this move comes as no surprise, and that it was in fact inevitable.
"In my opinion, the US has now woken up to the fact that this is happening on a wide scale," he said.
"They have now fully realised the impact in this region that they were not aware of before. And therefore, they are now asserting their rights as it relates to these channels."
He added: "In fact, towards the end of last year, a US trade representative came to Jamaica and met with the MAJ (Media Association of Jamaica) and the Broadcasting Commission to discuss the issue of cable companies broadcasting content for which they do not have rights."
When contacted, Professor Hopeton Dunn, chairman of the Broadcasting Commission, told The Gleaner yesterday that he could neither confirm nor deny the report ahead of a press conference scheduled for this morning at the Commission's New Kingston office. The conference is expected to deal with the directives to be issued to cable operators for the removal of unlicensed cable channels.
Jamaica currently has approximately 49 cable-television or subscriber-television providers. Under the Copyright Act 1995, cable operators must obtain permission or licences for all channels and programmes they transmit.