Panama plans to introduce new copyright laws that are some of the harshest in the world yet - $200,000 fines on top of any damages from civil proceedings, with defendants only given 15 days to mount a defence
Legislation is pending in the Panamanian parliament that will give a government administrative branch the power to unilaterally fine those alleged to have taken part in copyright infringement.
With fines of up to USD $100,000 (and a minimum fine of $1,000), and double for repeat offenders (those who are caught again within a year), critics have already sounded alarms about the potential impact of the new laws.
Panama's General Copyright Directorate will be in charge of handling the fines, and what is surprising for the law, the money received will go directly into the administrative branch's coffers. Normally, fines received go into a general budget and is then redistributed to various departments, but by keeping the funds, the General Copyright Directorate will have even more incentive to rack up the fines, especially since employees of the branch, those that will serve as both the judge and jury, will receive bonuses (not exceeding 50% of their salary) based on their performance in fining offenders.
For those in the crosshairs, they will only be given a 15 day period to mount any sort of defence, a defence that will be heard and adjudicated by the very people that made the original allegations in the first place. Those fined will also have to pay a publication fee to publish their guilt for further public embarrassment.
And worse yet, any action taken by the General Copyright Directorate will not preclude future civil proceedings, meaning those fined up to $200,000 could still be sued by the copyright holders and ordered to pay even more.
In recent times, Panama has been the focus of both the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The MPAA is currently engaged in a lawsuit against file hosting provider Hotfile, a company founder in Panama, while the RIAA last year praised the passage of the US's free trade agreement with Panama, terms of which pressures the Panamanians to introduce harsher copyright laws.