By Oala Moi – Monday 9 January 2012 – Port Moresby:

Businesses and individuals in Papua New Guinea that engage in and profit from the piracy of artistic and cultural material will be pursued by the Copyright Task Force comprising a strike team of domestic law enforcement agencies if a current proposal is approved by the Government of Papua New Guinea.

The idea continues to gather momentum. Last November in Port Moresby at the Lamana Hotel, the Director General of Office of Tourism, Arts & Culture (OTAC) hosted a meeting to discuss a draft Terms of Reference (TOR) paper outlining the Copyright Task Force concept. The meeting was attended by representatives from PNG Customs, PNG Censorship Board, Intellectual Office Papua New Guinea (IPOPNG), Department of Prime Minister & NEC (DPM&NEC), Institute of PNG Studies (IPNGS), Chin H Meen (CHM) and copyright owners.

Chair of the stakeholder consultation and OTAC Director General Marianna Ellingson described the gathering as a first for copyright enforcement and implementation in Papua New Guinea and a chance to bolster the country’s copyright law which was in dire need of ‘teeth’.

The Copyright Task Force concept can be seen as an aggressive response to piracy, which threatens to consume the artistic and cultural fabric of this country and negatively impact on our cultural industries. The damage has been economic, psychological and emotional as creators see their work being exploited by others with no benefit going back to them. It has become a worry for the National Government which must act against an illegal activity that impinges on the private property rights of its citizens and the sacred and secret cultural properties of its peoples.

Contemporary arts and culture has not been spared. Already the biggest record company in Papua New Guinea’s record industry, Chin H Meen (CHM) has reported a dramatic loss in music sales between 2009 and 2011 and this has forced it to lay off staff at its cassette factory. At the November meeting, Managing Director Mr. Raymond Chin voiced a personal plea to the National Government to take ownership of the piracy problem or risk joining everyone else to witness the death of the local record industry and contemporary arts and culture. However, CHM’s economic losses might pale in comparison to instances of unmonitored and unreported instances of piracy on artistic and cultural properties. Some have left our shores under questionable circumstances over the years. There may also be instances of unauthorized exploitation that have taken place in other countries. This needs to be investigated.

In another sense, the Copyright Task Force concept is premature. Perhaps the first thing that the government needs to do is to commission a study into the nature and effects of piracy in PNG. Based on study findings, strategies need to be developed; and the Copyright Task Force concept could be one such strategy.

Another strategy could be based around problems faced by the PNG police in the aftermath of a successful raid and arrest. At present, police cannot charge and prosecute common perpetrators of piracy for many reasons. One reason could be that offences under the current copyright law do not expressly provide for a wide range of offences that the scheme of piracy activities offer. Perhaps policymakers should push for the drafting of legislation to categorize copyright offences into either summary or indictable offences so that individuals or businesses that are picked up in a typical police raid can be fined or charged on the spot and prosecuted at the District Court or the National Court in due course and according to the severity of the offence.

The point is that once legislation outlines what is criminal about piracy and attaches specific criminal penalties, then the job of the Copyright Task Force will be easy. But to put together the team and not provide the specific offences is like training a police force and sending them off without an inkling on what specific offences with which to base an arrest on.

Meanwhile, the Lamana Hotel stakeholder consultation failed to finalize the TOR and OTAC will reconvene a meeting next month to try and complete it.