For the first time ever, the United States government last
week suspended the trade benefits of a Latin American country for its continued violations
of intellectual-property rights. The crackdown is expected to help tackle satellite-signal
theft across the region.
U.S. officials removed the duty-free status from Honduran
exports to the United States due to the Honduran government's failure to effectively
combat copyright abuse, the Motion Picture Association said. Goods from the Central
American country will enter the United States paying ordinary most-favored-nation duties.
The sanction covers about $5 million worth of Honduran products, including tobacco and
lumber, which represent two of its biggest exports.
The MPA has been calling on the Honduran government to
tackle the violation of intellectual-property rights for over a decade. An MPA-led
delegation in June 1997 failed to produce any significant improvement.
Honduras -- along with the rest of Central America and
Mexico -- is particularly problematic with regard to cable and satellite piracy. The
country's proximity to the United States enables rogue operators to easily downlink
and distribute U.S. satellite signals, the footprints of which spill well into the region.
Television stations in Honduras "routinely ...
rebroadcast U.S. satellite-carried programming," the MPA said. Piracy in broadcast
television is particularly severe. Two free TV channels -- Channel 6 and Channel 21 --
have been singled out for their abuse of copyright law, at times so flagrant that
full-page advertisements have appeared in newspapers to promote films that were aired
before their theatrical releases.
Nicholas Ware, the MPA's vice president and regional
anti-piracy director, described the protection of intellectual-property rights throughout
Latin America as "an increasing priority for the U.S. government." The crackdown
on Honduras should serve as a warning to neighboring countries where intellectual piracy
is also rife.
Earlier this year, Nicaraguan cable operator Multivisión
went as far as to air motion picture Titanic on its system. However, it stopped the
airings following pressure from the MPA and the movie's producers, Twentieth Century
Fox and Paramount Pictures.
The U.S. sanction has motivated the Honduran government to
visit Washington, D.C., to discuss the matter, the MPA said.