Cable piracy battle takes a new turn in Phillippines

The Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA) today announced a new direction in the battle against pay-TV piracy in the Philippines. A breakthrough settlement by Turtle Cable, an infringing cable operator in Camarines Sur, is underpinned by a legally binding undertaking to refrain from broadcasting unauthorized TV programming and exclusively distribute legally authorized television broadcasts to its subscribers.

Legal experts believe the outcome of this test case has established a strong precedent for the settlement of future pay-TV piracy complaints.

“We are delighted to see the settlement of this first cable TV IP (intellectual property) case in the Philippines,” said Simon Twiston Davies, CEO of CASBAA, an industry-based advocacy group dedicated to the promotion of multi-channel TV via cable, satellite, broadband and wireless video networks across the Asia-Pacific.

“It is a significant step towards guaranteeing copyright protection for broadcasting in the Philippines. The other good news is that Turtle Cable can now resume business as an authorized pay-TV provider. We wish them every success in the future.”

The case against Turtle Cable was the result of a series of complaints filed by CASBAA on behalf of broadcasters who own their copyrighted programs. The settlement was signed by Turtle Cable one year after the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) of the Philippines served its very first pay-TV temporary restraining order.

The IPO order barred Turtle Cable from re-distributing international cable channels for which it does not have a distribution contract. Proceedings were about to enter the trial stage before the IP Philippines’ Bureau of Legal Affairs when settlement was reached. If the case had proceeded to trial, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) could have revoked Turtle Cable’s operating license, under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding between IP Philippines and NTC implemented in 2007.

“The firm resolve of IP Philippines demonstrates there is a clear justification under Philippine law and international treaties for broadcasters to authorize – and collect relevant fees for – the distribution of their programming,” said John Medeiros, Deputy CEO of CASBAA. “CASBAA commends IP Philippines for its professional handling of this case as well as its commitment to support the prevention of cable piracy in the Philippines.”

CASBAA said that while the Turtle Cable settlement was a positive step, increased commitment by government and industry is still needed to tackle wholesale commercial cable TV piracy within the Philippines. Pay-TV piracy cost the industry over $100 million in scarce revenues last year.

Adrian S. Cristobal, Jr., IP Philippines Director General added, “The illegal and unauthorized broadcasting of copyrighted television programs has caused significant economic losses to legitimate cable operators here and around the world. It deters the growth of the copyright industry which employs more than 300,000 people in the Philippines alone.”

However, a combination of technological, commercial and administrative pressures may have begun to take positive effect.

“Cable operators are coming to the conclusion that life will be much easier if they just use authorized programming,” said Tim Bautista, COO of channel distribution agent Cable Boss. “To help encourage legal pay-TV operations and help cable companies grow their business, our company is prepared to be flexible in arriving at sub-licensing deals.”

Rene Esguerra, COO of channel distributor ACCION also noted, “There is a lot of great content at a wide range of price points available to cable operators. We see more operators trying to find creative solutions and playing the game honestly, instead of just putting up a dish and taking whatever they can find.”

The settlement of the Turtle Cable case brings renewed optimism in the industry that the piracy problem in the Philippines can improve, with the continued vigilance of the industry and effective judicial handling of IP cases.