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Colombia Toughens Up on Piracy

Bogota, Colombia -- The Colombian government has
significantly beefed up its cable anti-piracy laws, amid continued delays in awarding new
franchise licenses.

Last month, the Colombian government incorporated copyright
protection into its penal code. Specifically, the legislation states that cable operators
can be prosecuted for violating intellectual-property rights, namely through signal theft.

The legislation was instituted following meetings between
top Colombian government officials and a delegation representing U.S. studio trade group
the Motion Picture Association and the Television Association of Programmers Latin America
(TAP), which includes U.S. cable programmers that are active in the region.

The new laws are "a major breakthrough," said
Sean Spencer, the MPA's Latin American director of operations. The MPA and the TAP
have subsequently dropped their request that the U.S. government impose trade sanctions
against Colombia.

However, delegates were less than pleased with the
government's ongoing inability to award new franchise licenses. The Colombian
National Television Commission's (CNTV) four-year attempt to license the
"informal," or unlicensed, cable sector through an official franchise-awarding
process was scrapped in November. However, it said it expects to begin a new tender this
month, and to award licenses by July.

"We are more than dismayed by this process," said
Mary Pittelli, a TAP executive director. "Clearly, that is one of the reasons that
initiated us coming down here. We recognize that there is new concern, and there are new
people in the government who may have not been involved in the process before. That is a
positive step."

The informal operators flourished largely because they
developed at a time when Colombia had no legal framework to regulate or register such
companies. Today, they serve between 3 million and 4 million subscribers, while licensed
operators serve a mere 200,000 to 300,000 homes.

In the past, the CNTV insisted that it would not prosecute
pirate cable companies because it was carefully constructing the licensing process.