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Thursday, March 30, 2006

OFWs: Pirates from the Caribbean?


MANILA--SOME overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) may resemble Johnny Depp, but unlike the esteemed pirate, they are regarded as "unwitting" couriers of bootleg videos to and from the Philippines, experts told the OFW Journalism Consortium.An official of the Association of Video Distributors of the Philippines (AvidPhil) said the government should look into this.
AvidPhil, a national trade association promoting the video industry, made the call after the United States Trade Representative removed the Philippines from the priority list of governments that American firms accuse of allowing intellectual property theft.
The USTR placed the Philippines under the Priority Watch List of countries that could be placed under trade sanctions due to "rampant" IP rights infringements including optical media piracy, copyright and trademark violations of all types, importation of counterfeit merchandise, software piracy of all types, and bootleg cable television.
The PWL is a step above a US trade sanction and below the Ordinary Watch List.According to the Philippine IP office, upgrading the Philippines to the status of OWL –four days before President Gloria Arroyo declared a state of emergency– effectively removes the threat of US trade sanctions against the country.
A negative finding from the USTR, the IP Office added could have affected the country's export relations to the US. According to a recent International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) report, the Philippines has to satisfy the USTR's discretionary criteria, which include providing "adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights" to qualify for unilaterally granted trade preferences.
The Philippines participates in the US Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, offering duty-free imports of certain products into the US.From January to November 2005, nearly US$936-million worth of Philippine goods, or 11.1 percent of the country's total exports to the US, entered the US duty-free under the GSP program, the IIPA said in its report dated February 13, 2006.
The Philippines should not continue to expect such favorable treatment at this level when it fails to meet the discretionary criteria, the IIPA said before the USTR decided to upgrade the country into the OWL. The threat to be downgraded back to the PWL remains, according to AvidPhil."Authorities should look into the products that are being brought by the OFWs into the country as well as those being brought abroad because some of these are pirated materials," said AvidPhil executive director Eduardo Sazon.
A member of the Intellectual Property Coalition (IPC), AvidPhil has been fighting piracy in the country since it expanded its members last year to include distributors of non-motion picture videograms such as karaoke and music videos. "They (OFWs) are unwittingly becoming tools in carrying pirated materials," Sazon added without giving statistics or details supporting his views. (

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