Television network HBO has been told it needs to go through the courts in the Cayman Islands if it wants to stop broadcasters from screening its content without consent.
HBO Latin America began a publicity campaign in the territory last week accusing cable company WestStar TV of intercepting and rebroadcasting its channels. The network called on regulators to step in and put an end to the practice, which it described as “unethical”.
HBO’s principal channel, which screens popular shows like “Game of Thrones”, “True Blood” and “Boardwalk Empire”, is offered to WestStar subscribers in the Cayman Islands on channel 17 as part of a 50-channel package that costs $72-a-month, according to its website.
HBO Latin America says the company is not paying for the content and has no legal authorisation to sell or broadcast any of the HBO network’s channels.
WestStar TV has not denied that it is screening HBO and Cinemax programming without a licence.
David Archbold, managing director of the Cayman Islands Information and Communications Technology Authority, suggested the issue was more complex than HBO’s statements suggest. He said HBO Latin America should go to court if it felt its copyright agreement was being breached. Mr. Archbold said the regulator would have the power to step in, if HBO Latin America got a court judgment in its favour.
“Breach of copyright, which it would seem is the claim HBO Latin America is making, is regulated by national copyright law in the Cayman Islands and HBO Latin America is well aware that it is able to bring an action through the Cayman courts to enforce its rights.
“So far, it has chosen not to do so,” he said.
Representatives for WestStar TV say the package which HBO Latin America offers to broadcasters in the region, featuring some Spanish language content and tailored toward a central and South American audience, is not satisfactory. They want to work out a deal with HBO USA to offer the same content available in the US and Bermuda.
Miguel Oliva, vice president of public relations and corporate affairs for HBO Latin America, said in a statement: “WestStar TV has engaged in an unethical practice of interception of US satellite TV transmissions. It is rebroadcasting and distributing HBO and Cinemax programming acquired in this fashion, to subscribers in the Cayman Islands for commercial purposes, without the consent of the owners of the copyright and without payment of any form of licensing fees to HBO Latin America.
“HBO Latin America has repeatedly requested WestStar TV to cease its interception and rebroadcast of HBO and Cinemax programming. WestStar TV has not denied these unethical activities but has continued to engage in these practices, compelling HBO Latin America to make its position public and to refer the matter to the Cayman Islands regulatory authority.”
In a brief statement, WestStar’s director of operations Traci Bradley told the Caymanian Compass: “The issue of programming in the region is quite complex. We don’t carry out our business negotiations in the press, and believe HBO’s decision to do so merely confirms the weakness of their position.
“HBO Latin America is not authorised to distribute the programming feeds our customers demand.
“We will continue to work with HBO USA, as we do in other jurisdictions, so that customers can view the same channels available through local dish network distributors.”
Up to now, HBO USA has not been made available to cable companies in English speaking countries in the Caribbean. Broadcasters in the region have got around the issue by intercepting the signal and rebroadcasting the content without the network’s explicit authorisation.
HBO Latin America has spoken out in the past about the practice, which is says costs it millions of dollars annually, especially in Jamaica.
LIME TV, which launched in the Cayman Islands earlier this year, does have a licence to screen HBO Latin America’s package of channels in the territory. Tony Ritch, general manager of Lime Cayman Islands, endorsed HBO’s stance.
He said: “It is a challenge to compete on a level playing field when the former monopoly (WestStar) has an unfair financial advantage, that is, gets its programming for little or no money, while the new entrants like LIME and Logic pay for it.”
“Breach of copyright, which it would seem is the claim HBO Latin America is making, is regulated by national copyright law in the Cayman Islands and HBO Latin America is well aware that it is able to bring an action through the Cayman courts to enforce its rights.” ICTA STATEMENT