Mixed reaction over Ravi's call
Call for regulator over chambers if business registration is made compulsory
By Hiran Senewiratne
A government plan to enforce compulsory registration for all business establishments in Sri Lanka has drawn mixed views from commerce chambers and the small business community created some confusion and triggered a call for regulations governing business chambers.

"If we are to be forced to register with business chambers, then there is a need to regulate chambers or every Tom, Dick and Harry can open a chamber because it becomes a lucrative business," one small business entrepreneur noted. While business chambers hailed the proposal made by Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Ravi Karunanayake for obvious reasons - the membership of the big chambers will soar-there was confusion as to whether the registration would be compulsory or voluntary.

Asked about the proposal, a senior ministry official said under the proposed legislation to provide for the registration process "there would be no compulsion on any of the businesses to register under any business chamber."

But Karunanayake's words were very clear when he made this point at a October 11 meeting with representatives of chambers, stressing that it would be compulsory for every business establishment to register with a chamber. "I expect every single company to be registered by 2005 when the new legislation comes into play," the minister added. Chamber representatives confirmed that the minister had used the word "compulsory registration".

The proposed move is aimed at ensuring all businesses are linked to a chamber to make their voice felt when raising industry-related issues of importance with the government. Currently there are some 43,400 businesses registered with the Registrar of Companies but only a few are members of any chamber. The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCC), the country's biggest single chamber, has 500 direct members.

C. Hettiarachchi, Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Consumer Affairs, said the proposed law wouldn't affect the interests of any party or chamber. The subscription fee would be based on the capital of a company. Registration would apply to partnerships and limited liability companies.

Commerce chambers wholeheartedly backed the proposal but were clear that their autonomy should not be tampered with. Renton de Alwis, CEO and Secretary General of the CCC, lauded the move but reiterated the need for the autonomy of the chamber to be preserved.

Ceylon National Chamber of Industries President Ranjith Hettiarachchi said the compulsory registration process would provide a forum for "voiceless" business people to express their grievances.

President of the Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry Macky Hashim welcomed the move and recalled how he made a similar proposal to the then Trade Minister Lalith Athulathmudali in the 1980s. He said compulsory registration is prevalent in Singapore and Malaysia.

But small businessmen were not so sure about the concept saying if companies are forced to register with chambers on payment of a subscription fee then there should be some way to ensure these chambers work for the benefit of members.

Managing Director of Weerodara Stationery Ltd, Rohitha Ranaweera said most chambers only look after the interests of big business while ignoring the needs of small companies. Chambers also charge exorbitant rates which small firms cannot afford, he said.

Athula Kaluarachchi, Managing Director of Athula Caterers (Pvt) Ltd, said though his company is not a member of any chamber, this type of legislation is necessary under the present business climate. He too called for a regulatory body to regulate the chambers if compulsory registration is being enforced.

New copyright law protects artistes
By Rajika Chelvaratnam
A new bill to update the island's archaic copyright law that is in the offing will provide better protection to the work of creative artistes and bring it in line with international trade-related agreements.

The draft bill to amend the Code of Intellectual Property also provides for a mechanism to resolve disputes and specific compensation for artistes whose copyright has been violated.

"With the increasing development of technology a lot needs to be reformed," said Dr. M. Karunaratne, Director of the National Institute of Intellectual Property.
Although other areas of trademarks and patent may also need reforms, the field of copyright "is very archaic", he said in an interview.

For the first time, there will be a dispute resolution system where the Institute of Intellectual Property will act as the agency for dispute resolution. "Most artistes are poor and can't go to court. Once an application is made we will attempt to resolve it and this will save time and money," Dr. Karunaratne said, adding that it was a "very good development".

The proposed Bill aims to protect the economic and moral rights of authors. At present the author has the exclusive right to reproduce, transform, translate, modify his work and distribute it and also communicate it to the public.

However, the existing code falls short of preventing the import or export of unauthorised copies. Customs cannot prevent the import or export of the many copies of software programmes and music CDs that find their way into Sri Lanka.
There have been cases where a song produced by a particular singer finds its way abroad, is made into cassettes or CDs, imported back into Sri Lanka and sold.
All this is done without the consent of the original author and the existing law is helpless to prevent such marketing.

Music compact discs and software CDs are a very common area of concern because the economic rights of the author do not deal with his exclusive right of importation.

The new bill strengthens these rights. However, there is confusion with regard to programmes downloaded from the Internet which have to be copied in order to be used or studied. The concept of 'fair use' in the Bill balances this need for reproduction with the exclusive right of the author.

"We need to have a balance between the need for knowledge and the need to protect the rights of the people who put effort and money to produce various things," said a senior government lawyer. However, even the proposed Bill fails to cover certain issues in relation to programmes on the Internet.

There are conflicting views as to whether the Internet ought to be used freely (programmes copied freely) for the benefit of society or whether stress should be laid on preserving the economic and moral rights of the authors. "As far as Sri Lanka is concerned there is nothing in the statute books and even the amendments don't provide anything," said the lawyer.

The new Bill will bring copyright laws in line with the provisions of the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS agreement) which is the basis of intellectual property laws in Sri Lanka. The TRIPS agreement is a comprehensive multilateral agreement on intellectual property established in 1995.

Under the new copyright provisions, the Court has the power to award a minimum compensation of Rs. 50,000 to the author as compensation for violation of his economic rights. Presently, no provision for minimum compensation exists.

The proposed Bill also focuses on rights with regard to layout designs of integrated circuits and the use and rental of phonograms, areas not addressed till now.
Dr. Karunaratne said that whenever a particular copy of a film or song is rented out, the original owner does not get anything out of it while "some businessman earns money".

According to the Bill the author and the producer will each be entitled to 50 percent of the profit made every time a CD is produced or a recording is done and distributed. A proposal to monitor the number of copies sold in order to protect the economic interests of the author is under consideration. Remuneration has also to be paid to the producer and the performer if a particular work is played on the mass media.

The new Bill will also deal with the rights of performers. It is possible under the existing code to tape or video a performance and broadcast it without the performer's permission. The talent of the performer can thereby be marketed. The Bill hopes to remedy this by giving the performer the exclusive right to 'fix' his performance, namely to video, record or broadcast it.

Re-broadcasting of satellite transmissions is no more a grey area. The Bill will also protect the rights of broadcasting organisations. Provision will be made to prevent the copying of a programme telecast by one broadcasting station by another, which is then rebroadcast by the latter. Exclusive rights will be granted to the station that was responsible for the original broadcast to rebroadcast and to authorise a rebroadcast.

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