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CASST to Feds: Hurry up

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OTTAWA - Mindful that the composition of the current federal cabinet will soon be obliterated by Prime Minister-to-be Paul Martin, the Canadian TV industry has called on Parliament to speedily pass legislation introduced this week to battle satellite signal theft.

The Coalition Against Satellite Signal Theft (CASST), a group made up of the Canadian cable industry, Canadian broadcasters and producers, the legal direct-to-home companies and even DirecTV, thanked the government for introducing the legislation on Wednesday, but then called on legislators to pass it as soon as possible.

"Law enforcement agencies need strengthened legislative tools to aggressively combat the problem of signal theft, to make it financially and punitively damaging for those involved in this illegal activity," said Glenn O'Farrell, president and CEO of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters.

"Speedy passage of Bill C-52 needs to be one of the government's top priorities. These illegal activities are happening in every riding across the country. We are calling on Parliamentarians to recognize the urgency of the situation and pass the Bill."

"The financial consequences of these illegal actions cannot be underestimated," said Michael Hennessy, acting president of the Canadian Cable Television Association. "Signal theft, whether satellite or cable, deprives the entire Canadian broadcasting system of revenue - Canadian actors, writers, directors, producers, technicians, broadcasters, cable and satellite distributors, and many others. The impact of the loss is staggering."

What the industry is most concerned about, however, is that two years of work lobbying the current Heritage Minister (Sheila Copps) and Industry Minister (Allan Rock) will be for naught if the bill is not passed before the next break by Parliament.

MPs will soon break for Remembrance Day and it is thought in Ottawa that Parliament may just stay on break until after Christmas and not return until Paul Martin is sworn in as Liberal leader in February 2004.

With Martin sure to replace both Copps and Rock, the legislation will at least be delayed and at worst, die in the legislative queue - especially if a spring election is called - which is being strongly speculated.

Bill C-52 proposes amendments to the Radiocommunication Act, including:
* Raising fines for offences under the Act against business from $25,000 to $200,000.
* Raising the fines for individuals convicted of decoding an encrypted signal, or modifying equipment for this purpose from a maximum $10,000 fine and/or a maximum of six months in jail, to a $25,000 fine and/or a maximum of one year in jail.
* Instituting penalities for individuals convicted of the retransmission of an encrypted subscription programming signal that has been decoded without authorization to $50,000 and/or a maximum two year jail sentence, up from a $20,000 fine and/or a one year jail sentence. Corporations convicted of the same will be open to a $500,000 fine, up from the current $200,000 penalty.
* Providing a provision for statutory damages in civil suits to make it easier for plaintiffs to be compensated for their losses.
* Prohibiting the importation of unauthorized equipment, ensuring that only those persons with import permits would be allowed to bring satellite receiving equipment into Canada.
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