San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

CAFTA Bill Violates Constitution

A bill to crack down on intellectual property violations is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court said earlier this month in a ruling that sets back President Oscar Arias’ free-trade agenda.

The bill, which calls for hefty fines or prison terms for copyright, trademark and patent violations, was intended to put Costa Rica in compliance with the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) said the punishment for displaying copyrighted works without the author’s permission – a $2,700 to $227,000 fine or a two-month to six-year prison term, depending on the work’s value – is disproportional and excessive.

Another problematic clause would have allowed authorities to seize pirated or falsified material and other evidence related  to the crime. That violates a constitutionalmandate that private documents and communication are “inviolable,” justices said.

The ruling could delay the bill’s passage by several months. Lawmakers must further debate the bill and hold a second vote. The opposition Citizen Action Party (PAC) could then challenge the bill again before the Sala IV, which takes about a month to reach a decision.

The bill is one of 12 required, in some form, to enter CAFTA before an Oct. 1 deadline. Six have become law.

The Sala IV has thus far found fault with one other CAFTA bill, the one that would lift a state telecommunications monopoly. Due to a technical glitch, lawmakers held a vote without debating motions proposed by PAC lawmaker Leda Zamora. They must now debate the bill further.


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