Copyright protection across the world has become more difficult to manage in recent years due to technological advances that make content sharing extremely easy and inexpensive.

Since the dawn of the ‘Internet Age’ in the mid 1990’s, legislators around the globe have tried to decide how best to balance the need to protect an author’s intellectual property from unauthorized use without hampering innovation.

Barbados has now found itself at the centre of this puzzle.

Circumventing copyright restrictions

Earlier this year, several international news outlets reported that online payment service PayPal had severed ties with a Barbados-based company that provides its customers with the technology needed to hop ‘virtual borders’ and stream shows and movies restricted to other countries.

The company’s solution is brilliantly simple, yet highly contentious – they give their customers an address where the content they want is available. So it’s like moving your computer or television to another country without actually moving it.

PayPal’s decision to stop processing payments from the business follows Netflix’s declaration that the world’s most famous streaming service was cracking down on customers who jump borders to watch content.

Content rights holders often negotiate deals on a country-by-country basis. Thus, streaming services such as Netflix put up virtual walls or ‘geoblocks’ to prevent customers from watching content not available in their own region.

While expressing regret for any disappointment the decision may have caused its users, PayPal has discontinued service to businesses that actively promote their facilities as a means to circumvent copyright restrictions and violate intellectual property laws.

Virtual borders and Net Neutrality

This means the battle for control of virtual borders will no doubt eventually have an effect on what consumers can get access to via the domestic networks here in Barbados. It also raises questions about the concept of Net Neutrality and the presence of Over-the-Top (OTT) services.

To understand the concept of net neutrality, it is important to note the four different kinds of stakeholders in the Internet space that are potentially affected by the issue. They are – the consumers of any Internet service, the Internet Service Providers (ISP), the OTT Service Providers, and the Government, who regulates and defines the relationships between these players.

Net Neutrality

The principle of net neutrality states that Internet users should have access to all content on the Internet without being discriminated by ISPs. This means that ISPs should treat all websites or applications equally and that all applications are accessible at the same Internet speed and for the same cost.

Over-The-Top content

Over-The-Top content (OTT) is the delivery of audio, video and other media over the Internet without the involvement of a multiple-system operator in the control or distribution of the content. The Internet provider may have knowledge of the contents of the Internet Protocol (IP) packets but is not responsible for, nor able to control, the viewing abilities, copyrights, and/or other redistribution of the content.

This model contrasts with the purchasing or rental of video or audio content from an ISP, such as pay television, video-on-demand or an IPTV video service.

However, according to the United States-based Federal Communication Commission, which regulates and monitors interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable, “the no-blocking rule adopted applies to transmissions of lawful content and does not prevent or restrict a broadband provider from refusing to transmit unlawful material, such as child pornography or copyright-infringing materials.”

As for Flow, we fully support open access to the Internet and Over-The-Top content and applications where permissible and legal.

Ensuring open access to the Internet

Piracy on the other hand is not only unlawful, it also has a negative impact on innovation and investment, and as Barbados’ leading telecommunications provider, we have a legal and ethical obligation to protect our customers, colleagues, in-market regulators and the company itself from being at risk of any legal action taken by copyright owners or law enforcement stemming from the illegal broadcast, access or distribution of unauthorised content.

It is also important to note that an environment in which piracy goes unchecked also contributes to fewer employment opportunities and diminished social security for all Barbadians.

Over the years, we have worked closely with copyright owners on clearing content for the region, and it is because of our strong relationship with these content providers that they consistently look to Flow when bringing new content to the region, often providing us with ‘first-to-market’ or exclusive agreements.

We have also invested significantly in our broadband and mobile networks here in Barbados to make sure that our customers can enjoy this world-class content over the fastest, strongest and most reliable connections in the Americas.

Our plan now is to continue along this path of investment in order for all Barbadians to continue to enjoy the benefits of a robust telecommunications industry. We will continue to work with Government and all stakeholders to make sure that open access to the Internet remains available to all residents of Barbados.

About the Author

Niall Sheehy
Niall Sheehy -

Niall Sheehy has been involved in the telecommunications industry for the past 15 years. In June 2005, Sheehy joined Digicel in Jamaica with primary responsibility to establish and spearhead the Business Solutions team, subsequently moving on to Columbus Communications in October 2010. In June 2013, Sheehy moved to Barbados as Managing Director of Columbus Communications. Following the merger of Cable & Wireless Communications and Columbus Communications in 2015, he was appointed Managing Director of the newly combined Barbados business unit.