Small countries like Bermuda have to “get the attention” of Apple and other big copyright holders in order to be recognised on online sites. *File photo by Leah Furbert
Small countries like Bermuda have to “get the attention” of Apple and other big copyright holders in order to be recognised on online sites. *File photo by Leah Furbert
Easy and legal music downloads could finally be on the way under a deal being hammered out to bring Bermuda fully into the digital age.

Due to copyright issues, thousands of Bermudians are unable to buy songs from iTunes and other online stores. Thousands more resort to illegal download sites or use loopholes to get around copyright laws.

Now there is hope of a simpler and more legitimate system. Richard Todd, manager of the island's iStore, is in negotiations with Apple to have the company's licensing agreements extended to Bermuda.

Apple's lawyers are looking at the proposal and are expected to make a decision in the first half of this year. It could mean Bermuda getting its own country-specific version of iTunes - the world's biggest online music store. Such a move could also put pressure on other companies, such as Amazon, to offer digital music and movies to the island.

In the shorter term, an agreement with Apple will allow Bermuda's iStore to sell gift cards, which can easily and legally be redeemed for online songs.

Mr. Todd said: "I have passed certain information to Apple's lawyers and they are considering it. We are very confident we will have the gift cards for sale in Bermuda in the near future."

At present, credit and debit cards registered in Bermuda will not work on official download sites. Many Bermudians, especially those with relatives abroad, keep a U.S., British or Canadian credit card to use for downloads. Many more buy gift cards during trips to the U.S. and use them to buy movies and music on the island. (See panel.)

Intellectual copyright lawyer John Cunningham said that Bermudians are "creative" and are managing to get around download problems in various ways. However, he said the island would benefit greatly from a more legitimate system. "Bermuda is a sophisticated place, full of gadget-hungry individuals. There is a sense that Bermuda is behind. Online music is the big deal now, but download movies are also going to be huge."

He continued: "In an interconnected, digital world community, Bermudians do not want to wait, or have to improvise, for their chance to be involved." Mr. Cunningham said it was a myth that Bermuda's copyright laws are not adequate to deal with international copyright licensing. He said the big issue was a small country like Bermuda "getting the attention" of Apple and the other big copyright holders. Such companies will likely have to negotiate a licensing agreement for each new country in which they want to operate.

IT enthusiast and writer Chris Gibbons is one of many Bermudians who is eager to see more legitimate music downloads on the island. He said: "I think most real music fans want to use legal sites and to pay a fair price. At the moment, I don't have that option. So I use illegal sites. It's very frustrating, because we are well aware of everything that is available out there but we can't easily access it."