The threat has actually been hovering over the US for a number of years, yet now it finally looks as if Antigua is going ahead with the planned launch of its so-called “piracy website” that will allow anyone to download US-made movies, songs, games and software without paying copyright holders.
It might sound like a pretty daring move from little old Antigua, thumbing its nose up at the all-powerful United States of America, and indeed it is. But it’s also one that they’re very likely to get away with, thanks to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules that state it’s perfectly lawful for the country to take this course of action.
Antigua says it doesn’t have anything against US copyright holders, but the tiny Caribbean nation feels that it has no other recourse after effectively being squeezed out of the US gambling industry. The story dates back to the mid-2000’s, at a time when a huge number of US gambling sites were based in Antigua for taxation reasons. So big was the industry at that time, it was thought to employ more than 5% of the island’s entire workforce, according to TorrentFreak.
For whatever reason, the powers that be in the US decided that they no longer wished for this state of affairs to continue. Hence, lawmakers passed legislation which made it illegal for American gambling sites to be based outside the US. Naturally, Antigua, what with a huge proportion of its workers dependent on the industry, wasn’t best pleased to learn that the US was taking it away from them in one fell swoop. The Caribbean country immediately cried foul, protesting vehemently against what it called ‘trade protectionism’.
This is where it gets a little surprising. Dismayed at losing its online gambling industry, Antigua took its case to the WTO (of which, both the US and Antigua are members), arguing in court that the US had broken its trade agreements and was acting illegally. Incredibly (or perhaps not, seeing as how everyone in the WTO is supposedly equal), little David won the case against Goliath, with the WTO court ruling in Antigua’s favor and awarding the country compensation for its lost trade.
Unhappy with the court’s decision, the US decided to play hard ball and offer Antigua a measly amount of compensation, reportedly way below what the country was asking for. Presumably, those doing the negotiating gambled that little old Antigua would have little recourse but to accept whatever was on offer. How wrong they were.
One of the great things about the WTO, all members being equal, is that its rules state that any country which can prove it has been ‘wronged’ by another member is allowed to retaliate in an equally ‘unfair’ manner. It’s this rule that has gotten us where we are today.
Knowing that it would have the full backing of the WTO, Antigua quietly conceived its ‘piracy website’ plan as a way of getting back at the US and perhaps, recouping some of its lost millions. According to TorrentFreak, the country claims that it’s already secured the WTO’s agreement to go ahead with its plans, and is just waiting to finalize matters before launching its website.
Here’s what the report in TorrentFreak says:
The Government of Antigua is planning to launch a website selling movies, music and software, without paying U.S. copyright holders.
Antigua’s attorney Mark Mendel told TorrentFreak that he can’t reveal any details on the plans. However, he emphasized that the term “piracy” doesn’t apply here as the WTO has granted Antigua the right to suspend U.S. copyrights.
The BBC report gives more details, stating that Antigua has been given permission to sell up to $21 million worth of copyright media from its website each year, after which it would have to pay the fees. But this is significantly more than the measly $500,000 a year that the US had offered as compensation.
And so, rather fantastically, it really does appear to be true. Antigua will be allowed to sell any CD, video, song, computer game, or DVD made in the US, without paying so much as a cent in compensation to the copyright owners, and it’s all totally legal and above board.
Meanwhile, the US government will likely be the ones left responsible for paying copyright holders their dues, as it was them who violated trade rules against Antigua in the first place.