World Trade Organization approves new Antiguan site full of “pirated” material from US

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America’s ongoing dispute with Antigua and Barbuda created bizarre situation–as Cyrus Farivar reports in this article from arstechnica.com.

The United States government has been known to respond rather aggressively towards individuals and foreign entities it believes are violating American intellectual property law. (Ask Kim Dotcom.) But relatively few countries have responded by seeking (and receiving) international authorization to directly, openly flaunt American copyright.

On Monday, the World Trade Organization granted the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda the ability to suspend “certain concessions and obligations it has under international law to the United States in respect of intellectual property rights,” as the result of an ongoing dispute between Washington and Saint John’s. In other words, Antigua and Barbuda will now be allowed to open up its own, internationally-blessed, “pirate” site, undoubtedly full of American films, TV shows, music, and software.

The roots of this disagreement, like many feuds, center on money. The 81,000-person nation has long argued it should be allowed to compete, through its offshore gambling sites, in the United States, where gambling is highly regulated. In a statement released Monday, the tiny country’s finance minister said Antigua and Barbuda’s economy has been “devastated” as a result of American action.

The country claims the sector once employed more than 4,000 people (around five percent of the entire country) and has since fallen to 500. And proceeds from the industry “helped fund public education, healthcare, and the country’s infrastructure, and the income boosted consumer spending and other economic activity associated with a vibrant, high-tech industry.”

“These aggressive efforts to shut down the remote gaming industry in Antigua has resulted in the loss of thousands of good paying jobs and seizure by the Americans of billions of dollars belonging to gaming operators and their customers in financial institutions across the world,” Harold Lovell, Antigua’s Finance Minister, said in a statement.

They just wanted to let us play the ponies!

Since the late 1990s and early 2000s, Antigua and Barbuda has been promoting itself as an off-shore gambling haven. By 2003, Antigua and Barbuda began proceedings at the World Trade Organization against the United States, arguing “the cumulative impact of the US measures is to prevent the supply of gambling and betting services from another WTO Member to the United States on a cross-border basis.”

The 81,000-strong nation was further enraged when Washington prevented Americans from engaging in online gambling with offshore sites, including those based in the Caribbean state, under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006. The two countries have been duking it out at the WTO ever since. In 2005, the WTO ruled an American law that only let domestic companies provide online horse-racing gambling sites to the US market discriminated against foreign companies.

When Washington did not change domestic law as a result, as Reuters reports, “the WTO in 2007 gave Antigua the right to retaliate by waiving intellectual property rights protections on some $21 million worth of US goods annually, a fraction of the $3.44 billion the island country requested. Typically, the WTO authorizes countries to retaliate by raising tariffs. But in Antigua’s case it decided the country was too small for that step to be an effective tool to persuade the United States to change its law.”

Needless to say, Washington isn’t taking this lying down.

“The United States has urged Antigua to consider solutions that would benefit its broader economy,” Nkenge Harmon, a spokeswoman for the US Trade Representative’s office, told Reuters. “However, Antigua has repeatedly stymied these negotiations with certain unrealistic demands.”

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