Antigua gets OK to become copyright haven (Update)

Jan 28, 2013 by Raphael Satter

Americans call it piracy. Antiguans call it justice. The islands of Antigua and Barbuda are threatening to strip intellectual property protections from American goods as part of a long-running trade dispute over the U.S. embargo on the tiny Caribbean nation's online gambling industry.

U.S. officials say the proposed copyright haven - whose broad outlines were approved Monday at the World Trade Organization in Geneva - amounts to "government-authorized piracy." But Antiguans, who've won a series of legal victories against the U.S. at the international trade body, reject any suggestion that they're pirates.

"We have followed the rules and procedures of the WTO to the letter," Antigua's high commissioner to London, Carl Roberts, said in a statement Monday. "Our little country is doing precisely what it has earned the right to do under international agreements."

The U.S. and Antigua have been tussling for years over the ability of Americans to use online casinos based in the Caribbean nation. U.S. laws have long been interpreted to mean that Internet gambling is illegal if it crosses state lines.

The World Trade Organization, however, has come down on Antigua's side. In 2007, it allowed the islands to draw $21 million a year's worth of "nullification or impairments" from the United States as a penalty for the continuing refusal of the U.S. to allow American customers to place their online bets in Antigua.

Antiguan officials say they could make up the money through the operation of a copyright haven, although what that might look like and what its scope would be remains unclear. Antiguan officials have kept details vague and the move has little precedent.

Observers have suggested, for example, a subscription service to access copyright-free American music, or a pay-per-download site that charges pennies for Hollywood hits.

Mark Mendel, a lawyer for Antigua's government, cautioned that whatever ends up being set up, it wouldn't be an Antiguan version of The Pirate Bay, the free-for-all file sharing site whose name has become synonymous with illegal downloads.

"We aren't going to be flaunting the rules," he said in a telephone interview last week. "It's not piracy if you have the right to do it."

Right or wrong, American businesses aren't happy with the idea. Gina Vetere, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's intellectual property center, said such a move would only exacerbate the dispute and "sour the business environment."

The haven may still never see the light of day; Mendel said Antigua's goal remains a negotiated settlement with U.S. authorities over the gambling dispute.

Even if such a haven were set up, international fans of free downloads may want to exercise caution. Antiguans may be allowed to download freely, but for those outside the country the legal regime remains murky.

Nevertheless, the notion of a country of 89,000 people standing up to the powerful United States on intellectual property matters has caught the imagination of many - especially those who believe that U.S. copyright rules are too restrictive.

"It's time for small countries to be treated fairly in these organizations," said Mendel.

Explore further: Digital dilemma: How will US respond to Sony hack?

4.9 /5 (9 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Antigua to seek sanctions against US

Dec 09, 2012

(AP)—The tiny Caribbean nation of Antigua & Barbuda intends to pursue retaliatory sanctions against U.S. commercial services and intellectual property as part of its David vs. Goliath trade battle with the United States, ...

US online gambling laws against WTO rules: EU

Mar 26, 2009

The European Commission said Thursday that US laws restricting online gambling went against WTO rules but that Brussels would seek a negotiated solution to the dispute.

US tries its luck easing online gambling stand

Mar 01, 2012

Despite a new crackdown on Internet gambling this week, the US government appears to be easing its stand on many forms of online betting, prompting states to swing into action to tap a new revenue source.

Poker domain names unfrozen to allow refunds

Apr 20, 2011

US authorities said Wednesday they were unfreezing the domain names of two online poker companies targeted in a crackdown on Internet gambling so US players could withdraw their money.

China pledges tougher fight on online piracy

Jan 17, 2011

China will step up its fight to protect intellectual property rights (IPR) by targeting online piracy, state media said Monday, amid calls for Beijing to do more on widespread copyright infringement.

Recommended for you

Britain's UKIP issues online rules after gaffes

17 minutes ago

UK Independence Party (UKIP), the British anti-European Union party, has ordered a crackdown on the use of social media by supporters and members following a series of controversies.

Sony saga blends foreign intrigue, star wattage

27 minutes ago

The hackers who hit Sony Pictures Entertainment days before Thanksgiving crippled the network, stole gigabytes of data and spilled into public view unreleased films and reams of private and sometimes embarrassing ...

Digital dilemma: How will US respond to Sony hack?

Dec 18, 2014

The detective work blaming North Korea for the Sony hacker break-in appears so far to be largely circumstantial, The Associated Press has learned. The dramatic conclusion of a Korean role is based on subtle ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

frajo
not rated yet Jan 29, 2013
A remarkable David vs. Goliath moment in history.

I'm astonished. I always thought the WTO is just another instrument of Western Dominance.

On a different level, I like this linguistic pattern, "government-authorized". It allows for so much exciting enlightenment.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.