Antigua is threatening to create a paradise for movie and music piracy right on the US' doorstep. The island has asked the WTO for final approval to temporarily invalidate the copyright, trademark, and patent rights of American companies. If approved, the sanctions would essentially legalize the theft of US intellectual property (IP) — Antiguan residents could access copyrighted material without paying licensing fees.
Antigua says it was previously granted the preliminary rights to ignore US IP claims in a 2007 World Trade Organization (WTO) decision. The High Commission from Antigua's Carl Roberts says that, should the WTO accept its request to suspend US IP rights, it will use the authorization to push the US to "use the intervening period to engage the Antiguan Government in more productive discussions." The country will not immediately resort to ignoring US copyright claims.
The WTO has ruled in Antigua's favor several times
Antigua's reasons for pursuing sanctions against the US are related to the countries' once-flourishing online gambling industry. Over a decade ago, the US outlawed Antigua-based gambling sites, and the two countries have been embroiled in a dispute ever since. The online gambling industry contributed $3.4 billion per year to the Antiguan economy at its height, and employed over four percent of the country's citizens. After the US instigated the ban, Antigua sought help from the WTO to rectify the situation. In 2004, the WTO ruled in Antigua's favor, but even after a 2005 US appeal fell on deaf ears, the US still refused to reverse its decision. Subsequent hearings found the US in breach of the WTO's judgement, and in 2007 Antigua said it would seek a "practical and effective" way of making the US comply.
TorrentFreak, citing a source close to the Antiguan government, claims that Antigua is set to launch a "legal piracy site," which would serve up music, movies, and other copyrighted material free of charge. A spokesperson for the legal firm representing Antigua's interests in the case would not confirm TorrentFreak's rumor, but said if the WTO did suspend US IP rights in the country, it would be a lawful suspension, making any claims of "piracy" null and void. In previous statements, Antigua has sought compensation to the sum of $2.4 billion — a figure taken from the total income from online gambling in 2001 — and it seems likely that any suspension of IP would be valid only to the sum of Antigua's claimed damages from the US ban of its online gambling industry.
The US says Antigua's actions are "unwise."
Nkenge Harmon of the US Trade Representative's office tells Reuters that Antigua has "repeatedly stymied these negotiations with certain unrealistic demands," adding that it would be unwise for the country to attempt to "authorize the theft of intellectual property." A spokesperson for the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) said that "suspending intellectual property rights is not the right solution... state-sanctioned theft is an affront to any society."
If one thing is clear, it's that this is an extremely complicated and tense situation. Despite rumors of an Antigua-authorized "piracy" site, we've been informed that the WTO authorization is simply a bargaining chip to aid the country in its negotiations with the US. We'll be following this story closely, and will update you on any developments.