Government authorized piracy

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By Joshua Ostrer

Antigua continues planning copyright-free market

Antigua, a small Caribbean island, is in the process of setting up a copyright-free haven, which will allow online users to possibly download Hollywood movies or American music for pennies.

“We aren’t going to be flaunting the rules. It’s not piracy if you have the right to do it,” said Mark Mendel, a lawyer for the Antiguan government, in a January phone call.

What’s being done to stop this? Currently, nothing.

Antigua has been in a trade-feud with the United States since 2003, when Antigua argued to the World Trade Organization (WTO) that American restrictions barring Americans from using international gambling sites was an unfair practice.

Until recently, Antigua had not made much tangible progress.

In 2005, the WTO ruled that an American law forbidding foreign companies from running online-horse-gambling services discriminated against foreign companies.

However, the United States refused to change the law, so in 2007 the WTO gave Antigua “the annual level of nullification or impairments of benefits…of $21 million,” according to the 2007 WTO ruling.

How much is $21 million for Antigua? Not that much in comparison.

Antigua claims it loses $3.44 billion annually due to American online gambling restrictions.

The Antiguan government claims that its gambling industry was once worth $3.4 billion to its national economy, and responsible for employing over 4,000 of the country’s 80,000 citizens, now only employs 500.

“The economy of Antigua and Barbuda has been devastated by the United States’ government’s long campaign to prevent American consumers from gambling on-line with offshore gaming operations…result[ing] 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,” said Antigua’s Finance Minister Harold Lovell in a Jan. 28 PRNewswire press release.

What has the United States’ response been? Despite being on the losing end of multiple WTO rulings, the United States has insisted it has done nothing wrong.

The United States actually released a statement in 2006 saying it had reviewed its laws, and has been in compliance with WTO regulations.

And in May 2012, The United States decided that gambling services should not fall under the jurisdiction of the WTO, and has since gotten signatures to approve the change from the European Union, Canada and Japan.

However, not so surprisingly, Antigua, amongst other nations, opposes the change and has not agreed to alter the WTO’s jurisdiction.

“We have followed the rules and procedures of the WTO to the letter. Our little country is doing precisely what it has earned the right to do under international agreements,” said Antigua’s High Commissioner to London Carl Roberts, in a statement Jan. 28.

While both sides have been in talks, no solution has been reached.

Although Antigua has yet to outline specifics for its plans to establish a copyright-free online store, it is currently Antigua’s plan going forward.

And as you can imagine the United States government is not too happy about it.

In a Jan. 28 e-mail, Spokeswoman for the United States Trade Representative Nkenge Harmon commented, “If Antigua does proceed with the unprecedented plan for its government to authorize the theft of intellectual property, it would only serve to hurt Antigua’s own interests…Government-authorized piracy would undermine chances for a settlement. It would also serve as a major impediment to foreign investment in the Antiguan economy.”

Copyright rules, especially those of the United States, frequently come under fire.

However this public and internationally-legal form of copyright infringement is the first of its kind, and it will be interesting to see what the Antiguan government does in the near future.

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