Torrent Freak is reporting that the small Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda now have formal legal permission from the World Trade Organization to launch a pirate website and give away content with copyrights registered to US companies.
No, I'm not making that up and no, the original source was not The Onion. According to TF the site has been in the works for several months and is going to offer movies, TV-shows, music as well as software to customers worldwide. If it does launch it will reportedly be limited to only infringing on $21 million worth of content, though it's not clear yet exactly how that would be measured or tracked.
This entirely serious news story originally dates back to 2003, when the US moved to ban online gambling. A number of gambling websites that had US customers were based in Antigua so naturally this small nation didn't appreciate the US attacking one of their legal industries.
Antigua filed a complaint with the WTO and won a ruling in 2004 that said the US cannot violate established treaties. The US ignored that ruling as well as the identical ruling in 2005 but the 2007 decision that allowed Antigua to retaliate by violating US copyrights finally got some attention. The US threatened to retaliate, then the 2 parties reportedly negotiated, and then somehow the idea dropped off the radar for 5 or so years.
The story came back to life this month when news broke that Antigua had once again filed for permission to violate US copyrights. Antigua’s Finance Minister Harold Lovell said: “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.”
As I said in the lead paragraph, this is an example of school yard level squabbling. On the other hand, what other choice did Antigua have besides being slapped around by the US?
At least in launching a pirate site Antigua will know that the US government will feel the pressure to make a deal. The Obama administration has clearly sold out to Big Content so you know lobbyists are already screaming in Washington. (They're probably asking for a military invasion of Antigua, and given past actions on behalf of Big Content I'm not joking.) In fact, the pressure that the major media companies can bring to bear on the US govt is exactly why Antigua is pursuing the case right now.
"If they aren't worried enough about Antigua they should be worried about someone else coming along, Mark Mendel, a lawyer representing Antigua in the case, told Reuters. "If we do something inventive that could pose a lot of problems for intellectual property holders, if we create that precedent, the consequences could be enormous," he said.
Given that the US has run roughshod over treaties for decades if not centuries, I'm sure that there are any number of countries watching this case and wondering if they too can use this to their advantage.
image by fuzzcat