Americans call it ‘piracy’ but Antiguans call it justice. The island nations of Antigua and Barbuda are threatening to strip intellectual property protections from American products as part of a long term dispute over the US embargo on the country’s internet gambling industry. In the past Antigua and Barbuda have won a series of legal battles at the World Trade Organization but the United States refuses to abide by the rulings. Officials in the US say that the proposed copyright haven whose outlines were approved by the World Trade Organization amount to “government-authorized piracy.” Authorities in Antigua and Barbuda reject any suggestion that they are ‘pirates.’
In a statement Antigua’s high commissioner to London, Carl Roberts, said “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.” The US and Antigua have been arguing for years over the ability of US residents to use internet casinos based in the island nation. US laws say that gambling is illegal if it crosses state lines. In 2007 The World Trade Organization ruled in favor of Antigua and allowed the island nation to draw $21 million a year’s worth of “nullification or impairments” from the United States as a penalty for the US refusal of the US to allow its citizens to place online bets in Antigua.
Antiguan officials say they could make up for the lost income by setting up a copyright haven although what that means is unclear. Antiguan officials have kept the details vague and the move has no precedent. Some observers have suggested that the country could set up a subscription service to download copyright free American music or a pay per download site that charges pennies for Hollywood movies. Mendel said that the Antiguan site would not be a version of The Pirate Bay, a free for all site that has been synonymous with illegal downloads. Mendel stated “We aren’t going to be flaunting the rules. It’s not piracy if you have the right to do it.”
The proposed copyright haven may not be a sure thing. Mendel said that Antigua’s goal is a settlement with US officials over internet gambling. Even if such a site was set up in Antigua American fans of free downloads may want to be careful. While Antiguans will be free to download music and movies those outside the country may face legal penalties. The idea that a small country of 600,000 standing up to the most powerful nation in the world has caught the attention of millions. Many believe US copyright rules are too restrictive. Mendel stated “It’s time for small countries to be treated fairly in these organizations.”