The twin-island nation of Antigua And Barbuda has threatened to launch a website offering royalty-free downloads of United States intellectual property including books, films, television programs and music unless its giant counterpart complies with an order from the World Trade Organization by the end of the year.
Yesterday saw Antigua And Barbuda make the threat as part of a formal presentation to the World Trade Organization’s Dispute Settlement Body regarding a twelve-year-old ruling that the United States’ trade policies regarding online gambling and sportsbetting were a violation of obligations under the General Agreement On Trade And Services.
The matter can trace its roots back to 1997 when United States law enforcement officials began charging individuals including several Antiguans for offering online betting services to their American consumers. These indictments were subsequently backed up by efforts to prevent local operators from using financial tools such as credit cards.
Antigua And Barbuda felt that the move was protectionist as the United States permitted its domestic horseracing industry to offer interstate online betting services and subsequently brought the matter before the World Trade Organization. The international trade body agreed with the small Caribbean nation and in 2003 ordered the United States to pay $21 million a year until it either scrapped its domestic Internet sportsbetting industry or allowed Antigua-licensed sites access to its market. This penalty has now reportedly reached over $250 million without one penny ever being handed over.
“In this instance, the United States has never complied with the judgment in our favor,” read a statement from Harold Lovell, the former Finance, Economy And Public Administration Minister for Antigua And Barbuda. “Further, years of patient negotiating have resulted in nothing but frustration. American officials have stepped up efforts to enforce the very laws ruled invalid by the World Trade Organization. The industry that once employed some 4,000 Antiguan people now employs just a couple of hundred.”
Anticipating intransigence by the United States, the ruling from the World Trade Organization gave Antigua And Barbuda the right to employ alternative means as a way of collecting these penalty funds including offering a service that provided for the royalty-free downloads.
“Even after obtaining the authorization, the government of Antigua And Barbuda continued to seek middle ground with the United States, sending delegations on numerous occasions in hopes of reaching a settlement,” read the 2013 statement from Lovell. “These efforts have failed. Just as in the United States, in Antigua the government owes a duty to its citizens to protect and enforce their rights. We have reluctantly decided to suspend intellectual property rights protections for American firms and products. Hopefully, the remedy will work as designed and American business interests can convince the Obama administration to follow international law.”
Seen as a last ditch effort, the move from the government of Antigua And Barbuda could result in the “Megavideo” domain launching as soon as January if “an appropriate and beneficial settlement is not reached with the United States by year-end”.
“For why should, for example, the United States motion picture industry suffer just so the federal government can continue to protect the monopolies of the big American gambling interests,” asked Lovell in his statement.