The tiny Caribbean island of Antigua is to become a digital piracy haven after being given permission by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to launch a website that would distribute music, movies and software without compensating U.S. copyright holders after a decade long saga of abuse by the US.
The WTO suspended US intellectual property rights in the small island nation in February after the US repeatedly failed to lift an illegal trade blockade on the the island's billion dollar gambling industry, which once employed 5% of the country's population.
Image credit: Jacrews7 on flickr
The trade dispute dates back to 2003, when Antigua brought a case against the US after they violated their own trade agreement by prohibiting foreign companies from providing online gambling services.
In 2005 the WTO ruled on the side of Antigua, but the US did not reverse its decision and has avoided its responsibility to either compensate Antigua or comply with the WTO. The suspension of US copyright laws in Antigua is a move by the WTO to put pressure on the Americans to honour their agreement.
If Antigua follows through with its threat, the world would benefit from a totally legal WTO-sanctioned version of The Pirate Bay. Unsurprisingly, the US has described the plan as "government-authorised piracy".
Usually, trade disputes of this nature are settled by compensation or retaliatory trade sanctions, but as Antigua is such a small nation, restrictions on trade with the US would only hurt the Antiguans further. This move is a last resort to try to force the Americans to play fair after a decade of avoiding its obligations.
Under the ruling, Antigua would be entitled to sell media up to the value of $21million annually. As the value of this media is hard to quantify, Antigua could take full advantage of this ambiguity, providing unlimited access to US content and really cause some damage to the American economy, forcing the US to negotiate.
This is of course the best case scenario, and probably the least likely to materialise. Antigua may of course choose to settle if the Americans make them an offer, in which case we will never see this legal piracy haven, so don't cancel your netflix account just yet. Realistically, the US is still in the far stronger position, and it would not be surprising at all if this situation seemingly disappears amid numerous shady backroom deals and threats.
This whole saga has demonstrated some of the ugliest aspects of American foreign policy, namely their disregard for the rights of other nations and their disdain for supranational institutions. But hats off to Antigua for standing up to them. The internet loves you, even if taking a stand amounts to economic suicide.
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