Antigua and Barbuda doesnt normally rank among threats to United
States interests. The twin-island nations population of 100,000
rivals that of Flint, Mich., and its $1 billion economy is about as
much as New York City is spending to make infrastructure fixes like
repairing bridges and filling potholes.
Yet, when it comes to trade negotiations, the eastern Caribbean
country is playing tough.
In what would be a first, the Antiguan government is threatening
to suspend the intellectual property rights that protect the US
music and film industries. It could then establish a website and
sell hit songs and Hollywood blockbusters without paying royalties
This week, the World Trade Organization said Antigua had the
right to take the unprecedented step in an effort to force the US to
abide by a previous trade ruling. The two countries have been locked
in a trade dispute for the past decade since the US prohibited the
use of offshore Internet gambling sites.
The US laws in question placed bans on bet-making across borders
by way of the Internet. Those laws, which had disastrous effects on
the Antiguan economy, violated trade rules, the WTO ruled.
The Antiguan government refuses to reveal the details of its
retaliatory plan. Whatever the government does, we are not dealing
with piracy or [intellectual property] theft, says Colin Murdoch,
Antiguas ambassador at large. People close to the plan have long
said the country intends to launch a website.
In various decisions handed down during the past 10 years, the
WTO has consistently sided with Antigua. Yet, negotiators have
failed to come to an agreement.
Now, Antigua is considering what it says is its only remaining
option: going after popular films and music.
A bargaining chip?
An unlicensed Antiguan website might not be the boon to consumers
that it seems.
US officials could still prosecute individuals for downloading
songs illegally. Whats more, the Antiguan government would be
limited to $21 million per year in sales to recuperate the money its
economy lost when the gaming industry collapsed, according to the
The government says it has lost much more, placing the industry
at $3.4 billion annually, according to what it says are independent
The US has lost at least two other trade rulings in which foreign
countries have been allowed to suspend intellectual property rights.
But those countries never did so.
I would be surprised if [Antigua] actually incorporates a
website. That would be really serious, says Andrew Sellars, a fellow
at Harvard Universitys Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
Mr. Sellars believes that Antigua is trying to bring the US back
to the table. The countries, otherwise close allies, have exchanged
barbs over the issue.
Ngenke Harmon, a spokeswoman for the US Trade Representative,
says that government-authorized piracy would undermine chances for a