Antigua Receives WTO Authorization to Sell Copies of US Goods; Specifics Pending

Antigua and Barbuda today received renewed approval from the World Trade Organization (WTO) to copy and sell up to $21 million annually in US-copyrighted intellectual property, reaffirming a 2007 WTO decision in its favor regarding international access to online gambling.

wto“Remote gambling,” as it was called in a late-’90s trade agreement with the US, gave Antigua and other WTO signatories the right to market online gambling services to Americans, a right which the US denied existed for years before ultimately losing its case at the WTO.

The international trade decision did nothing to stop the US passage of the UIGEA in 2006, nor to honor its commitments to the treaty it had previously signed.

Despite winning in 2007, Antigua elected not to actively pursue its right to the intellectual-property abrogration as the country continued to negotiate with the United States, only to find that the US had no interest in negotiating or honoring the WTO judgment.  After five years of runaround, Antigua returned to the WTO last month to announce its plans to collect its 2007 judgment.

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Today’s decision merely reaffirms that Antigua retains that right.  The island nation has yet to announce specific plans for what US-manufactured intellectual property, though computer software and movies are among the two likeliest categories of goods.  Antiguan officials quickly issued a statement announcing the WTO confirmation, which included the following:

“The economy of Antigua and Barbuda has been devastated by the United States Government’s long campaign to prevent American consumers from gambling on-line with offshore gaming operators. 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. If the same type of actions, by another nation, caused the people and the economy of the United States to be so significantly impacted, Antigua would without hesitation support their pursuit of justice.”

The neighboring Caribbean island nation of Dominica, on behalf of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), issued a statement of support for Antigua, while several US-based intellectual-property groups slammed the WTO decision, and echoed generic threats made by US officials last month that attempting to collect the judgment would not be in Antigua’s best interests.

Infojustice.org issued a longer, technical analysis of the decision, which includes a quote from American attorney Mark Mendel (who represents Antigua’s interests in the matter), describing how US government and business interests ought to wake up:

“If [the U.S.] aren’t worried enough about Antigua they should be worried about someone else coming along. 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. With Antigua, it’s US$21 million. Maybe with China it’s going to be US$21 billion.  One of the messages we want to get across is that the WTO was sold to smaller countries as a level playing field and a way for them to expand the reach of commerce, subject to a set of rules that apply to everybody. I think more than anything else this case is about fairness. The WTO is supposed to be fair.”

The next step will be for Antigua to announce the specifics of how it plans to collect a judgment, which will necessarily identify which segment of American businesses will be targeted to absorb the loss.  Antigua has already accumulated five years of pending judgment, or $105 million, in rights abrogration upon which it can immediately collect.

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