Screenshot via Tate Publishing
The tiny Caribbean island of Antigua is finally getting some economic revenge on the US, which derailed its booming gambling industry 10 years ago. That's good news for Antiguans, but it could also be very big news for the rest of us—because the country’s long-awaited compensation includes the right to launch a platform that offers open access to copyright-protected TV, movies, books, and software to anyone in the world.
Think about it: This means the site could sell the latest blockbuster or HBO hit on the cheap, or even free of charge, without having to compensate US rights holders. (Fingers crossed for free streaming of the rest of Homeland.) The blogosphere has touted the plan as the ultimate piracy platform, but in fact Antigua won't be violating any laws by ignoring the intellectual property protection.
How we wound up at this legal clusterfuck starts back in the early 2000's, when Antigua was enjoying a flourishing, multi-billion-dollar online gambling trade. It was the country's second biggest industry, until the US blocked it from selling to the American market, which Antigua claimed devastated its economy.
The country filed a dispute with the World Trade Organization on the grounds that the US had violated international free trade, and it won. As compensation, the WTO offered Antigua the right to suspend US copyright agreements on all forms of media, up to a value of $21 million a year.
"The remedy is expressly provided for under WTO law and, contrary to what the United States has publicly stated, will not constitute “piracy” or theft of intellectual property rights," the government of and Barbuda said in a press release back in January. "Rather, it will be a lawful suspension of intellectual property rights, conforming to the judgment of the relevant WTO tribunal."
After 10 years of failed diplomacy and legal wrangling, the offer was finalized in January. Now, the resulting media portal is inching closer to its debut. The government of Antigua announced in a statement last week that a committee is finalizing a bill to launch the media hub and it's looking for partners to help operate the platform, Network World first reported. Per the statement:
Although its proceedings are confidential, the Committee is said to be recommending the establishment by the Government of Antigua & Barbuda of a statutory body to own, manage and operate the ultimate platform to be created for the monetisation or other exploitation of the suspension of American intellectual property rights authorised earlier this year by the WTO.
It is understood that the necessary domestic legislation to implement the remedies is in the final stages of preparation for submission to Parliament. Additionally, an announcement regarding the opening of tenders for private sector participation in the operating of the platform should be announced shortly.
At this point there are a zillion unanswered questions about what this "warez" site might look like—or the impact it could have. How much damage will it do to the US entertainment industry? How will the MPAA and RIAA fight back? Who will operate the platform? How much will Antigua charge? How will it publicize its new market? Are we about to have a free-for-all global media consumption frenzy? And can Antigua's platform handle that?
So far we have just one small clue. TorrentFreak reported in May that The Pirate Bay's name was tossed around as a possible partner, and the torrenting site responded it would be thrilled to be involved. Hmm, a legal way to skirt around America's stringent copyright law and stick it to Big Media in the process? I'm sure it's champing at the bit.