Antigua: New US Offer Soon in WTO Online Gambling Flap

Antigua: New US Offer Soon in WTO Online Gambling Flap 0001

Recent news reports from the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda state that its country's officials are expecting a new offer from the United States concerning the continuing disagreement between the two nations over online gambling. The latest skirmish of words erupted last month when Antiguan officials announced their plans to go forward with reproduction of as-yet-unnamed items otherwise protected by American copyrights, as allowed for by the $21 million annual judgment the country received in its victorious World Trade Organization action.

Mark Mendel, the lead attorney for Antigua in its five-year battle against the US, was quoted by the Antigua Sun as stating that the US is scheduled to put forward a new proposal for a permanent settlement by this coming Monday. Said Mendel, "I am assuming that if they are going to be good to their word, that they will have a proposal. It will be either a proposal or no proposal by the end of the month."

Mendel noted in his comments that two separate issues were up for negotiations: aspects of the trade dispute involving the US's failure to comply with the WTO's ruling on access to the [American] online gambling market, and separate compensation due for the US's intentions to withdraw the online gambling sector from its schedule of WTO-monitored international trade commitments. "They are (two separate issues) if we have to litigate them, but if we can settle something then it should all be settled in one go," noted Mendel.

The likelihood that any new US offer would represent a major shift in announced US policy on the matter remains open for debate. Recent statements from the US Trade Representative's office have largely belittled Antigua's threat to follow through on the judgment it has received and begin production of some form of non-copyright-protected goods. Several US-based entertainment and trade publications have explored the ongoing dispute in recent days, along with the larger threat the removal of copyright protections would be to the US, potentially affecting some of the few areas where the US trades profitably with the rest of the world. Recent pieces have appeared in Variety, Slashdot, Techdirt and elsewhere, reflecting the dispute's increasing awareness beyond the online-gambling world.

In the Variety piece, published March 19th, USTR spokesman Sean Spicer dismissed Antigua's threat to potentially manufacture its own copies of US-protected goods by stating, "Antigua would be breaking the law if it did that." Spicer's statement may apply to US law, but has no international standing in the eyes of most legal experts watching the case, since the WTO judgment supercedes the copyright protection afforded the US in other agreements where both the US and Antigua participate. The Variety story also noted that the powerful Motion Picture Assn. of America was watching the case closely because of the dangerous precedent – the international suspension of American copyrights – the Antiguan judgment offers.

In any event, the scope and potential damage of the dispute continue to swell far beyond the actual numbers involved in the initial WTO judgment. As Techdirt columnist Mike Masnick noted in his piece on the topic, "Antigua can only violate $21 million worth of intellectual property, and with the way the entertainment industry counts damages, that's like half an album or so."

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