The Government of Antigua is preparing to excercise its right to compel treaty obligations after attempts to negotiate the decade long dispute over online gambling have failed. In January, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body voted to allow Antigua to suspend its obligations to the U.S. under the TRIPS Agreement. As a result, the Government of Antigua announced plans to launch a platform to “[exploit] the suspension of American intellectual property rights” according to a recent press release by the government of Antigua.
Normally, sanctions under the WTO dispute resolution system consist of reciprocal quotas or tariffs. However, as the economy of the twin-island country consists mainly of tourism, quotas and tariffs would not exert much political pressure on the United States, and could possibly backfire and hurt Antiguan citizens. Therefore, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body voted to allow Antigua to retaliate in an area that would actually force the U.S. to come to the negotiating table: our intellectual property.
The import of the Antiguan Government’s press release suggest it plans to operate a website selling copyrighted works owned by U.S. entities, but where no royalties are paid to the U.S. copyright holders. It remains to be seen whether this website could be accessible outside of Antigua, as the country has so far been blocked by the United States from presenting its official plan to the Dispute Settlement Body. They are due to try again at next month’s meeting.
The dispute began in 2003 when the U.S. banned all remote-internet gambling services originating from Antigua. At the time, Antigua’s economy was heavily dependent on its online gambling industry and the U.S. ban resulted in a market crash. After the WTO Appellate Body decided that the U.S. was in violation of its treaty obligations, the U.S. was then obligated to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution with Antigua or face trade sanctions. Now though, Congress potentially faces the galvanization of Hollywood and the Recording Industry as they inevitably begin to exert political pressure in order to avoid losing out on royalties.