Early in January, the World Trade Organization will rubber-stamp the request by Antigua & Barbuda to impose multi-million dollar sanctions against the United States for the damage the US has inflicted on Antigua’s online gambling industry. Despite having won the right to impose such sanctions over half a decade ago, Antigua has until now held its fire, hoping in vain that the US Trade Representative would prove willing to abide by its international trade obligations. But the USTR has steadfastly refused to negotiate with Antigua, clinging to the myth of American exceptionalism and the desire to continue its protectionist defense of the US horse racing industry. Barring a last-minute Scrooge-like epiphany as to the error of their ways, the US appears willing to maintain their antagonistic stance to the last.
While Antigua hasn’t gone into specifics as to how it intends to claim its pound of flesh, it’s expected to target the intellectual property rights of US films, TV shows, music and software. This will undoubtedly strike a nerve with the powerful US entertainment industry lobby, which has long been the chief engine driving much of America’s ludicrously draconian copyright legislation. Recent years have seen a flurry of proposed bills that would allow rights holders to order the seizure of web domains without the bothersome duty of proving an actual crime had been committed. America’s law enforcement agencies have been only too happy to assist in this endeavor, resulting in the seizure of over 1,600 domains, plus international arrests made of and extraditions sought for copyright ‘pirates’ such as MegaUpload’s Kim Dotcom and TV Shack’s Richard O’Dwyer.
Amazingly, one US politician has had the temerity to suggest that the US may have overstepped its bounds by allowing copyright holders to dictate how laws are written and enforced. The attorneys at the Washington-based Ifrah Law recently reported that Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, is drafting a bill that would boost judicial oversight of future domain-grab attempts. The specifics of Lofgren’s legislation aren’t yet public, but any injection of sanity into this process will be welcome. That said, frankly, we smell a rat. After all, Lofgren’s home state is where most of these rights holders are based. And some of these studios have just been outed as rank hypocrites.
On Christmas Day, TorrentFreak.com offered a present to the BitTorrent file-sharing hordes with news that employees at Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney, Sony and 20th Century Fox have been caught illegally downloading US-copyrighted films, TV shows and music. (Check out the dirty deeds for yourself here.) Data from BitTorrent-monitoring outfit Scaneye revealed that IP-addresses at these studios were responsible for downloading movies like The Expendables and TV shows like Downton Abbey. Record labels like Universal, Sony and Warner Music have also been caught with their hands in the digital cookie jar.
But we saved the best for last. Illegal downloads are also taking place at the US Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and – brace yourselves – the US House of Representatives, where HBO’s titty-fest Game of Thrones is apparently quite popular. To be clear, we think it unlikely that Lofgren’s legislation is a rear-guard action to prevent the seizure of the domains belonging to the studios or various branches of government (but that won’t stop us from suggesting so, loudly and often). And we sincerely hope some studio attempts to have their competitors’ domains seized, sparking a tit-for-tat war that results in all these domains being knocked offline. And we fervently hope some foreign film rights holder or the guys in Kraftwerk file a request to seize the US government’s domains, leaving these branches of government reliant on carrier pigeons to spread their hypocritical message.