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The new (MP3) Pirates of the Caribbean

2009-07-11

Antigua, once rife with traditional high seas piracy, has given birth to a pirate download service. Only this is one you pay for.

Zookz claims to host 1,500 movies and 50,000 tracks for subscribers who trust it with $9.99 a month. Creators won't see a penny, however, because of an unusual exemption claimed by the island.

Antigua is claiming the unusual opt-out from the international intellectual property treaty framework TRIPS, as a consequence of a dispute over its obligations under the GATS agreements, which are administered by the World Trade Organization.

In 2004, the WTO ruled that the United States had violated GATS by preventing Antigua's remote gambling services from access to the US market. The WTO later ordered the US to change its gambling laws and pay Antigua $21m compensation. The administration refused to do so. In a tit for tat, Antigua argued that GATS no longer applied. This is a unilateral declaration contested by the WTO, but Zookz claims it provides a legal umbrella.

How is it different to 'iTuneski', you may wonder? The service formally known as AllOfMP3.com continues to trade as MP3Sparks. TRIPS is compulsory for WTO members, but Russia isn't a member of the WTO, despite first bidding to join in 1993. And despite signing up to the Rome Convention in 2003, which commits the signatory to honour reciprocal musical copyrights, Russia's collection societies don't have reciprocal agreements with anyone else. International PROs responded in kind. As a consequence, Russian performers don't see royalties from overseas use, and vice versa. That's a long way of explaining that Russia, too, is effectively outside the international copyright system.

So while AllofMP3.com signed an agreement with Russia's performing rights society, it didn't mean much to non-Russian composers, artists and labels.


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