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Downloading service Zookz comes under more fire [UPDATED]

July 17, 2009 |  1:16 pm

Zookz logo A lawyer representing the Antiguan government just distributed a statement that punches a huge hole in Zookz's argument that its unlicensed movie and music downloading service is legal. As my previous Zookz post noted, the site claims that it can offer unlimited downloads for $10 to $18 a month because of the sanctions the World Trade Organization imposed against the United States in a complaint brought by Antigua and Barbuda. Finding that the U.S. discriminated against offshore online gambling businesses, a WTO appeals panel ruled in December 2007 that the Caribbean nation could request the WTO's permission to suspend intellectual property obligations (e.g., copyrights, trademarks and patents) up to a value of $21 million annually. But a statement from the Antiguan government e-mailed by Robert L. Blumenfeld, a lawyer in El Paso who represents Antigua and Barbuda, says flatly:

The Zookz.com web site is not operating under the authority or with the knowledge of the government of Antigua and Barbuda. More specifically, Zookz.com is not authorized by the government of Antigua and Barbuda, or by the World Trade Organization, to offer entertainment downloads in contravention of international law.

The statement reinforces and expands on the comments earlier in the week by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which said that the WTO hadn't authorized anybody in Antigua to violate copyrights. Here's the kicker from the Antiguan government's statement:

The Zookz.com matter has been referred to the Antiguan Ministry of Legal Affairs for a full investigation.

Ouch. I've pasted the entire statement after the jump.

Update at 5:02 p.m. William Pepper, Zookz' counsel, rejected the Antiguan government's interpretation of the WTO's ruling. Here's his statement:

This is very simple: In December of 2007, the Appellate Body of the WTO confirmed the award of $21,000,000 annually to Antigua. This award imposes sanctions that allow the nullification of the TRIPS obligations for Antigua.

The Antiguan government is not a trading entity in the businesses concerned, it is the sovereign representative of companies that trade and provide revenues to the State. Therefore, the only way the Government of Antigua can derive any benefits from this award is through the trading done by companies in Antigua.

ZookZ is the property of Carib Media Ltd. a company registered and conducting business in the State of Antigua and Barbuda, West Indies.

Therefore there is nothing that requires ZookZ to seek authorization from the WTO or the Government of Antigua to transact its business. As far as ZookZ is concerned, all WTO formalities in regard to the award have been satisfied.

The original version of this post refered to Blumenfeld in the first paragraph as an attorney "purporting to represent" Antigua and Barbuda. I have since been able to confirm that his firm does, in fact, represent that country in this WTO proceeding.

Antiguan government statement on unauthorized representations
by Zookz.com regarding its entertainment download web site

For immediate release 17 July 2009

St. John's, Antigua. It has come to the attention of the government of Antigua
and Barbuda that there is a web site named Zookz.com that offers unlimited
entertainment downloads for a fixed monthly fee. The company claims it is
operating from Antigua and therefore it is permitted to offer downloads under
the auspices of a 2007 World Trade Organization ruling in the remote gaming
case brought by Antigua against the U.S. The company’s claims to be “authorized”
by Antiguan government approval or under the WTO case are without merit.
This press release is written to clarify the situation from the point of view of the
government of Antigua and Barbuda. The Zookz.com web site is not operating
under the authority or with the knowledge of the government of Antigua and
Barbuda. More specifically, Zookz.com is not authorized by the government of
Antigua and Barbuda, or by the World Trade Organization, to offer entertainment
downloads in contravention of international law.

Minister of Finance Harold Lovell stated, “The operators of Zookz.com have not
played any role in the Antiguan gaming industry or in our country’s case pending
before the WTO. Only the government of Antigua and Barbuda has the right to
implement and oversee the intellectual property sanctions it was awarded by the
WTO. As of this time, the government of Antigua and Barbuda has not
authorized any person or entity to implement sanctions. While we may in the
future consider exercising the right to impose sanctions, as of this moment, I am
instead looking forward to meeting with the United States government in the
near future and focusing on a mutually beneficial resolution of the issues raised
by the remote gambling case."

Under the U.S.-gambling case before the WTO, Antigua retains its right to
implement intellectual property sanctions against the U.S. if the remote gambling
matter can not be brought to a negotiated solution. If and when the government
of Antigua and Barbuda invokes sanctions it will follow WTO protocol.

The Zookz.com matter has been referred to the Antiguan Ministry of Legal Affairs
for a full investigation.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division.

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