Zookz! Misinterpreting The WTO To Annoy The RIAA

from the not-everyone-agrees dept

It’s been quite some time since we last heard anything about the fascinating battle between the US and Antigua. It goes back a long time. We first wrote about this issue, nearly a decade ago, when the operators of online casinos in Antigua (where gambling is legal) were pretty pissed off to find out that the US claimed to have regulatory power over their online casino and could ban its use in the US. Antigua protested to the WTO, claiming that this was a violation of free trade agreements between the two countries. In 2004, the WTO agreed with Antigua, saying that because the US allows certain types of gambling, it’s a violation of their agreement to ban Antiguan gambling sites. Of course, the US ignored the WTO and Antigua, recognizing that Antigua had little to no power over the US.

A year later, the WTO ruled again in favor of Antigua on this issue, though, amusingly, the US Trade Rep misleadingly claimed that the WTO had changed its mind. It had not. The US simply lied about what the WTO really said and declared victory, when it had actually lost again. The following year? The WTO again asked the US why it wasn’t living up to its trade obligations on this point. In 2007, the WTO tried again and was ignored again.

In the midst of all this, a rather amusing and interesting suggestion popped up. In the random online discussions about how Antigua could actually flex its muscles against the US, someone pointed out that the WTO could allow Antigua to ignore US intellectual property, thereby allowing it to set up a cheap online download store. That idea gained traction at an incredibly fast pace, as lawyers jumped on the idea and set the wheels in motion. During that time, the US tried to unilaterally change its trade terms with Antigua to settle the matter, but that didn’t get very far. Finally, at the end of 2007, the WTO agreed to letting Antigua ignore US intellectual property, but only to the tune of $21 million. Of course, the US quickly threatened Antigua not to go forward with any plans to violate US IP, but did little to rectify the situation. So last year, Antigua insisted it really (really, really, really!) was going to start ignoring US IP.

Since then? Well, it’s been really quiet. Until now.

The LA Times has the story of a site called Zookz (from Carib Media), which claims to be taking advantage of the WTO ruling. It is, in fact, based in Antigua and is offering up unlimited music or movie downloads for $10/month — or both music and movies for $18. Needless to say, the US government and the entertainment industry are vehemently opposed to Zookz interpretation of the WTO ruling — especially when it comes to the fact that the Zookz service is apparently available outside of Antigua. Honestly, it seems like both sides are stretching the meaning of the ruling. The US and the entertainment industry basically want to completely ignore the WTO ruling, and interpret it to be entirely meaningless. That makes no sense, of course. The WTO wouldn’t allow such sanctions unless there were a way to actually make use of them.

That said, it doesn’t seem like the WTO ruling gave random private companies carte blanche to offer up music and movies. In fact, the Zookz interpretation gets even odder, where it interprets the $21 million to mean how much it can make, rather than the value “lost” to the industry. In fact, because of this Zookz claims that if it gets too close to selling $21 million (or if others enter the market, and combined they approach $21 million), they’ll just have to start giving music and movies away for free to avoid going over the limit. While the WTO did want to give Antigua a weapon against the US, it’s hard to believe that was what it meant. So, while this may be amusing to watch, the likelihood of Zookz lasting very long seems slim, at best.

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Comments on “Zookz! Misinterpreting The WTO To Annoy The RIAA”

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Yohann says:

I'm all for this

The US government is far too bullying in its wielding of the WTO. If a country needs to trade to survive, then they have to agree to the WTO and all of its rules. IP has become far too big for it to be taken literally. I say more countries need to start trading with each other and start bypassing the bigger players until those bigger players learn they can’t use IP and WTO as a weapon to cut the throats of developing countries.

Quite honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the US government outright declared war on Antigua and invaded just because the country decided to ignore all IP and develop an industry on its own.

Step 1) Use WTO and IP to put all countries in their place
Step 2) If they don’t go by those, tariff the hell out of everything imported and exported
Step 3) If that doesn’t work, cut off all trade and starve them into submission
Step 4) If that still doesn’t work, declare war and take over the country, putting in place a government that won’t ignore US IP and the WTO.

That’s probably why we invaded Iraq. Saddam secretly told everyone “We’re taking all of the patents of the world and starting our own industry and make our own stuff.” To which the US government probably said “WHAT?!?!? Oh HELL NO!!! We can’t have that! INVADE!!!”

Anonymous Coward says:

I am very picky about the way my downloaded music sounds and I re-rip all of my Amazon MP3 and Itunes music purchases into a 320 kpbs MP3 format.

Just d/l my first Zookz song, and the sound quality is so good, nice and loud that I had to turn down the sound on my IPOD. Excellent.

I’ll enjoy it while it lasts. This is really a protest purchase – I almost spit out my Cristal (ok it was really Budweiser) 2 or 3 years back, when I heard that our American gov’t planned on using allofmp3’s existence as a crowbar to beat Russia over the head when they wanted to join the WTO. If I recall, the way that the RIAA flat-lined allofmp3 was by placing pressure on Visa and Mastercard to stop processing the allofmp3 transactions. So it won’t be long before the RIAA comes rushing to the scene on their white horses to save the music industry.

My credit card company already emailed me – seconds after I made the purchase – to let me know that an out-of-country transaction had been charged to my credit card. So it won’t be long before someone tears Zookz apart. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually some of Amazon’s downloads are 217 variable bit rate, and I notice a huge difference when I kick it up to a 320. Music and sound are entirely personal tastes. Itunes new format isn’t bad, but their old-days 128-bit AAC definitely improved when it was converted to a 320-bit MP3 file.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You can’t add quality to a file other than by remastering it or something. You realize that the quality at which you receive the file is the peak of its possibility, and to increase it would necessitate ripping it from its original source (CD), right? That’s like if I give you a 1000dpi image, you cannot increase its quality by printing it at 2000dpi. Doesn’t make any sense. Whatever increase you “hear” must, by the meaning of digital, be placebo.

scarr (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

As someone who worked in digital audio for a company who made music (MP3) players, I can assure you that you are *losing* quality/fidelity by re-encoding at a higher bitrate.

It could sound better to you, that’s your taste. You’re only doubling the number of compression artifacts though (original encoding + your encoding), and once that data is lost, it’s gone for good.

CrushU says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I’m sure he also owns a Blu-Ray player because it has higher quality.

Probably uses a Mac, too.

(And yes, Blu-Ray actually does have higher quality, but it’s nowhere near as noticeable as touted. Placebo effect.)

As a matter of fact, I remember a website that had the same song in .wav and .mp3 format, and asked you to guess which was the mp3. I think it was a 60% accuracy of people visiting the site.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Dashal Review

By Dashal.com

Get your hard drives ready, your 100 pack of DVDs and CDRs at Best Buy and at least a 12 pack of Diet coke to get ready for the official launch of ZookZ, a website offering unlimited movies or music for $9.95 or $17.95 for both.

There is no doubt in my mind that Zookz.com is the coolest website online today after having tested it for several weeks. It is extremely addicting and you will find yourself wanting more, more, more. I have been purchasing music on iTunes since their launch and enjoyed having music, however their $1.30 a song is just crazy and I think I downloaded two songs from them since. I have never been a fan of Napster or Music Rhapsody because I wanted to KEEP what I paid for. So when Dashal was offered the chance to test ZookZ, how could we refuse? The question we had to ask ourselves beforehand though is ZookZ legal? I am all about an enormous music and movie catalog, but not to the point where I am getting fined millions. So we did our research and due diligence and is ZookZ actually legal?

Is ZookZ Legal? Surprisingly YES!!!

ZookZ is actually a company based in Antigua and, because of a 2007 WTO ruling between Antigua and the United States, allows consumers’ access to material that is normally restricted by US copyright law. When you download movies or music from Zookz.com you are actually downloading it directly off their secure servers. ZookZ isn’t a peer to peer file network. So you are not downloading from someone else’s personal catalog, you are downloading directly from ZookZ. It could be one of the craziest loop holes in the legal system to date, but it is there. Dashal Inc. is not an attorney nor do we pretend to be, this is just our understanding of the WTO decision, so you should do your own research. Even though you may download legally, be sure not to share it with anyone else. If they want movies and music, I would suggest they get their separate ZookZ account because that is something entirely different.

Will ZookZ price go up in the future? Of course it will, that is business, but right now it is incredibly cheap. If you download 1 album or movie per month you made your money back. Imagine if you can download as much as you want for the same price?

Like I said in my previous Zookz.com review, their website definitely needs improvements. I have received a large amount of emails in regards to their not having a queue system in place etc. But for $9.95 can we really complain?

I was a little concerned at first because of ZookZ’s limited catalog, but I have not even come close to wondering what I should download next. Songs and movies pop up everyday and ZookZ will practically upload what you want, all you have to do is ask via their request line.

ZookZ has an amazing business model and there is no limit to their success; however who knows how long legalities can be in their favor, so I suggest taking full advantage of ZookZ while you can.

Sit back, crack open your diet coke and be prepared to be up until 4am downloading those albums and movies that you always wanted to download but money stopped you. Zookz.com is no brainer.

Nick Harrison – Creative Director for Dashal.com

MFE says:

Re: The Dashal Review

Yes.. you are very obviously not an attorney ..nor do you seem to have any abilty to read and understand the WTO ruling. The ruling pertains to the ‘Government of Antigua and Barbuda’ and not to any one person or company; who, furthermore, is also operating the site without Government permission or approval. Suggest you might do some more research yourself…

Jailhouse Lawyer says:

Re: Re: The Dashal Review

Hello MFE,

Here’s the link to the ruling on the WTO’s own web site –


Here is the actual text of the ruling at the bottom of the page –

On 21 June 2007, Antigua and Barbuda requested authorization from the DSB, pursuant to Article 22.2 of the DSU, to suspend the application to the United States of concessions and related obligatins of Antigua and Barbuda under the GATS and the TRIPS Agreement. On 23 July 2007, the United States (i) objected to the level of suspension of concessions and obligations proposed by Antigua and Barbuda and (ii) claimed that Antigua and Barbuda’s proposal does not follow the principles and procedures set forth in Article 22.3 of the DSU. At its meeting on 24 July 2007, the DSB agreed that the matter had been referred to arbitration as required under Article 22.6 of the DSU. On 21 December 2007, the decision by the Arbitrator was circulated to Members. The Arbitrator determined that the annual level of nullification or impairments of benefits accruing to Antigua is US$21 million and that Antigua may request authorization from the DSB to suspend obligations under the TRIPS Agreement at a level not exceeding US$21 million annually.

I am not seeing “Government of Antigua and Barbuda” any where here! Just “Antigua”. In fact I invite you or anyone to prove in a court of law that the WTO has given anything at all to the Government of Antigua. It just says “Antigua” or “Antigua and Barbuda” all thru the document. It seems to me that if lawyers want to split hairs over the wording of the ruling then they are going to be at it for a very very long time. It could well go to the Privy Council for a final decision and I fancy their Lordships will take a dim view of the behaviour of the good ole’ U.S. of A.

Let them all litigate for the next 5 years. Meanwhile Zookz would be well advised to apply for an injunction allowing them to continue their business until the matter is settled.

MFE says:

Re: Re: Re: The Dashal Review

Are you kidding??? What a f***ing ridiculous comment!! “Antigua and Barbuda” means the “State of Antigua and Barduba”. The State of “Antigua and Barbuda” took the case to the WTO. Who else could the ruling refer to? Suggest you stick to ‘Jailhouse Law’. Idiot!

..and as I stated before, zookz is ‘dead’ and will remain so. There will be NO injunction, it will NOT go to the Privy Council.. end of story .. end of zookz! Well done Antigua and Barbuda!

Fred McTaker (profile) says:

IP Logging

From the Zookz FAQ:
About Log Files and IP addresses
ZookZ tracks all IP addresses that come to the ZookZ website and analyses them for fraud protection purposes. ZookZ maintains log files of every download for every customer. These are utilized to help make the ZookZ customer experience better.

I would be wary of signing up until either they change their logging policy, or the government of Antigua offers some kind of guarantee to protect customers. I understand tracking IP for the initial CC purchase, but logging every download doesn’t seem necessary or prudent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Zookz seems to have disappeared already.

Getting consistent timeouts trying to load http://www.zookz.com in web browser.
Ping zookz.com returns a TTL expired in transit.
Tracert zookz.com snippet
15 48 ms antigua-computer-technology-co-ltd.demarc.cogentco.com []
16 81 ms lo0.actrt1.anu.acttele.com []
17 83 ms 72-Corporate.act2000.net []
18 83 ms actrt1.anu.acttele.com []

and then repeats 17 & 18 until TTL limit is reached. Looks like act2000.net is their internet provider and has taken them offline.

Anyone able to shed any more light on this? Never expected them to last long, but was hoping for more than the 3 days I got.

Emma says:

Update - Zookz! is gone.

It looks like Zookz is gone. The website now shows a page with an image of Microsoft’s IIS7.

I won’t cry if I don’t get my money back – I received $10 worth of service. However, I did file a complaint with Bank of America, and they’re cancelling my card and sending me a new one. My concern wasn’t the $10 I already paid but the idea that a company that has been wiped off the face of the planet now has access to my credit card.

emma says:

Re: Update - Zookz! is gone.

Already received a refund, so these weren’t scammers. They were really trying to do something different, to flip the bird to the RIAA, the MPAA, and all the other goons in suits.

I wish it could have worked out. Somewhere in the middle has to exist a music/video distribution system that fairly compensates artists, music companies and the site owners.

PixelPusher220 says:

Re: Update - Zookz! is gone.


BoA offers ‘ShopSafe’, it lets you give Zookz or anyone else online a unique CC num that you can delete anytime you want. I did this with Zookz myself so while I am hopefully getting a refund, I know they don’t have my CC number.

It lets you set credit limits so even if they try and run up charges before you delete it they get stopped.

Marlie Hall (user link) says:

The ZookZ.com website is back up.

The ZookZ.com website is back up. Our music and movie service is still unavailable but we are working to restore it. ZookZ has processed all customer refunds as of 07/21/09 so if you don’t see the credit by 7/24/09 please contact help@zookz.com. We encourage you to check http://www.zookz.com or visit us on twitter @zookz or Facebook for continued updates.

Marlie Hall
Director of Corporate Communications

MFE says:

No.. they WON'T be back up!

NO – they WON’T be back up, and rightfully so as they are just using P2P downloads which other people have worked hard on to provide free to the public and selling them on to you on this ‘get-rich’ scheme and are twisting the WTO ruling to their greedy advantage and the detriment of Antigua. Be aware that ALL your details are logged by them and could become part of the ongoing investigation!

“Antigua and Barbuda Government Statement on Unauthorized Representations by Zookz.com Regarding its Entertainment Download Website

ST. JOHN’S, Antigua – 17th July, 2009……It has come to the attention of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda that there is a website 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 Organisation ruling in the remote gaming case brought by Antigua and Barbuda against the USA. The company’s claims to be “authorized” by Antiguan Government approval or under the WTO case are without merit.
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda wishes to clarify this situation. The Zookz.com website 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 and Economy the Hon. Harold Lovell has 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 US-Gambling case before the WTO, Antigua and Barbuda retains its right to implement intellectual property sanctions against the US if the remote g ambling matter cannot be brought to a negotiated solution. If an when the Government of Antigua and Barbuda invokes sanctions it will follow WTO protocol.
The Zookz.com matter has been referred to the Ministry of Legal Affairs in Antigua and Barbuda for full investigation. (Ends)

Further information can be received from the Government’s Legal Counsel:
Mendel, Blumenfeld, LLP
21 Cook Street, 2nd Floor
Cork, Co. Cork

also see http://www.caribarena.com/news/latest/4114-government-to-pull-plug-on-zookz.html

They have had no option but to refund memberships..


Anonymous Coward says:

To calrify for jailhouse lawyer, the companies operated in Antigua not in Barbuda, but there exists a twin island nation which is the State of Antigua and Barbuda. Most foregin companies operate out of Antigua which is the largest of the two islands and the population of Barbuda is about 2500 people. So the reference to Antigua by itself would be correct, since that is where the companies were based.

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