In Mexico, creators and industry are getting together

Very interesting news here in Mexico. El Universal and others (all sources are in Spanish) are reporting that over 30 copyright-related groups are coming together to form the Coalición por el acceso legal a la cultura(Coalition for legal access to culture). According to composer and coalition co-president Armando Manzanero (rough translation): “We are uniting so that no one steals a song, a book or a picture, so that everyone pays royalties to the artists.”

What’s most significant is that this coalition unites artists’ collective societies and unions with those on the corporate side, such as the Asociación Productora de Fonogramas (the only industry group mentioned by name in the articles, though I understand from people I’ve talked with that the coalition basically includes everyone traditionally involved in copyright). Furthermore, it has the blessing of the two main government oversight bodies, INDAUTOR and IMPI, as well as the head of the main congressional oversight committee, la Comisión de Cultura de la Cámara de Diputados, Kenia López.

Generally speaking, the coalition favours stronger copyright laws (and enforcement). Their initial projects include working toward a copyright levy and a regime for ISP liability, since right now there is no specific Mexican law governing ISP liability. I also understand that they are interested in getting the government to enforce their copyright laws by granting them ex officio authority, meaning that the government would not have to wait for an infringement complaint to take action against suspected infringers. (I think this is the big one, since it moves the onus for enforcement from the private sector to the public sector and, thus, the taxpayer.)

Getting Ready for the Future

This coalition comes in advance of what will likely be a major reform of Mexican copyright law in a few years’ time. The last major reform to the Mexican Ley Federal de Derecho de Autor was in 1997, mainly (but not completely) to implement Mexico’s obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement; it was modified in 2003, notably to increase the standard copyright term to a world-leading life of the author plus 100 years (at the request of Mexican authors’ groups – not all copyright reforms are driven by American industry).

The upcoming legislative battle will likely pit coalition members against Mexican Internet Service Providers, with the coalition wanting the ISPs to undertake some form of policing of their networks and the ISPs trying to minimize their legal obligations. Having a coalition allows these disparate groups to work out their differences (and there will be differences) in private before dealing with the ISPs, and to present a unified front to the authorities, giving their conclusions a lot of weight.

Issue Framing

The coalition is also a savvy move in the battle for control of how the issue is framed. In countries like Canada and the United States, there is a growing appreciation that artists and distributors/producers sometimes have conflicting interests when it comes to copyright. It is no longer identified solely with authors, but rather as a commercial right whose benefits accrue mainly to large corporations. In contrast, the Mexican copyright discourse is still dominated by the Continental idea of copyright (or, rather, derecho de autor – author’s right) and is seen as a tool for the protection of the national culture (whereas in Canada, the claim that copyright serves mainly foreign, i.e., American, interests, has a lot of currency). This narrative is reinforced by the role of collective societies as providers of social programs to artists and as their main representatives in the legislative process. Having all these groups under one roof reinforces the idea of copyright as an author’s right, rather than as a commercial right.

Getting Ahead of the Public

The coalition is also getting ahead of another group that has proven increasingly vocal in places like Canada: the user community. While the past several years have seen an astonishing politicization of copyright in Canada, there is to date no evidence of a similar groundswell in Mexico. (According to one of my interview subjects, this book, released in July 2009, was intended partly as a way to kickstart a public debate over copyright in Mexico.)

Part of this lack of interest can be attributed to the low level of Internet penetration in Mexico. This won’t always be the case, however; as more Mexicans go online, they are likely to become more aware of how they are affected by copyright law. In the face of a well-organized coalition, it will be harder for consumers to organize effectively.

At a time when many folks in the blogosphere are focused on the (admittedly important) Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (which should be made public, if only to allow for reasoned debate on the issue), the creation of this coalition is a reminder that copyright law, at the end of the day, is made and shaped domestically, not just internationally, and that stronger copyright protection is not necessarily only an objective of the American copyright industries.

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