Mexico copyright reform: Well, that was quick

Way back in November I blogged about the Coalición por el Acceso Legal a la Cultura (Coalition for Legal Access to Culture), which brought together industry and artists’ groups (actually, collection societies representing artists and various unions), the two big groups in Mexican copyright policy, to push for stronger copyright laws. I argued that this was a big deal, akin to labour and business groups getting together to argue joint positions on economic policy. While such cooperation and agreement among groups is not unusual in other countries, I was surprised by the extent to which the two sides, representing both foreign and domestic interests, seem to have fused their positions. With Mexican copyright’s two main stakeholders agreeing to try to agree, it seemed like stronger Mexican copyright laws were a good bet.

The coalition’s big demand was for authorities to be granted ex officio authority, that is, the right to make copyright-related arrests without waiting for a complaint from the party who’s copyright has been alleged to be violated. This, of course, would make it much easier and less expensive (that is, for the copyright owner) to actually enforce copyright.

Well, Alejandro at Bitácora de Darkness passes along the news that the Mexican Congress has approved amendments to Mexican copyright and intellectual property laws, as well as the Mexican penal code, to do just that, as well as increasing the fines for which violators are liable (El Universal story here). The reforms also (this is interesting) target consumers who knowingly buy bootlegged goods.

Five quick thoughts:

1. It’ll be interesting to see if the government actually uses these new powers. As anyone who’s ever been to Mexico knows, informal markets selling bootlegged goods are everywhere. Cracking down on them has the potential to create social unrest because: a) they employ a not-insignificant number of people in a country that doesn’t have the greatest track record of producing jobs; b) market runners, thanks to political and police corruption, have some pull in how laws get enforced, and can thus cause trouble; and c) in a country where almost half of the population lives below the official poverty line, authorized CDs and DVDs are unaffordable for your average consumer.

There’s also the tiny problem of where the money is going to come from to enforce these laws: last I checked, the Mexican government had its hands full dealing with a drug war and the fallout from the global economic crisis.

2. These amendments support my contention (which will feature prominently in my dissertation) that copyright has yet to become a political issue in Mexico. Or, at the very least, consumer and user groups continue to have little or no influence on the making of Mexican copyright policy.

3. The copyright industries and allied groups seem to have had the field to themselves, as it were, on this one. It will be interesting to see what will happen when Mexico gets around to implementing rules on ISP liability, which will involve them dealing with Mexico’s telecommunications industry and, therefore, the richest man in the world. That’ll be quite the heavyweight fight. (I’ll also be watching to see the extent to which academics and civil society groups get involved.)

4. On a related note, these reforms seem to be more concerned with today’s problem — physical bootlegging — than with the online future (I’m not really sure how the amendments will affect things like peer-to-peer, for example, where the suppliers are as likely to be in Sweden as Tepito). That’s another reason it’ll be fascinating to see how Mexico decides to deal with ISP liability and other digital issues. In the long run, that’s where the copyright action will be.

5. At the rate the situation is developing in Mexico, my Mexican dissertation case study will probably be out of date before I defend the damn thing. When it comes to copyright reform, obviously no one ever thinks of the lowly researcher.

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