The Mexican vote against ACTA: A pretty big deal

I don’t know what the Mexican Congress’ formal call for the Mexican Executive not to sign the Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement means for the future of ACTA in Mexico (Techdirt story here). However, it does seem to mark a sea change in Mexico’s treatment of copyright in general. As I discuss in my dissertation, in 2003 a nearly unanimous Congress extended the term of copyright to a world-leading life of the author plus one hundred years with only a cursory debate. Going from reflexively approving a huge strengthening in copyright law to calling for the rejection of the latest attempt to strengthen said law: that’s a pretty big change.

What’s going on? Based on my dissertation field work, two things, I think. First, the telecoms are pretty strong politically and economically in Mexico, and I’m pretty sure their goal is to minimize ACTA’s burden on their bottom line (ACTA being driven by the content industries and all). As I’ve noted elsewhere, even though telecoms were largely excluded from what were secret content-industry-driven negotiations, they are too powerful not to have a say when it comes time to actually implement ACTA into domestic law.

Second, and most interesting, the traditional rhetorical argument for stronger copyright in Mexico – that it’s needed to support the national culture – is running up against an equally powerful narrative: the need for economic development. Mexico’s current National Development Plan emphasizes the need for improved broadband penetration. Along those lines, COFETEL, Mexico’s telecoms regulator, the rough equivalent to the CRTC here in Canada, argued back in November that ACTA could worsen the digital divide. Its view was supported by the Senator Carlos Sotelo of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). He said that Mexico needs a balanced copyright law that guarantees a universal right of broadband access.

As well, Senator María Beatriz Zavala Peniche of the centre-right National Action Party (PAN) emphasized that copyright law should support individuals’ rights to the dissemination of knowledge and the sharing of culture.

So what we have here are a powerful economic interest group (the telecoms) and a potent counter-narrative (economic development). Anyone interested in copyright reform should be paying very close attention to Mexico. It will be very interesting to see the extent to which this copyright-versus-development narrative takes hold, both in Mexico and abroad.

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