Mexican Activists' Stop-ACTA Victory: 'We Did It First, And We Did It Better'

from the the-politicization-of-copyright dept

The most important development in copyright policy in the 21st century has undoubtedly been the mass politicization of copyright. In the common telling, the 2012 US SOPA and European anti-ACTA protests are when this politicization became crystal clear, lessons for the entire world that citizens can shape copyright laws and treaties.

The SOPA and ACTA stories are important, both as sources of inspiration and as how-to lessons. Which is why it's a shame that another, earlier, anti-ACTA victory is in danger of being forgotten by activists.

As you might have read on Techdirt (and as I recount in greater detail in my just-published book), between 2010 and 2011, a dozen or so underfunded Mexican activists (with a key role played by artist and Techdirt contributor Geraldine Juárez) under the label of the Mexican Stop ACTA network and leveraging social media like Twitter, convinced the Mexican Senate unanimously to reject ACTA. Specifically, the Senate, which is responsible for ratifying international treaties, told the President they would not ratify ACTA if he signed it.

Since then, in July 2012, lame-duck President Felipe Calderón actually signed ACTA, but, almost two years later, it has yet to be submitted for ratification and it's unclear whether it would pass in any case. And of greater long-term importance, the Stop ACTA debate has user rights as a legitimate part of Mexican copyright discourse.

This already-impressive outcome becomes even more remarkable when you consider the context. In 2002, the Senate voted, with little debate and almost unanimously, to extend the copyright term to a world-leading life of the author plus 100 years, which was pretty indicative of the Senate's (and the government, generally) previous hands-off, maximalist approach to copyright.

The Stop ACTA network not only engineered the Senate's unanimous rejection of ACTA, but they did it in a country generally thought to have relatively weak political institutions, an underdeveloped civil society and relatively low broadband penetration rates, on an issue traditionally negotiated behind closed doors. Most remarkably, unlike SOPA and the European ACTA protests, they did it within the political system: the system worked. As Antonio Martínez, one of the Stop ACTA leaders, told the December 2013 Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest, "Mexico did it first, and we did it better." He's right.

Given that Mexico's political, social and technological situation is more like other developing countries' than are those of Europe or the United States, it's worth considering how they pulled it off. Spanish speakers can check out Twitter y el cambio politico en México, which includes a chapter by two of the main Stop ACTA participants, Juárez and Mart'nez. Based on interviews with many of the key players that I conducted for my book, three factors were particularly important.

The Stop ACTA activists understood and exploited the particularities of their political system, working with sympathetic, well-placed legislators. In particular, they worked with Senator Francisco Javier Castellón Fonseca, then chair of a key Senate committee, whom they knew from a previous battle over taxation of the Internet. Realizing that Mexican law requires that the Senate be kept informed of all economic-treaty negotiations, they exploited the secrecy surrounding the ACTA negotiations to convince even Senators from the President's party that they were being disrespected.

In terms of social media's political efficacy, broadband penetration rates are less important than politicians' views on the importance of social media. Legislators paid attention to Stop ACTA's Twitter presence because Barack Obama's successful 2008 presidential campaign had convinced them that social media are politically relevant.

They successfully framed the ACTA question in terms of its potential violation of constitutional guarantees, such as access to information, free expression, communication, and access to education and culture. Its potential negative effect on economic development also did not go unnoticed.

Crucially, this was a made-in-Mexico movement. There might be a transnational copyright movement, but actual activism is still local. Also, while social-media technologies can make it easier to mount successful political campaigns, it's unclear whether diffuse networks like Stop ACTA have long-term staying power in protracted policy debates.

Even with those caveats, there are many lessons here for anyone interested in understanding online social movements. It suggests how citizens can leverage social media and an understanding of their domestic political regimes to effect political change. It's disappointing that this historic achievement is in danger of falling into the memory hole, even among copyright and open-Internet activists. It would be a shame if that were to happen.

Blayne Haggart (@bhaggart) is an assistant professor of political science at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. His first book, Copyfight: The global politics of digital copyright reform was just published by University of Toronto Press.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2014 @ 4:01am

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Fushta (profile), 14 May 2014 @ 6:23am


    I thought SOPA was a Mexican dessert? Or is it Spanish for soap?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Kenneth Michaels, 14 May 2014 @ 6:59am

    US Constitution

    ACTA also has constitutional issues in the US, but Congress seems to ignore its power being usurped by the Executive branch. We should raise this as an issue going forward, and maybe even for ACTA in the US. Although ACTA seems dead, it was signed by the President of the US, binding the US under international law, without appropriate constitutional procedures.

    Any full legal analysis in that respect? Educating Congress with respect to ACTA will prime them to get mad with the next treaty.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    tomczerniawski, 14 May 2014 @ 7:14am

    Every few years...

    ... There's some new proposal from the government to curtail our online freedoms. We defeat one, another pops up in its place.

    Anyone get the feeling like our government is trying to erode our will to resist? We are constantly thrown bones to fight over, while the collar gradually tightens around our necks.

    At what point do we decide that maybe it's time for a new government?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anon, 14 May 2014 @ 7:35am


    There's a big difference between a country that originates the content and has some very large media companies with deep wallets among its constituents - versus a country where foreign cultural content is seen as intrusive and taking value away from the local culture and content. And... the USA is seen as a big bully to begin with, limiting the sympathy toward its point of view.

    Still, good for them getting the politicians to listen to voters over donors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anon, 14 May 2014 @ 9:11am

    It is a complete misunderstanding of Mexican politics and the Mexican political system to assert that a few under-funded activists managed to stop ACTA by working with the system. Besides, they DIDN'T stop ACTA: President Calderón signed it. That the Senate didn't ratify it has a fairly mundane explanation: an unpopular president, a divided Congress, a year of presidential elections. It happens all the time. Whoever believes that a few well-behaved activists and a shower of tweets can persuade law-makers to listen to citizens is imagining a country that doesn't exist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 14 May 2014 @ 11:34am

    Re: Desserto

    Soup, actually. Soap is jabón.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 14 May 2014 @ 11:36am

    Re: US Constitution

    Congress is too politicized. There are a bunch of Republicans who want President Obama impeached, mainly for bogus reasons, and because they're The Enemy, Democrats circle the wagons and completely ignore all of the perfectly legitimate reasons why he should be thrown out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Mark Noo, 14 May 2014 @ 1:30pm

    Mexico's government responds to the will of it citizens while the American government keeps secrets and lies.

    I think the only way left, short of a military coup, to get our government back is for everyone to vote. Even the people who want things I do not should vote.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous, 14 May 2014 @ 4:51pm

    They actually DID something?!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Pragmatic, 15 May 2014 @ 3:17am

    They successfully framed the ACTA question in terms of its potential violation of constitutional guarantees, such as access to information, free expression, communication, and access to education and culture. Its potential negative effect on economic development also did not go unnoticed.
    If only we could frame the copyright debate in terms of what it's actually for, instead of letting maximalists own the narrative and accuse us of theft, etc.

    Well, here on TD, etc., we do, but some of us are still using words like "Consume," which implies that a scarcity results after someone has experienced content.

    The idea that "consume" applies because experiencing content means it has lost its newness is bogus; if that's true, we're suggesting that content can be worn out or that experiencing it causes it to lose value. Neither of these is true. Let's work to re-frame the copyright debate in terms of who the real thieves are. It's not us.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Jonathan, 15 May 2014 @ 8:27pm

    Re: Every few years...

    Retail politics has less effect on US policy as American football. By playing the game, one agrees to be bound by its outcome. How is that a good thing when the game itself is designed to work against one?

    A nation of sports fans will inevitably be ruled over.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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