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 Ciudadanos.mx: 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.