Friday, November 20, 2009

Mexican copyright developments

Blayne Haggart, Canadian scholar in Mexico, has a new post on hot-off-the-press developments in Mexican copyright. Mexico has the longest copyright term in the world: life + 100 and could, if developments continue, be a world-leader in other strong copyright measures as well. Haggart reports that a new copyright coalition has formed in Mexico that will work to increase copyright measures, recognition, and enforcement. Haggart points to low levels of internet penetration in Mexico as one reason why user rights movements haven't taken off in the country. As Haggart says, regarding the low levels of Internet penetration, "this won’t always be the case; as more Mexicans go online, they are likely to become more aware of how they are affected by copyright law."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ACTA: walk away or get on board?

On November 5th Michael Geist spoke at the American University in Washington about the ACTA. His presentation was part of a panel called "Strengthening IP Enforcement Through TRIPS and Other Multilateral Initiatives", with Daniel Gervais and Peter Yu and moderated by Padideh Ala'i (Webcast here).

Geist predicted that by 2010 ACTA will be fully drafted, that by 2011 it will be publicly disclosed, and that by 2012 efforts will have begun to expand the circle of countries to which ACTA applies. Countries excluded from ACTA will be presented with a fait accompli. They will have had no influence on the ACTA text. Nevertheless, they will eventually be asked to sign the document. Geist argues that, therefore, excluded countries should be banging down the door of ACTA, saying they want input now.

The question I raised at the discussion was whether, if more countries get on board with ACTA, it will not simply lend more legitimacy to the process taking place, and increase pressure on participants eventually to implement the agreement. In response, Geist argued that, on balance, the risks of not getting involved are too big.

In my historical research on Canadian international copyright I have seen the argument made on numerous occasions that Canada should participate in this or that international negotiation in order to be able to have some influence. This argument is made even in negotiations that are heading generally away from the direction in which Canada wants to go. It also seems to me that the influence ascertained through this method has been, on the whole, negligible. Also, once a country participates in and signs an agreement, the argument is then made (as with the WIPO Internet treaties) that the country therefore has some obligation to implement the agreement.

Nevertheless, Geist may be right.

Non-participation: considerations
  • With fewer participants, the ACTA could come to be seen as a regional or rich-country norm, rather than an agreement that all countries would eventually sign. However, there are not many examples of IP treaties that are seen as regional today; most are successfully globalized. At the same time, the WIPO Internet treaties are still adopted only by about 70 countries, less than half the membership of the Berne Convention; global adoption of any new treaty is not guaranteed.
  • If countries do not participate in ACTA's negotiation, they can later argue that they don't wish to implement an agreement that they had no say in. It seems likely that trade pressure would overcome this objection.
  • Countries that do not participate now could demand revision of the treaty at a later time as a condition of their joining. Canada successfully demanded revision of (via a protocol to) the Berne Convention in 1914 as a condition of its implementation of Berne, and the US was highly influential in revisions of Berne as an outsider, when members tried to accommodate US demands in an effort to (unsuccessfully until 1989) draw the US in.
  • Howard Knopf argues that Canada should be prepared to walk away from the treaty, and that if Canada continues to participate "the minimum price for so doing should be complete transparency and immediate publication of all draft texts, as has been the normal practice at the GATT, WTO, WIPO and elsewhere for decades."
Participation: considerations
  • The participation of Canada or other countries could have a beneficial impact on the treaty; for example, room for Canada's proposal of a notice-and-notice system could be brought into the treaty.
  • Like-minded countries could group together to have some influence on the treaty, mitigating its most unpalatable aspects
Not signing: considerations
  • Blayne Haggart, in a recent blog post about ACTA, points out that the French government killed the MAI by walking away from it. That doesn't mean that would happen here, he notes; a smaller group of countries could carry ACTA forward even if some parties walk away.
  • Countries could participate in the negotiation of ACTA but, in the end, refuse to sign the document. This would allow the country to have some influence throughout the negotiations and, if the ACTA remains unsatisfactory, to make a statement in this regard while also making it clear that, in the end, the country did not intend to implement the agreement. This was the strategy taken by the United States throughout the history of its refusal to sign the Berne Convention.