US and Mexico Modernize Copyright Protection in New Trade Deal

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The US Government has reached a new trade agreement with Mexico. The preliminary deal provides strong and effective copyright protection and enforcement, including criminal sanctions against movie cammers. It will also "extend" the minimum copyright term to 75 years, an issue that triggered quite a bit of confusion.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada, and Mexico was negotiated a quarter century ago.

Over the past twenty-five years, trade has changed drastically, especially online, so the United States planned to modernize the international deal.

Several negotiation rounds have taken place with all three parties. However, it appears that things are now moving ahead without Canada, which hasn’t been happy with some of the previous US proposals.

Yesterday the US and Mexico confirmed that they had reached agreement on key elements of a new trade deal. While everything has yet to be finalized, the US Trade Representative (USTR) frames it as a major improvement.

“The United States and Mexico have reached a preliminary agreement in principle, subject to finalization and implementation, to update the 24-year-old NAFTA with modern provisions representing a 21st century, high-standard agreement,” the USTR notes.

One of the key achievements, according to the US, is that the new deal includes the most comprehensive enforcement provisions of any trade agreement. The final wording has yet to be released, but a summary of the Intellectual Property chapter shows what’s in store.

Among other things, both parties agree to implement criminal measures against camcording in movie theaters, as well as cable and signal piracy. This, on top of a general agreement to enforce against piracy and counterfeiting that takes place on a commercial scale.

On of the key achievements

While these terms remain vague without the full context, they’re not as confusing as the USTR’s statement on an ‘extension’ of the current copyright term.

“Extend the minimum copyright term to 75 years for works like song performances and ensure that works such as digital music, movies, and books can be protected through current technologies such as technological protection measures and rights management information,” it reads.

Some understood this as an extension of the current US term, which for individuals is life plus 70 years. This is also the case with digital rights group Public Knowledge, which branded it as an outrageous copyright giveaway.

“The inclusion of a copyright term extension in the trade agreement announced today is a staggeringly brazen attempt by the entertainment industries to launder unpopular policies through international agreements,” the group wrote.

Journalists also jumped on this unusual issue. The USTR initially told reporters that it was indeed the plan to extend the copyright term to life plus 75 years, but according to Techdirt, this was later changed to a 75-year floor. In other words, a minimum that includes the author’s life.

This floor would not change much in either country, except for very young creators in US kindergartens, perhaps.

One of the hottest topics during the previous negotiations was the “safe harbor” issue. Content industry groups stressed that these should be tightened, while Internet law experts and advocacy groups proposed an expansion of US-style safe harbors to Mexico and Canada.

The fact sheet released by the USTR makes it clear that safe harbors are included and that rightsholders will be protected as well, but how this will be implemented remains a question.

“Establish a notice-and-takedown system for copyright safe harbors for Internet service providers (ISPs) that provides protection for IP and predictability for legitimate technology enterprises who do not directly benefit from the infringement, consistent with United States law,” it reads.

Responding to the announcement, a group of prominent music industry players including ASCAP, BMI, and the RIAA, again called for strong copyright protections.

“We are deeply concerned by the efforts of some to use the agreement to lock in flawed interpretations of pre-Internet ‘safe harbors’ perpetuating the theft of American music, creating safe havens preventing successful enforcement efforts within our trading partner nations..,” the music groups write.

A more detailed summary of what to expect in the new trade deal is available on the USTR’s website. Without the full agreement, it’s hard to draw any strong conclusions, but no matter to which side the scale tips, this isn’t the last we’ve heard of it.

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