Within the framework of “Juego doble”, a project underway since 2004 at the Cultural Center of Spain in Mexico gathering Spanish and Mexican creators and theoreticians in fields related to new technologies, a recurring theme arose: the free access to culture that information and communication technologies (ICT) seem to have made possible in recent years. The ease with which digital media make it possible to produce, distribute and have access to culture seems to mean a whole new spectrum of possibilities for its democratization have opened up but at the same time, many new frictions have arisen in relation to prevailing legislation. In Spain, an unexpectedly intense and highly visible debate has been generated around the new area of digital culture; however, in Mexico, the subject is still limited to discussion among artists and theoreticians who are familiar with international debates but it has not created any actual problems or serious arguments. In Spain in recent years, the issue of the social function, legal conditions, and economic worth of culture has become notorious, due to various controversial modifications to Intellectual Property Law as required by the EU and international agreements on the matter.
Law governs practices, and these modifications aim to impose order on the practices that have arisen in recent years due to new information and communication technologies that have so greatly transformed the ways culture is produced, reproduced, and transmitted that prevailing legislation no longer applied to them. To protect the copyright or intellectual property rights of the producers of culture, the law has been modified to include these new practices. These modifications have immediately caused controversy because many people see them as an attempt not only to limit the possibilities offered by these new cultural digital media in practice, but also to tax or even penalize practices that, prior to the modifications, were legal (such as the right to copies for private use). In addition, what had been considered "fair use" of cultural products protected by intellectual property law in academic, critical and press circles now fell on the borders of illegal practices.
In Mexico, however, no controversy has arisen in academic, legislative, or media circles in relation to the potential implications of the difficulties that information and communication technologies may cause in cultural practices. Looking into the situation, it was found that debates on the social role of culture have focused, on the one hand, on whether it is valid or not for the State to own them, a condition that has its roots in cultural policies carried out by various Mexican governments since the post-Revolutionary period, which make culture a natural extension of state policies insofar as they are included directly in the production mechanisms of national identity. On the other hand, since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect, the related legal modifications made in Federal Copyright Law and especially the lack of attention it gives to cultural production open up another range of problems which continue to overshadow the cultural implications of information and communication technologies (ICTs).
Given this background, the Cultural Center of Spain in Mexico considered it relevant to compare Spain and Mexico in terms of creating a map of the copyright situation within the framework of the development of new information and communication technologies. To create this map, and taking an examination of the visual arts as a starting point, two discussion conferences were held in January and May 2007. Participants included lawyers, civil servants, academics, activists, artists, and representatives of visual arts management entities. Given the fact that statutes regulating copyright, free access to culture, and their frictions have very different political, social, legal and economic weight in Mexico and Spain, the task carried out was understanding the reasons for those differences. What national roots explain that these matters are of current importance in one country but not in the other?
The relevance of carrying out a project of this type at the Cultural Center of Spain in Mexico has to do with the fact that in Spain in recent years, these issues have been subject to intense debate. This debate is not fortuitous given that its roots lie in the prevailing position of ICTs in today's society, including Latin America, although some distinctions must be made, which is why this debate will surely arise in this part of the continent. We aim to prepare for the day when that happens by providing a plural discussion framework that includes different views (lawyers', artists', and activists') and opposing positions (for and against current legislation). This will make it possible to define the topics of discussion and create fertile soil to nourish socially relevant cultural policies, provided that they are situated in connection with the Latin American situation. Our work is clear: to disseminate the various problems already addressed in Spain and propose local solutions, preparing the ground for discussions soon to arise and proposing a framework in which to carry them out.
By Alberto Javier López-Cuenca and Eduardo Ramírez, Conference Coordinators