Derechos Digitales Chile joins the APC community

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By AL for APCNews

NEW YORK CITY, 29 July 2013

A few years ago this Chilean NGO that was born in the halls of a University managed the impossible and rid the debate on intellectual property of the technicalities that were bogging it down, thereby involving the public in a reform for a fairer law. APCNews spoke with Alberto Cerda and Claudio Ruiz about the history of Derechos Digitales (Digital Rights – DD), the campaign that changed the rules of the game when it came to lobbying in Chile, and their strategies in the face of new international regulatory scenarios.

APCNews: DD started as a research centre at the University of Chile. How did you transition to being a civil society organization?

Alberto Cerda: That’s right, most of the founding members of Digital Rights were academics or students at the Center for Information Technology Law (Centro de Estudios en Derecho Informático) at the university. But the bureaucratic structure of that institution did not allow us to react politically in a timely way to the debate on internet regulation, so we decided to operate as an NGO in order to have more flexibility. Little by little we were joined by people people from other professions (sociologists, journalists, designers) who saw the the internet as a workspace and wanted to share their professional expertise.

Claudio Ruiz: This diversity gradually changed our political strategies: we added activism and grassroots political work to the more formal mechanisms we were used to. The regional networking we have been doing also influenced us, which is one of the reasons why we are now members of APC.

APCNews: How did you manage to make the legal aspects of intellectual property accessible?

Alberto: When Digital Rights was created in 2003, Chile had just signed a free trade agreement (FTA) with the US, and both the implementation of those intellectual property laws, and the fact that civil society had been excluded from that negotiation process, had generated widespread discontent. This led to an awareness of the impact of the FTA on access to medicines, on educational institutions, and on small local publishers.

Claudio: In 2007 the Michelle Bachelet administration proposed a reform to the intellectual property law which, while it implemented the FTA with the US, also sought to expand copyright exceptions that allowed for access to knowledge and culture. The predictions for the outcome were quite gloomy since the FTA, signed a few years before, required precisely the opposite.

The reform involved a process that took more than three years, and Digital Rights brought together different social organizations (of librarians, public universities and their libraries, and independent publishers) who supported the law but lacked the necessary legal expertise to advocate through the more formal mechanisms. It was a perfect match that legitimized, to policy-makers, the role of Digital Rights .

APCNews: How did you manage to involve the public in the campaign for the law?

Claudio: When we went to Congress we saw that representatives and senators were unaware of the importance of incorporating an access perspective into the reform. So we came up with a two-track strategy: the formal mechanisms of Congress on the one hand, and activism on the other, both online and at what we call “the Sunday table”, informal public conversations. To get the legislators to understood what we wanted (a more balanced copyright, with exceptions for libraries and archives and non-commercial use), we came up with a slogan to summarize the issue and our position: “I am not a criminal.” We wanted the members of Congress to see that without reform, their own children could end up in jail. That was the Trojan horse that we used to get the most important subjects discussed at a Congressional level.

We had a second campaign called “Fair treatment for all”, which provided information on intellectual property in Chile and the reform. Many of the lawmakers used our arguments and our examples in their speeches on the day that the law was approved. We managed to cross that barrier which at first had seemed insurmountable.

Alberto: Bringing the congressional debate of a highly technical law to the Sunday conversation table was key. It even got on the morning television shows.

Claudio: We wanted to show that intellectual property was not an issue just for experts, but that it affects our daily life. We managed to make it widely clear what a huge political influence the record industry and the copyright defense lobby had, and in the end even affected their public image.

Alberto: They handled the issue badly, treating it as something complex that people would not understand. The public felt talked down to. That opened the debate, which until then had happened behind closed doors between certain interest groups, and it became a public discussion that was seen as widely relevant.

APCNews: On an international level what is your advocacy strategy for campaigns like the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership)? And what is the importance of international networks like APC?

Alberto: In recent years there has been a displacement in the forums for debates and decision making regarding the regulation of intellectual property and e-commerce and services. There has been a move away from multilateral forums (such as the WIPO and WTO), and developed countries have shifted to advancing their agendas in smaller forums where it is more difficult for developing countries to form blocks and defend their positions. Far-reaching treaties like the TTP seek to consolidate this international negotiation strategy by including a select group of countries that are willing to make concessions in order to ensure access for their products in the markets of developed countries.

This is an issue that affects not only Mexico, Peru, and Chile (the Latin American countries that are part of the treaty). If it is successful it is going to be the platform for negotiation with other countries, that sooner or later will have to accept those terms. That is why it is essential to have support networks that allow us to provide better technical assistance to countries that do not have experts, and who are negotiating these treaties without knowing exactly what is at stake.

Claudio: At the local level, we are showing people how this complex issue affects them. At the international level, with other organizations in the region, we have launched a web platform ( to pull together critical content about the treaty in Spanish.

Alberto: There are many fronts, many forums that are discussing issues important to the public, and we don’t have the resources and abilities to participate in all of them. This should inspire the creation of networks, so that we can transfer capacities and other organizations from other regions can make the voices of civil society heard. This is what APC gives us: the chance to share our experience and know-how, and at the same time learn from complimentary visions regarding the impact on online rights.


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