Finland’s “Fairer” Copyright Law from the People


Little Finland has implemented a big idea in assuring “the people rule.” And it could affect the country’s copyright law. It’s an idea Americans may want to study as their Congress-married to Wall Street, multi-national corporations, and police-state surveillance-has begun looking at possible major revisions through new copyright legislation.

a342adeAs Wired explained back in January when the Finnish copyright effort took off:

Story continues below.

A campaign group is hoping to change Finland’s stringent copyright legislation by taking advantage of a law that means any petition that reaches 50,000 signatures must be voted on in the country’s parliament.

Finland’s government amended the national constitution so that, from March 2012, citizens could submit petitions to the so-called Open Ministry and crowdsource drafts before putting them to public vote. Unlike other countries (like the US or UK) where reaching a certain number of signatures only means that the government has to take a look at it, or discuss it in the legislature, the amendment forces the Finnish government to examine the law, make any clarifications it feels necessary, and then put it to a vote.

Well, the 50,000th signature just beat the deadline, leading TorrentFreak, the blog dedicated to reporting on digital issues, to observe yesterday:

This makes Finland the first country in the world in which legislators will vote on a copyright law that was drafted by citizens.

Termed “The Common Sense in Copyright Act,” the proposal wants to reduce penalties for copyright infringement, increase fair use, ban unfair clauses in recording contracts, and ease the ability for people to make copies of items they already own for backup and time-shifting purposes.

The decriminalization of file-sharing will also put a stop to house searches and online surveillance of suspected copyright infringers, not uncommon events in Finland.

Last year a house search resulted in international outrage when it was revealed that a police unit raided a 9-year-old girl and confiscated her Winnie the Pooh laptop after an allegation of sharing.

A laughable event if such Gestapo-like tactics weren’t becoming so common. In the U.S. alone, we’ve recently seen the National Security Agency force phone companies to tap Americans’ phone calls and emails, and work with major digital corporations in monitoring Americans’ internet activities. Also, the federal Justice Department tapped phones of the Associated Press staffers.

CFR‘s Peculiar Progressive columns have reviewed the U.S. copyright issue. The most recent was last week’s “Artists Awakening to Copyright Law’s Importance.”

black-copyright-symbol-dreamstimeIn that column, we noted that the push for a new copyright act began in earnest from Register of Copyrights Maria A. Pallante, who has called for Congress to create “the next great Copyright Act.” Peculiar Progressive wrote about her own advocacy, and response to it, in a March 25 column.

We pointed out that in a major lecture, Pallante listed major copyright issues Congress must consider. These include exclusive rights, incidental copies, enforcement, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), digital first sale, exceptions and limitations, licensing, deposits for the Library of Congress, offsetting copyright term, making room for opt outs, and making the law more accessible, i.e. readable.

We also noted that, in late April, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte announced an upcoming review of U.S. copyright law, stating:

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a comprehensive series of hearings on U.S. copyright law in the months ahead. The goal of these hearings will be to determine whether the laws are still working in the digital age. I welcome all interested parties to submit their views and concerns to the Committee.

By mid-May, those hearings had begun.

Any new U.S. copyright law will affect all Americans, including artists in every field. It will be interesting to see if the American public can take an activist approach, as they’ve done in Finland, toward a modern copyright law.