31 July, 2013

The Law of the People - Finland Tackles "Crowdsourced" Copyright Legislation

Representative democracies in the western world often suffer from voter apathy, or a feeling that a single citizen has absolutely no control over the laws that are created and govern them. This brings about a thought; could citizens directly contribute or shape legislation, and would that be a good idea? One very unlikely nation in the cold North has seen a movement regarding its copyright legislation in the last few months, potentially having a significant impact on that particular legislation.

Finland - Copyright by the people, for the people
To give the process that the Finns are going through some exposition, all Finnish nationals have a right to start a petition of sorts to either their local government or national government to act in a certain way, or to even create laws themselves. If such a petition garners over 50,000 supporters in six months, it is passed on to Parliament to be dealt with. The petitions themselves are not binding on Parliament to act on, but function as a potential basis for debate, further legislative measures, or at the very least an indicator as to the will of the people.

The measure in question, roughly translated as "Bring sense into copyright laws" (the contents of which can be found here), was sent to the Finnish Parliament on the 23rd of July, having gathered over 53,000 signatures supporting the drafted piece of legislation. The petition is an amendment to the current copyright law, wholly drafted by Finnish citizens - a first of its kind in the world. The aim of the amendment is stated clearly in its beginning, voicing the will of the people (roughly translated):
"The main goal of the measyre is to fix the existing legislation's overshooting with regards to web surveillance and damages in copyright infringement cases. The petition's purpose is not to legalize downloading of content governed by the law, but to treat an individual's copyright infringement as a non-criminal act. A more severe charge under criminal sanctions enables domestic searches, confiscation of personalty and very large damages. Such acts in a commercial scale would still be charged as a criminal act with such sanctions. 
 A secondary goal is to improve the position of artists', other content creators' and developers using new web technologies.
The most important effect of this petition is to get rid of the position where it is the consumers against the artists, and to enable constructive conversations for the further development of copyright legislation."
Projected celebrations should the law be passed
The measure also wants for the current legislation to be clarified so individuals with no legal education can understand them. This has been an issue, as the legislation has been built on through a number of amendments, leaving it very complicated and hard to understand. It also seeks to amend specific provisions such as relating to domestic copying and fair dealing.

Overall what the people seek is for fairness and clarity when it comes to copyright. With more and more emphasis being put on content creators and their rights, while at the same time detracting from consumers' rights, it is clear that such calls for change are needed. While the UK and Australia are taking steps in improving their fair dealing provisions (both of which have been discussed on this blog: UK here and Australia here), it still leaves room for improvement.

So can citizens impact the laws that directly affect them? It will remain to be seen what the Finnish Parliament will do with this petition and the issues it brings up. One cannot think that it will be ignored, but its efficacy in actually creating concrete legislation can be questioned. If it generates discussion surrounding such issues, it will have done at least something, but should the Finnish people not react to instigate change if it is largely ignored, the attempt will fall flat. Parliament will deal with the measure soon, the results of which this writer cannot wait to see.

Source: TorrentFreak

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