Finland will become the first country in the world to have a governmental vote on changes to copyright law directly demanded by citizens.
On July 22, an online petition calling for “fairer” legislation surpassed the minimum amount of signatures needed to trigger a vote.
The bill, ‘To Make Sense of the Copyright Act,’ will call on government officials to implement several changes to current laws including reducing the punishment for suspected infringers.
Conceived by Finnish street-artist Sampsa, it was set up at the end of last year on the Open Ministry website, which allows residents to propose fresh legislation or amendments.
Suggested changes include implementing the fair use doctrine and re-classifying the downloading of protected material as a “misdemeanour” rather than a crime.
However, according to Kati Rantala, senior associate at Helsinki based law firm Juridia, restricting changes to certain aspects of the law would not be sufficient.
Calling for full-scale copyright reform, she said: “The current copyright act is rather old and does not fully reckon with the development of technology. I believe that overall reform of the copyright legislation is a better solution than proposed changes of certain sections of the current act.”
Copyright law was last amended in Finland in 2005 with updates known as ‘Lex Karpela.’ However, critics have since argued that the new measures are too stringent.
This captured the public’s attention last year when there was international outrage after police raided the family home of a 9-year-old girl and seized her Winnie the Pooh laptop following an allegation of illegal file-sharing.
The ‘Make Sense’ bill would also call on the government to put a stop to house searches and online surveillance of suspected infringers.
However, adding that a complete overhaul of the laws would be “warmly welcomed,” Rantala said: “I think that it is more probable that the copyright act would go through bigger reform than the proposed changes.
“However, there are several interest groups with different views and it might be difficult to find the balance between them. Moreover, copyright associations and copyright collecting societies are also hoping that the act will be changed but their suggestions are partly opposite with the ones proposed.”
Since last year, residents have been allowed to put forward suggestions for proposed legislative reforms on the Open Ministry site.
Petitions that collect more than 50,000 signatures in six months are then voted on by parliament.
The ‘Make Sense’ act hit the required amount of signatures just one day before the July 23 deadline.
In a statement on its website, Joonas Pekkanen, Open Ministry chairman said: “This marks a major paradigm shift for Internet democracy and consumer rights, not only in Finland but internationally. This is in fact the start of an international consumer campaign for deeper copyright reform.”
However, making reference to previous petitions that have passed the 50,000 threshold, Emilia Lasanen, associate at Krogerus law firm, also in Helsinki, said it would be “difficult to predict” how the government would vote.
She said: “The first concerned a fur farming ban and was rejected by the parliament. The second proposal on equal marriage law is to be considered by the autumn. Against this background, it is very difficult to say whether the copyright law revisions will be accepted or not.”
The vote is likely to take place early next year.
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