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50,000 Finns Might Have Just Crowd-Written the Nation's Next Copyright Law

The good citizens of Finland may have just paved the way to that seemingly unattainable dream: a copyright law that makes sense.

by Meghan Neal
Jul 23 2013, 10:35pm
Image via Flickr

Oh, Finland. Home to the freest press in the world, one of the most transparent governments, the first country to make broadband access a legal right, and it crowd-sources new laws to boot. Now the Finns could help pave the way to that seemingly unattainable dream: a copyright law that makes sense.

The citizens of Finland drafted an initiative for a more fair copyright law, named The Common Sense in Copyright Act (or, Ehdotus Tekijänoikeus ja Rikoslain Korjaamiseksi) that just garnered enough support before the deadline to force the Finnish Parliament to consider it the proposed law, TorrentFreak reported.

The Scandinavian country started crowd-sourcing its legislative process last year, with the launch of the Citizen's Initiative program. Any Finnish citizen can suggest a law, and if 50,000 people back the idea the Parliament must consider the proposal. The process happens on an online platform called Open Ministry, essentially Finland's version of the We the People petition hub—except in the US version requires 100,000 signatures, and the government usually ignores the idea entirely.

Before you start packing your bags to relocate to Finland, it's worth noting that the impetus to rewrite the nation’s copyright law is that the current law is notoriously stringent. The initiative's supporters want to do away with Lex Karpela, a 2005 amendment that more strictly criminalized piracy, and made punishments for copyright infringement more severe.

So severe it gave the copyright-reformers pushing the would-be law—namely, Sampsa, a political street artist known as the “Finnish Banksy” and the Finnish Electronic Frontier Foundation—some ammo to help garner support for the proposal. Last year the country’s copyright cops got themselves  in hot water after confiscating a 9-year-old's Winnie the Pooh laptop because she downloaded a few pop songs.

The proposed law would do away with house searches, decriminalize file-sharing, and ease up on enforcement overall. "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," reported TorrentFreak. The Finnish Parliament will likely vote on the law early next year.

In the past, Big Content lobbyists had a huge hand in drafting copyright law, which the transparency-devoted Finnish Parliament has freely admitted to. Passing a crowd-sourced law would put the power back in the hands of the people, the point of democracy in the first place.

The promise of a crowd-sourced commonwealth is taking hold around the world, as FastCompany noted: "Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren asked Reddit users for ideas to curb the draconian process of seizing domain names in the U.S. Steven Polunsky, director of the Texas Senate Committee on Business and Commerce, proposed a crowdsourcing effort for new legislation regulating payday lending. In Iceland in 2011 the nation as a whole helped crowdsource a new constitution."

Democracy implications aside, copyright law will a tough nut to crack, even in Finland, just 500 miles down the road from the epicenter of the online piracy debate, Sweden. That Scandinavian neighbor is home to The Pirate Bay, as well as a growing political Pirate Party that's advocating for a total overhaul of intellectual property and copyright law around the world.

While the Pirate Party gathers steam in Europe, here in the US the government has been trying to rewrite messy copyright law, but to make it even more strict. Specifically, lawmakers want to crack down on foreign-based sites that enable piracy like The Pirate Bay. Par for the course, that initiative has support from representatives whose pockets are lined by lobbyists in Hollywood—American citizens, not so much.

The copyright war won't be over anytime soon, but it'll be pretty incredible if the next battle is fought and won by 50,000 civic-minded Finns.

open source
The Finnternet