Crowdsourced Finnish copyright bill headed to parliament

More than 50,000 people have backed the proposal

A crowdsourced Finnish draft law that aims to reduce penalties on small-scale private downloading from peer-to-peer networks reached enough backers to be discussed by the parliament.

The necessary threshold of 50,000 backers to send the bill to parliament was reached Monday, said Heini Huotarinen, senior officer of the Finnish Ministry of Justice. At midday Tuesday local time, the number stood at 52,895.

The initiative called the Common Sense in Copyright Act is a crowdsourced set of improvements to the current copyright legislation, said Joonas Pekkanen of Open Ministry, an organization that helps nonprofits and individuals make proposals for laws and designs campaigns around them.

Pekkanen is one of the initiators of the Common Sense in Copyright Act and is its representative.

The act comes in the form of a draft bill that proposes to change legislation introduced in Finland in 2006 that treats downloading from peer-to-peer networks as a felony, said Pekkanen. "Currently it carries the same penalties in the penal code as severe crimes on health and public safety, such as involuntary manslaughter or violent rioting," Pekkanen said, adding that the initiative aims to change the penalty to that of petty theft.

The bill also proposes to treat classrooms as nonpublic spaces when it comes to using copyright protected material for teaching purposes, Pekkanen said. "Teachers would be free to use any material, which is not originally meant for teaching purposes. So teachers would be allowed to show YouTube videos or have the pupils translate a news article, but, obviously, they would not be allowed to copy school books, so existing industry and business isn't affected," he said.

The bill was drafted by more than 1,100 people who voted, commented or contributed to the draft online, Pekkanen said, adding that Open Ministry used open Google documents, comments on its platform and email submissions to gather all the input.

Volunteer lawyers then went through all the suggestions to see if changes had to be made due to restrictions by E.U. copyright directives, he said. After that, the suggestions were written into a law proposal format, he added.

"It is fairly obvious that the needs of society, the citizen and, in many cases, the actual creators have been largely forgotten by policy-makers with regard to copyright," said Joe McNamee, executive director of European digital rights group EDRi, in an email. Increasingly absurd laws are "pushed by industry lobbyists that wouldn't recognize true creativity if it dropped onto their heads from a great height," he added.

However, there is still a long way to go to achieve real change in Finland.

First, the National Census Bureau will verify if the bill was indeed backed by 50,000 registered Finnish voters, said Huotarinen. Then the bill will be sent to the parliament, which will put it on the agenda, she said, adding that the time frame in which this has to be done is up to the parliament.

It then has full power to decide what happens with the bill, she said. "So it doesn't bind the parliament in any way," she added.

Because this is quite a new system, so far there was only one initiative that made it to the parliament, Huotarinen said. That initiative aimed to ban the practice of keeping animals for their fur, but the parliament decided against the proposal, she said.

Still, Pekkanen has faith that the parliament will perhaps adopt a slightly altered version of the bill. "I find it unlikely that a majority of the parliament members would choose to take the industry's side rather than the citizens' side when the voters' and media are paying such keen attention to them," he said.

"This marks a major paradigm shift for Internet democracy and consumer rights. Not only in Finland but internationally," he said, adding that this is the start of an international consumer campaign for deeper copyright reform, including other organizations such as La Quadrature du Net in France and individuals such as Derek Khanna in the U.S.

"We are all struggling with the vice grip the entertainment Industries and Silicon Valley have on us -- and very few can even begin to understand or map out the manipulation that occurs to this effect on a global scale. Today, we achieved a win, but this is only the beginning in a long road towards separating industry and state," he said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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