The Finnish constitution allows citizens to draft and submit legislative proposals for Parliament to vote on. All proposals that get 50,000 supporters within six months will be referred.
This also happened to a crowdsourced draft for a “fairer” copyright law which reached the required threshold last summer.
Termed “The Common Sense in Copyright Act,” the proposal aims 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.
Last month the proposal was first presented in the Finnish Parliament. This piqued the interest of copyright lobby groups, who handed over a memo to Members of Parliament before the hearing, to inform them on their stance. Needless to say, the entertainment and media companies were rather critical of the public proposal.
What was more surprising though, is that many MPs repeated the rhetoric that was put forward in the pamphlet. Member of Parliament Kauko Tuuppainen went as far as parroting from the memo word-for-word, which was noticed by fellow MP Oras Tynkkynen, and later picked up by the Finnish press.
Below is a translation of Tuuppainen’s address in Parliament:
“The proposal could make Finland into a safe harbor for international piracy. Why? Because it encourages copyright infringement in many ways. One would be free to copy illegal content from the internet according to the proposal.” – MP Kauko Tuupainen in the initial hearing in Parliament.
Now compare this to the language used by the copyright groups in their memo:
“The proposal would make Finland into a safe harbor for international piracy. The proposal encourages copyright infringement in many ways. One would be free to copy illegal content from the internet according to the proposal.” – Joint announcement by the content and media industry organizations.
The two descriptions of the law are nearly identical, with several phrases being read word-for-word directly from the memo.
Open Ministry, the organization that coordinates the public law proposals, is not happy with the display of lobbyists’ influence. The whole idea of the public proposals is to hear the voice of the public and experts, but some MPs would rather parrot lobbyists’ opinions.
“Since copyright issues can be complex, we asked MPs to first hear what the experts have to say on the suggested changes, before shooting them down based on industry lobbyists objections and exaggerated propaganda. They did not,” Open Ministry Chairman Joonas Pekkanen says.
“The suggested changes are not that radical, since there is national room to maneuver within the boundaries set by the EU Copyright legislation,” he adds.
The above shows that the copyright lobby has a strong influence on lawmaking, and that in some cases the voice of the public can be easily countered by a handful of lobbyists. While it doesn’t leak out in public very often, it’s not a big secret that industry groups have a strong say in the laws that are enacted worldwide.
Just a few months ago it was revealed that 150 amendments to the EU data protection bill, submitted by Belgian Member of European Parliament Louis Michel, were copy-pasted from lobbyist paperwork.
For the Finnish “fairer” copyright law there is still hope though, but full transparency will be required. The next hearings are scheduled to be behind closed doors, but Open Ministry hopes that will change considering the recent events.
“There is hope that the committee chair, MP Raija Vahasalo, has the character to heed the request from professors and experts for full transparency and open this up for public hearings, workshops and debate – like the other citizen initiatives currently in Parliament,” Open Ministry’s Pekkanen says.
The proposal has now been referred to the Culture Committee, who will advise on whether to accept it later this year.