Lethal Action. Column

(IPRinfo 1/2008)

Jukka Kemppinen

Shakespeare suggested drastic measures:
The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers… (Henry VI, 2)

You could think he was thinking of copyright lawyers, being himself an inveterate and unabashed infringer, always ready to exploit other peoples’ work.

It is well known that the person who makes this worthwhile suggestion is “Dick the Butcher”, who even thinks that drinking half-beers should be made a felony, if he were the king.

I am serious, and naturally a copyright lawyer myself. Should we get rid of them?

The old idea was to hone trivial transactions and keep specialists for professional and complicated things. There is no such thing as supermarket lawyer, whereas maritime law is a distinguished branch of expertise.

Ordinary people, like e.g. university professors, never had to bother to think of copyright. As a matter of fact, even in book publishing, printed forms were signed by authors, but the details of agreements were discussed only between publishers.

Now the problems caused mainly by our more and more digitalized environment are getting so difficult that no amount of lawyers is enough.

Traditionally, we think of laws as legal forms without connection to content – like those concerning inheritance. You write your last will to give pittances or factory plants.

Copyright Acts were originally similar: the backbone rules for useful activities.

It was like the rules of soccer.

Now, Copyright Acts resemble more the specifications and instructions for building and modifying a ballistic missile.
Legislation used to be thought as something top-down. It fell from heaven.

Now we should have some help in developing our activities bottom-up. That means starting from existing and emerging business-models and practices. It is actually ridiculous to use the same set of rules for national libraries and archives and for taking five snapshots in a second using a cell-phone camera.

The Finnish Broadcasting company (YLE) says that it is illegal to use an Internet service for storing two weeks’ TV-programs. This morning’s weather forecast is as good as the latest one in TV or text-TV or net-portals. The forecast in today’s morning paper may be a bit old for somebody considering wearing boots instead of fancy shoes.

Legal expertise cannot any more be merely legal. Exactly as patent lawyers and judges must know quite a lot of chemistry, copyright lawyers must be trained both in modern technologies and the facts and routines used in connection of them.