Making copyright understandable for the public. Editorial

LehtiarkistoIPRinfo_2-2009 Pääkirjoitus 19.5.2009

(IPRinfo 2/2009)

Marja-Leena Mansala

In my youth, copyright was a business which concerned companies – “big players”. Books, films, records and other protected items were delivered through established channels. To produce music was expensive, and huge investments were needed. Also, the enforcement of copyright was much simpler. Today, copyright affects our everyday life and it has also become a consumer question.

Enforcing one’s copyright has become much more difficult. But it is not easy for an end-user or librarian either to estimate what is protected, when a permission from the copyright holder is needed, or what and where can be copied for private use – especially concerning the Internet. To summon consumers to court seems not the best practice to inform the public about copyright, to say the least.

Education and counseling services, however necessary they are, cannot always solve a specific problem. To seek formal legal advice, on the other hand, is costly and out of reach to most of the users. These questions have been discussed widely also on the international level.

The Finnish answer is the Copyright Council: full of experts, easy for anyone to ask for an opinion and does not cost anything. It was established as early as in 1985 to assist the Ministry of Education in copyright matters and to issue opinions on the application of the Copyright Act. The Government appoints the Council members for three years at a time.

The Council is composed of representatives of the major right holders and users of protected works. The chair, vice-chair and at least one member are impartial. The current Council has 14 members, one less than the allowed maximum, and it is chaired by Professor Marcus Norrgård.

Anyone can request an opinion from the Copyright Council − private persons, business enterprises, organisations, the police, authorities and courts of law – whether or not they have personal interests at stake. There are no formality requirements as for submitting a request, neither does it cost anything for the asker. You could call that an innovation! Could this type of organ be a model for an international solution?

The Copyright Council issues 15 to 20 opinions per year. The opinions are published in the website of the Ministry of Education, which is also responsible for the administration of the Council. Some of the opinions have been translated into English.

During the years the Copyright Council has issued nearly 400 opinions on very various topics: threshold for protected work, economic and moral rights, public performance, limitations and transfer of copyright. The questions asked and opinions delivered form a good resource of copyright information. It reflects the problems people face, particularly when they feel something they have created has been unlawfully copied by others. Moreover, it answers how the problem is seen through copyright law. Even though the opinions are not binding, their influence goes further than just the particular case.

Often the Court has followed the opinion of the Copyright Council, either asked for by a party or the Court itself. In 1998, for instance, the District Court of Helsinki largely quoted the opinion of the Council and ended in the same result in an issue of moral rights. A well-known Finnish artist had recorded a song which his brother had made popular 25 years earlier, just before his sudden death. The singer used this recording in his performance, resulting in a duet between brothers. The son, who was the rightholder of the deceased, thought this was an infringement of his father’s moral rights. The Copyright Council, answering his request, gave a long and reasoned opinion stating that the act did not infringe the moral rights.