Copyright issues have recently sparked discussion in several areas. From the consumer's viewpoint, the current outlook is positive: The Council of State decided not to expand the scope of and raise the charges collected to compensate copyright holders for private copying and Apple announced that it would begin to offer music on its online iTunes store without copying restrictions.
Early last year, the Consumer Agency expressed its concern over the fact that the consumer's voice does not seem to be heard in the process to reform copyright legislation and administration. The collection of compensation charges specified in the Copyright Act (formerly known as cassette charges) is based on compensating copyright holders for loss of income resulting from legal private copying. Last December these charges were, for the first time, set by the Council of State instead of the Ministry of Education. With the amendments to the Copyright Act, the Consumer Agency also participated in the negotiations regarding the compensation charges. The Council of State decided against raising the charges and expanding their scope to new forms of storage media. Expanding the scope of the charges, for example to thumb drives and music phones, would have had a heavy toll on consumers' wallets. Such expansion of scope suggested by copyright holders did not, however, receive support from the Council of State.
In the future, the justification for the existence of the system of compensation charges will likely need to be re-examined as consumers' actual ability to make copies for private use is continuously curtailed through the use of technological copy protection methods. The Finnish Copyright Act forbids circumventing technological copy protection methods and the creation of private copies of works whose copy protection has been circumvented. If private copying is against the law, there is no justification for paying compensation for it. The justification for systems of compensation charges is also debated on the international stage. The Court of Justice of the European Communities will issue a ruling on compensation charges for private copying. This was put in motion by a Spanish court requesting the Court of Justice of the European Communities for a preliminary ruling on the interpretation of the Directive on Copyright and Related Rights in the Information Society. The Consumer Agency will monitor developments in the matter.
Rooting out online piracy should not be the consumer's responsibility alone
Last spring, the Ministry of Education put together a broad-based working group to contemplate the problems and potential need for legislative amendment related to illegal online downloads and the illegal sharing of online material. The Consumer Agency was called in to participate in the discussions. The Consumer Agency brought forward its view that the emphasis on fighting online piracy should be on soft measures such as educating and instructing consumers.
The discussions featured suggestions from the representatives of copyright holders for some rather heavy-handed methods of intervention such as disconnecting broadband services to homes whose subscriptions are used to share and distribute copyrighted materials illegally. The Finnish Consumer Agency does not support these types of measures. In particular, the suggestion to restrict broadband services is in conflict with several projects designed to promote the information society and fails to take into consideration the fact that consumers use their broadband connections for numerous legal services - such as online banking.
The consumer's role in copyright issues has also been raised by the National IPR Strategy Steering Group. In its recent report, the working group led by the Ministry of Employment and the Economy finds that whereas in the past questions of intellectual property rights used to mainly concern businesses, technological development has made them important issues to consumers as well. The continued development of digital technology has given consumers their own system of producing and distributing music, literature and audiovisual works. In addition, private individuals create their own content - also for public distribution.
The iTunes case
An issue that was seen as problematic from the perspective of competition and the customer's right to choose was the fact that the music sold at Apple's iTunes Store was protected by technical methods which made it impossible to use with any player other than Apple's own iPod line. Consumers could not, for example, create legal back-up copies of the songs purchased from iTunes due to the type of technical copy protection employed. The Consumer Agency engaged Apple/iTunes in negotiations over the matter and also worked together on the matter with other European authorities. In Norway the matter was about to be taken to the Market Court when, in late 2008, Apple announced that songs sold on iTunes would become free of copy protection. The case was thus resolved in a manner that is positive from the perspective of the consumer's right to choose, serving as a signal that consumers should be offered material whose legal use is not unnecessarily restricted.
Previous articles in Current Issues in Consumer Law on the topic
References to legislation
The Court of Justice of the European Communities, case C-467/08
Directive on Copyright and Related Rights in the Information Society (2001/29/EC)