On the final day of the public consultation on Brazil’s copyright bill (English translation), all wakes of the legal, creative, civil society and industrial sectors were abuzz with activity. Among the last minute contributors was an impressive initiative of 28 academic, educational, consumer, musical and digital cultural organizations, joined in the Network for copyright law reform. In their “fifteen contributions for access to knowledge” they propose, among others, an exception for educational non-profit use and a term reduction from 70 to 50 years after the death of the author.
An overlapping constellation of civil society and art actors focussed their submission on a single issue: file-sharing. Under the slogan “Compartilhamento legal! R$3,00 de todos para tudo,” this network is proposing to legalize non-commercial file-sharing in exchange for a levy on broadband Internet access. The idea is nearly as old as peer-to-peer file-sharing itself. It has been tested in technology and in law making a few times. Here and now in Brazil, it feels like it might actually become a reality.
The proposal has been developed by the Centre for Studies and Research on Copyright and Cultural Rights (NEDAC) at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), the Research Group on Public Policies for Access to Information (GPOPAI) at the University of Sao Paulo (USP) and Pena Schmidt, producer of the great Brazilian rock bands of the 1980s, founder and first president of the indie label association Associação Brasileira da Música Independente (ABMI) and now director of the Auditório Ibirapuera, and his long-standing friend Fernando Yazbek of the law firm Yazbek, Portaro Advogados Associado. The drafting was critically accompanied by the Centre for Technology and Society (CTS) of the Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) Law School in Rio de Janeiro and by intellectual rights Ph.D. student at Duke University Pedro Paranaguá, and it involved countless hours of on- and offline conversations with most of the actors involved in the proposed model.
Among the initial signatories of this proposal are Claudio Prado, cultural producer and key person in setting out Brazil’s digital culture policies, Bernardo Sorj, sociology professor at UFRJ and a key figure in Open Access in science, Ladislau Dowbor, one of the leading economists of the country at the Catholic University of Sao Paulo (PUC-SP) and Artur Matuck, professor at the School for Communications and Arts ECA-USP and media-artist who devised a free content licence long before CC and regularly teaches seminars together with a copyright law professor.
While the final details of the legal language were still being hammered out, the campaign website was build. The URL was not yet supposed to be communicated, but word got around on Twitter – this incredibly fast and gossipy medium – and was picked up by popular singer and composer Leoni aka Carlos Leoni Rodrigues Siqueira Junior. He was not only the first to sign the online petition – while the submission form was still being tested - but also the first to blog about the initiative. Leoni had been blogging about Gerd Leonhard’s flat-rate concept of Music like water already and immediately embraced the public policy initiative. Ever since, hundreds of signatures came rolling in, some with enthusiastic expressions of support – all while the walls were still being painted, so to speak, and the official submission and the press release had not yet been sent.
“Compartilhamento legal!” plays with the double meaning of Portuguese “legal.” It means “Legalize file-sharing! R$3,00 (€1,35) from all for everything,” but also “File-sharing is cool!” The initiative says that the political will is there to find an amicable solution for the challenges posed by the popular practice of peer-to-peer exchanges. Whether there is significant support in the communities of artists and of Internet inhabitants, the petition will show.
When the consultation on the copyright bill closed at 24h, the submission counter stood at 7,863. To have to make sense of it all is not an enviable task for Marcos Souza and his team at the Ministry of Culture, but an honourable, if not heroic one. The torrent of popular (and not so popular) will to participate in the shaping of the knowledge order of the digital age is itself phenomenal. The voice of the academic, education, authors and artists, consumers and law communities asking for more access and freedom is unmistakable.
The Ministry of Culture will be working on the final bill over the next months and over the elections in October. If the Workers Party remains in power, which looks quite likely at this point, the bill could go to the first chamber of the Brazilian congress, the Câmara dos Deputados, in December and to the Senado Federal at the beginning of the new year.