In Brazil, “File Sharing Is Cool!”

Following a lengthy public consultation, a consortium of academics, educators, and musical and digital cultural organizations, known as the Network for Copyright Law Reform in Brazil, recently put forward a list of proposals on domestic copyright reform in Brazil. The most exciting of the 15 contributions proposed to “make sharing legal” (“Compartilhamento legal!”) by collecting a small levy from all Internet subscribers in exchange for legalizing noncommercial file-sharing.

The global access-to-knowledge movement has often looked to Brazil as an ally in intellectual property reform. Back in 2004, Brazil launched one of the first country-specific Creative Commons licenses. That launch received the high-level endorsement of the then Culture Minister, Gilberto Gil, a man who since his appointment in 2003 has successfully married the Brazilian national ideal of “cultural cannibalism” (which he himself embodies as a forerunner of the Tropicalia sound), with the "remix" message of American intellectual property reformers like Lawrence Lessig.

Later in 2004, together with Argentina, Brazil proposed the Development Agenda at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an agenda that has done much to alter accepted viewpoints about how intellectual property enforcement can affect economic and social development in the Global South. And Brazilian government ministries and state-run enterprises have been powerful advocates for the adoption of open source software as both a cost-cutting and capacity-building national policy.

It might come as a surprise, then, that Brazil's own domestic copyright law is less than ideal. The law, which was passed in 1998, enshrines no concept of fair use, instead mandating a permissions system for the use of copyrighted works that is highly limited. In 2005, the situation led to student protests as universities who had permitted them to photocopy portions of copyrighted books began being sued by rights holders.

For the past four years, the Brazilian Ministry of Culture has been helping to facilitate domestic legal reform. First, they orchestrated a series of regional and national debates, conferences and workshops to capture what sort of reform might be needed. Then, in June this year, they published a draft bill online for public consultation. (View a pdf of the draft bill in English.) The deadline for public response was August 31, 2010, by which time the Ministry had received over 7,000 individual comments.

In a headline-grabbing move on the closing day of the public consultation, the Network for Copyright Law Reform launched their own “15 contributions for access to knowledge,” which included an exception for educational nonprofit use and a term reduction from 70 to 50 years after the death of the author. Their proposal to “make sharing legal,” suggests collecting a small levy from all Internet subscribers in exchange for legalizing noncommercial file-sharing, distributing profits from the levy to artists, presumably via collecting societies.

As the COMMUNIA blog observes:

Compartilhamento legal!” plays with the double meaning of Portuguese “legal.” It means “Legalize file-sharing!”... 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.

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.

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