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Norwegian liberals call for relaxation of copyright laws

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The Liberal Party in Norway has backed the legalisation of the sharing of copyrighted material for personal use. It is the first mainstream European political party to adopt a pro-file-sharing stance.

The Venstre, or Liberal Party, is the country's seventh largest party and holds 10 of the Norwegian Parliament's 169 seats with 5.9 per cent of the vote. Its Congress has just adopted file-sharing as official policy.

"The Liberal Party Congress states that today's legal frameworks for copyrights are not adapted to a modern society," said a party resolution.

"Copyright law is outdated. A society where culture and knowledge is free and accessible by everyone on equal terms is a common good. Large distributors and copyright owners systematically and widely misuse copyright and thereby stall artistic development and innovation. Therefore, the Liberal Party wants to reinstate the balance in copyright law."

Laws should only limit file-sharing in order to limit their use to personal use, and to ban commercial distribution without payment to copyright holders. The party has also called for a relaxation on the laws of sampling copyrighted material, a reduction in the life of copyright, and a ban on digital rights management technology.

Scandinavian countries are at the forefront of consumer opposition to the control exerted over material by copyright holding corporations, most commonly of music companies over music. Sweden already has The Pirate Party, a fringe party which grew out of a protest at the shutting down of a file-sharing links website.

In Norway and Sweden consumers groups are also taking action against restrictions on the use of music. The Consumer Council of Norway complained to the Consumer Ombudsman that Apple's licence terms for iTunes-bought music broke Norwegian consumer protection law, and the Ombudsman ruled against Apple.

"It is wrong to make an entire generation of criminals," said vice chairwoman of the Liberal Party, Trine Skei Grande. "We managed to make compensation models when the photocopier was invented, but we haven't managed to do anything about modern technology. The law must adapt to the citizens and the impact of technological innovation."

Though the Liberal Party is unlikely to form a government on its own, Norway is mostly run by coalition governments dominated by the Labour Party, so its policies could form part of a government programme without it having to win an election outright.

The adoption of such a policy would be likely to cause Norway diplomatic problems, particularly with the US, the centre of the multinational entertainment industry. The US is said to be exerting significant diplomatic pressure on Russia because controversial website Allofmp3.com is based there. The US is said to be opposing Russia's entry into the World Trade Organisation while the site operates in Russia.

Though Norway is not a member of the European Union, so is not bound by EU Directives on copyright, it is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organisation and the World Trade Organisation, neither of which is likely to look favourably on a file-sharing policy.

The Liberal Party does recognise that international agreements will be a factor in the adopting of any such policy. "International law regulates most of these questions," said Skei Grande. "I have yet to conclude on everything regarding these complex problems, but I have faith in this as a radical and modern solution that still ensures artists' rights to revenue and attribution."

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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