Legislation on Internet web sites

I don’t like to talk about politics. I’ll try to stick with the facts, then.

There has been a lot of moaning about the bill on publications announced by the Italian Government (no English there, sorry) on requiring any blog and Internet journal (in law language, “any website with a purpose of information, education, dissemination or entertainment“, Art. 2, Par. 1 of the above mentioned law) to subscribe to a national register (Art. 6 and 7 of the same law), as well as to name an editor in chief responsible for the information published.

Many complaints came immediately from almost everywhere, and all the media talked about that, warning about the freedom of speech.

Then, after some excuses by the responsibles of bill, and the Government itself, the author of the draft has stated a paragraph will be added to Art. 7 stating ”Excluded from the obligation to register with ROC are those who use the Internet or who operate on the Internet in forms and with products, like personal websites or websites for collective use that are not for an entrepreneurial work organisation.” (I found this source, but nothing from the web site of the Italian Government).

Now, I do not really understand what “entrepreneurial work organisation” literally means, nor in English, neither in Italian, but I guess the point is that this kind of registration would be required just for big newspapers and stuff like that. However, yet people complain.

Then I ended up to freedomhouse.org, a non-profit organisation that shows a map of press freedom classified per year. There I read some information regarding the freedom of the press in Finland in 2005 where it’s stated:

A new Law on Freedom of the Press, prepared with input from media organizations, went into effect in January. It requires that all publications, including Web-based outlets such as blogs and listserves, name a responsible editor in chief and archive published materials for at least 21 days.

Häh? But that’s almost the same proposal made by the Italian government! And it’s already in force in Finland! And actually I had to get more information about that, since the server of my blog is in Finland. In the page related to the freedom of the press in Finland in 2006 then I read something different:

Since 2004, internet traffic logging is no longer required, and online discussion groups are beyond the scope of the law. However, web publications must name a responsible editor in chief and archive published materials for at least 21 days.

Mmm, still confused. Now we are talking about “web publications” and the previous year about “all publications, including Web-based outlets such as blogs and listserves”.

I had to go and have a look at the law, that’s the best solution, and I found that the former statement above is wrong and the latter is misleading.

The Finnish law they are referring to is “Laki sananvapauden käyttämisestä joukkoviestinnässä 13.6.2003/460“, that is “Law concerning the Use of the Freedom of Speech in Mass Communication 13.6.2003/460″, where it’s really stated so:

4 § Vastaava toimittaja

Julkaisijan tulee määrätä aikakautiselle julkaisulle ja verkkojulkaisulle vastaava toimittaja.[...]

which in English means

4 § Responsible journalist

The publisher has to define a responsible journalist for a publication or an Internet publication.[...]

So, what’s the point? Well, the point is just in the previous article, where you read

3 § Soveltamisala

Tätä lakia sovelletaan Suomessa harjoitettavaan julkaisu- ja ohjelmatoimintaan. Yksityisen henkilön pitäessä yllä sähköisen viestintäverkon kotisivua häneen sovelletaan vain 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 22 ja 24 §:ää.[...]

that is

3 § Scope of application

This law is applied to publications and show activities practised in Finland. To a private person maintaining pages on an electronic communication network, only Art. 12, 14, 16, 18, 19, 22 and 24 can be applied.[...]

That is, Article 4 applies only to enterprises which have internet journals (like electronic newspapers), not to private people having a blog or maintaining a forum. Two lessons learned, then:

  • freedomhouse.org should specify that a responsible editor in chief is not required in Finland for private persons keeping a web site
  • The Italian Government can just copy the Finnish law. They will most probably write the same thing, in a more tangled way, spending a lot of resources, and putting under stress a lot of common people, who think that they just want to put under control of the State anything that is published on the net.

I personally don’t believe that. Or maybe I just want to assume good faith. However, I agree on the main point of a provocative article published on Times Online, namely “A geriatric assault on Italy’s bloggers“, where the term geriatric says it all.

If the Italian Government is interested in my suggestion, I can help them with the translation of the Finnish law: just contact me, I’m much cheaper than any other Italian consultant, I promise!

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