Welcome to Civilization, Pirate Party

Welcome to Civilization, Pirate Party

There have been criticisms of the European Parliament elections from various quarters.  These criticisms range from a consistently declining voter turnout and lack of enthusiasm for the election of Members of the European Parliament to the ability of "fringe" political parties to gain a seat due to their ability to convert fanatical energy for a radical platform into votes.  There are those who would have preferred that Britain's National Party, the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, and Sweden's Pirate Party be denied their platforms.

At least regarding the Pirate Party, this is wrong.  The best news that creators have had in years is that the Pirate Party is now in the light of day so that all may hear their message and judge what they stand for.  Mr. Engström, the Pirate Party MEP, has provided a guidepost to what we may expect from the Pirate Party in its public oratory in coming months in a blog at the Financial Times.

Mr. Engström describes a class struggle between "big film and record companies" and "creative people" who post "remixes for others to enjoy".  "Big film and record companies" send "notices" (presumably DMCA take down notices) to stop these "remixes" from being made available.  (See also Professor Lessig's Remix.)

Actually, there are a handful of independent songwriters, artists and labels who also send these notices.  Not as many as the "big" companies because the independent creators can't afford to monitor the Internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to see who is ripping them off today.  So Mr. Engström sidesteps a fundamental flaw in his argument-it's not just "big" companies who send take down notices.

Where are these "notices" sent?  The examples Mr. Engström gives are Myspace (owned by News Corp.) and YouTube (owned by Google).  That would be the Myspace that was sold for $580 million and YouTube for $1.65 billion-these two companies alone account for over $2 billion of value some, if not all, of which is the content that is being bartered on their networks.

And how much of that money went to the independent songwriters, artists and labels?   They're still waiting.  In reality, Mr. Engström's class warfare argument seems to find much greater purchase for individual creators against technology companies than otherwise. Even so, Myspace and YouTube are legitimate companies trying to be good corporate citizens.  No one at those companies has been convicted of a crime or openly harangued the creative community in an open and notorious manner.  This is not to mention the denial of service attacks and other potential crimes visited upon anyone who sought to bring the Pirate Bay to justice.  All denied, all strangely coincidental-and all anonymous.

It is astonishing that Mr. Engström does not once mention in one of his first public statements of the Pirate Party's core beliefs the conviction of persons associated with the Pirate Bay for criminal copyright infringement in his home country.  This omission is particularly striking as these convictions were a major electioneering event for the Pirate Party, complete with pictures of Pirate Party organizers waiving huge skull and crossbones flags on public squares.  One might speculate that the timing of the Pirate Bay convictions contributed significantly to the election night success of the Pirate Party.  Indeed, Rickard Falkvinge, Leader of the Pirate Party thinks that the Pirate Youth (apparently a youth organization within the Pirate Party) is an exceptionally important organization. The Leader "told Sweden's tt news agency [that] the conflict surrounding file-sharing gives Swedish youth a chance to become politically active. 'These citizens have never previously had a significant issue with which to become involved,' he said."

The restrictions that Mr. Engström, the Pirate Youth and the Pirate Bay complain of are largely problems that exist in the Lessig bubble and not otherwise.  Creators generally love to collaborate-just ask them.

But they may also decline. A creator's right to decline is protected by international treaty.  If a creator declines to collaborate or cooperate, that is their human right to do so under the property laws of civilizations that date from the dawn of time, much less the international copyright laws.  It is the lack of respect for those human rights that led to the conviction of the Pirate Bay defendants, that led to the Grokster decision and many others.  Governments "monitor" criminals because the most fundamental role of government is to enforce the laws.  This is the purpose of a government no matter what political philosophy you follow.

Now that Mr. Engström is to take his place in a law-making body, it seems that he would do well to disassociate himself from the violence done to creators by the Pirate Bay defendants and their users.  It is Mr. Engström's version of "online freedom" that threatens culture, not the other way around.

The world is not standing "at a crossroad"-other than the choice of whether we think that culture should respect the rights of individual creators, rights that are enshrined in international intellectual property rights treaties, or whether we think that intellectual property should be collectivized.  To describe the current situation as a "crossroad" gives the Pirate Party too much influence.

We will not face the apocalypse if people have to pay for music, movies and books.  But we might if they don't.  We look forward to hearing more about the course that the Pirate Party would have the world follow-and their well-reasoned theory about why their collectivism should extend solely to intellectual property and not beyond.

The European Parliament is not a Temporary Autonomous Zone as I expect Mr. Engström will discover soon enough.