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Sweden: Guardian: Pirates pursue a political point

Well this isent really the newest of news, but still! Just wanted to bring it up, if you dident already know about it :)

Pirates pursue a political point

A new Swedish party aims to abolish the copyright laws that criminalise file sharers

Gwladys Fouché

Thursday February 9, 2006

The Guardian

Richard Falkvinge decided to start a political party at 8.30pm on New Year's Day. He hoped to get about 2,000 online suporters by February. In 36 hours he had 4,700, and had to temporarily shut the site.

Thus was born the Pirate party, Sweden's newest political organisation, marking the point at which file sharers moved from swapping songs to trying to change the political landscape in the next general election in September. Its ambition is simple: abolish copyright and patent laws.

According to Falkvinge, the party's founder, such laws hinder innovation. "We grew up in the early 70s learning it was good to share music," says the 34-year-old IT engineer. "Now it is no longer considered OK. Through the copyright system, multinational companies have a monopoly on common culture and knowledge. For society to grow, you need to have liberty, and to trust your citizens.

"Thirty years ago, the cost of production of music was astronomical. Now anyone can do it in their basements. The multinationals are no longer needed and are fighting back. Citizens are being criminalised."

As for patents, "companies innovate because of the market and because they have to", says Falkvinge. "By abolishing patents, we will free Swedish firms to innovate."

Online piracy has become a big issue. It is estimated that of the 9 million Swedes, around 1.1 million have swapped files, and that 15m movies were downloaded last year - equivalent to the number of cinema tickets sold. As with other Nordic nations, Sweden has one of the highest proportions of broadband subscribers in the world.

"We believe [illegal file sharing] is more common in Sweden than in other countries," explains Henrik Pontén, legal advisor at the Anti-Piracy Bureau, an organisation funded by the movie and game industry. "For instance, the Pirate Bay, one of the largest BitTorrent tracker websites in the world, which helps you find files on the net, is based in Sweden."

Authorities have reacted by cracking down. Until last summer, it was legal to download copyrighted material for personal use. But in July, parliament passed a law making it illegal. In November, two men were convicted for uploading copyrighted material and were fined around 16,000 Swedish kronor (£1,180).

Falkvinge was so angry that he started the website. He is now trying to register the party the old-fashioned way: collecting in writing the signatures gathered online. He claims the party, which relies on "pure energy" and the remnants of his November pay cheque, has close to 800 members.

Falkvinge is optimistic about the party's chances of getting into parliament, which is elected by a proportional system that favours small parties. "We just need 4% of the vote or 225,000 voters - one-quarter of the million people who have been criminalised by the new law."

If the party wins seats, the business community will not be among their fans. "The patent system is very important for us," explains Peter Olafsson at Ericsson, one of Sweden's foremost companies. "Without it, the competition could use our innovations free of charge and there is significantly less incentive to conduct research."

Likewise, the party has no friends in the creative industry. "If copyright is not paid, there is no reason for creators to do their work," says Pontén. "When I was young, we worked to save the environment. This generation wants everything on the net for free. It is good the Pirate party wants to bring about change in a democratic way," he adds. "We assume this means they accept existing laws, which are decided in a democratic way."

Not all artists want protection. In Britain, the Arctic Monkeys topped the charts while encouraging fans to swap their singles online. More and more creators upload content free of charge for internet users. And an increasing number of radio and TV stations put programmes on their websites after they are broadcast. It is near-impossible to prosecute every file sharer.

Even Pontén recognises that the legislation is inefficient. "The most efficient solution would be if the internet service providers (ISPs) had some responsibility. They could warn users they are viewing copyrighted material, which they have refused to do. Some 60% of internet traffic in Sweden is estimated to come from file sharing. The main part of the ISPs' revenues comes from criminals acts."

Pontén argues that a system where legal downloading becomes prevalent is required. Then, "ISPs get money, consumers get new products and creators get paid."

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