- 8 Jun 09, 15:56 GMT
In the battle between the music and movie industries and the file-sharers, have we seen a swing to what you might call the Pirate Party? Well yes we have, quite literally, in the case of Sweden, where one member of that country's Pirate Party was elected to the European Parliament.
Sweden is of course the home of the Pirate Bay, the file-sharing website which lost an epic court battle a while back. It's also the base of Spotify, the legal music service some see as the best response yet to file-sharing, and it's a place where the battle over the rights and wrongs of the whole issue has raged with particular intensity.
So fiercely, that it has even led to the foundation of a political party. The Pirate Party's mission is to reform copyright law and fight for citizens' rights to privacy. Here's an extract from their website explaining their vision:
"All non-commercial copying and use should be completely free. File sharing and p2p networking should be encouraged rather than criminalized. Culture and knowledge are good things, that increase in value the more they are shared. The Internet could become the greatest public library ever created. The monopoly for the copyright holder to exploit an aesthetic work commercially should be limited to five years after publication."
This is the kind of stuff that sends a shiver down the spine of music industry bosses, after a string of notable victories in their battle to defend copyright. As well as winning the Pirate Bay case, they've seen the French government push through a "three strikes and you're out" policy against file-sharers, and they've won a battle in Europe to extend copyright for performers from fifty to seventy years.
Now there's the prospect of a party in Strasbourg arguing for what sounds like the abolition of copyright - after all even its five year limit on commercial exploitation may be meaningless in a world where file-sharing is legalised. The music firms will point out that just 7% of Swedish voters backed the Pirate Party - but it's interesting that a single issue party has shown that something as complex as the debate over file-sharing can mobilise voters.
We in Britain are gearing up for a similar debate when the government's Digital Britain report is published next week. The creative industries have been arguing for tough action to force ISPs to act against file-sharers, and the ISPs have been lobbying furiously to make sure that doesn't happen.
We don't have a Pirate Party here - but if we did would Charles Dunstone be its leader? The boss of Carphone Warehouse has been repeating the warnings he gave us a few weeks ago about the hopelessness of battling online piracy - and has gone as far as to say that the pirates will always win.
It is clear, both from survey evidence and from the comments that we receive on this blog, that many people just don't see illegal file-sharing as a crime, however hard the media industries try to persuade the public that it's just as bad as shoplifting.
And there was just a hint last week that the government may be more inclined to listen to Mr Dunstone than to the media industry bosses who've been demanding action. Last week, the then culture secretary Andy Burnham - now replaced by Ben Bradshaw - indicated that Digital Britain would not be about forcing ISPs to cut off file-sharers, with the government preferring a consensual approach.
The copyright issue has yet to become as hot a political potato in the UK as it is in Sweden, but politicians here will be be wondering who they need to appease most, the media barons or the seven million people who indulge in illegal downloading. Don't be surprised if there's a swing to the pirates here too.
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