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Rory Cellan-Jones

A swing to the pirates

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 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.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    The creative industries just need to wake up to the modern era or they're going to be left behind. Unfortunately those at the top have probably never even seen the internet. Too busy playing golf and worrying about how they're going to afford their next yacht with all the online criminals stealing their copyrighted work.

    For example I've often thought (perhaps mistakingly, I'm not an expert) that some of the cost of something includes the manufacturing cost, distribution cost, warehouse/stocking plus profit for the retailer.
    Yet buying an electronic version of something often costs just as much or sometimes even more... thats when it is available! Of course people are going to pirate things if it's made hard to get at or priced in a way to discourage legal downloads.

    Then if you do actually buy the electronic version, it's packaged in a form that only certain applications can open it, on a limited number of devices which is validated online when you open it. Basically this means in 10 years time when you purchased your 5th shiny new device and the supplier has gone bust, you have to buy it again. What incentive is there to do it legally when an illegal copy will last a lifetime?

    Although it's good that it's getting easier and cheaper to purchase music, movies and books are still lagging behind. Hopefully in another 5 years things will have progressed, otherwise the pirate party may find themselves with a few more seats and more clout to knock the creative industries off their perch!

  • Comment number 2.

    Unfortunately, with conservative MEPs Malcom Harbour, Sayed Kamell ( proposed AT&T amendments) Bill Newton-Dun (proposed net-discrimination amendments) and Labours Arlene McCarthy - our notion of a neutral networking is far from secure. These folk have being taking submissions from industry and dress the amendments as consumer protection measures within the EU Telecoms Package.

    We will have to lobby hard during what we hope will be the third reading of the Telecoms package, to keep 'three strikes' out and re-lobby for a neutral internet access, something the Digital Britain interim report said is not needed, but which is crucial for any free and open society.

    The EURO Conservative and Labour MEPs were doing a shocking job last time on behalf of customers. Hopefully MEPs Sarah Ludford, Jean Lambert and UKIP will continue to represent customer interests and keep the former on the straight and narrow.

    If the press, including the BBC, bothered to report the activities of the MEPs during the compilation of the Telcoms package they would have faced more opposition and would not have been re-elected.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    The reason public don't see filesharing in the same light as shoplifting is because it is nothing like shoplifting.

    To be the same as shoplifting there has to be a material and financial loss.

    You can argue a shoplifter/downloader is unlikely to buy whatever it is they've obtained.

    So...

    When a shoplifter takes the latest Girls Aloud CD there has been a material loss as the shop no longer has the CD and there has been a financial loss as the shop hasn't been paid for the CD that they no longer have.

    When a downloader gets a mp3 off the internet the orginal mp3 is still there, the CD the mp3 was recorded off is still there, so unless the CD that the mp3 was recorded off has been stolen there is no material loss. Has there been a financial loss? Well that's a tricky one! Some people will download a mp3, like the song and then buy the CD/mp3 - no financial loss there. Some people would never have bought the CD/mp3 anyway - no financial loss there. Finally there are the people who would have bought the CD/mp3 if it hadn't been available for download - financial loss there but no-one knows how big it is.

    Downloads will never be considered as serious as shoplifting because the material and financial loss of shoplifting can be quantified (with a exact figure), with downloads it's a guess as an assumption is made that every download = one missed sale (which is just not true).

  • Comment number 5.

    Its not so much that I dont see it as wrong, but I'm tired of getting ripped off for rushed or poor music/movies.

    The focus these days isnt on the quality of the work, but how fast it can be made, how much of it can be made, and how much money can be leveraged from it (woo synergy!).

    I have over 600 shop bought cds (in a lot of cases still sealed and unopened as a result of me downloading the album illegally, listening to it, liking it and buying it, but carry on listening to the mp3) and over 200 original dvds.

    I think I've earned the right to decide if a piece of work is worthy of my money rather after all the disappointing albums and movies that have had my money over the last decade.

  • Comment number 6.

    When the Pirate Party in Sweden gets a bigger percentage of their overall vote 7.1 and it gives them only 1 MEP but the BNP here in the UK with 6.2 percent now has 2 MEPs the Politicians had better take notice.

    One is left wondering which is the greater threat to European stability. Do we really want to exert our legislative energies trying to thwart file sharing which is seen just as a financial loser to media corporations when human lives could be the target of a divisive fascist uprising?



  • Comment number 7.

    Why is it always the 'media barons' who are cited as the losers when piracy and file sharing is debated? I run a small company compiling 'data' that is constantly ripped off and shared on various sites and forums. This causes our business great damage and threatens our livelihood.

    We work hard and it is heartbreaking to see it stolen. The everything FREE culture is just plain wrong, we have a right to a reward for our hard work and if we stop this service then everyone will lose access to it.

    There is no 'right' to free data and those who propose otherwise are fools who fail both fail to realise that much of this data will vanish if it continues to be abused and also have clearly never had their own hard work ripped off in this way.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hi,
    Just a quick one to let you know that we are in the process of starting the Pirate Party of the United Kingdom, you can check out our website at http://pirateparty.org.uk, join us and contribute on the forums.

    Thanks,
    Ben

  • Comment number 9.

    couple of points,
    Firstly we do indeed have a fledgling Pirate Party (http://www.pirateparty.org.uk/), although how much support they might manage to gather in the apathy ridden electorate is debatable
    Next irrespective of the rights/wrongs of copyright infringement (not theft, and not a criminal offence) it will be forever difficult for the Media corporations to gather public support, which is required for any law to be enforced, unless they do a few things. They need to stop differential pricing of markets. More often than not it originates from the same servers, the customer knows they are being ripped off and resents this. Next they need to stop DRM. If the customer purchases software/music/movies it is then the customers to view/listen/use as they choose. Most importantly they need realistic pricing. A CD retailing at £12 is never going to fetch the same as a download. Only by shifting their business model to reflect the real world and make it easier and cheaper to buy online will attitudes change.

  • Comment number 10.

    If iTunes had Try Before you Buy... I'd buy a lot more music. Imagine being able to listen to an album for a week before it expired. It would have to insist you baught an album to stop people buying the instantly likeable tracks from an album (a good album always has growers) but that way we don't end up buying rubbish. Artists have more of a motive to not release any old rubbish and hype it beyond belief. More people would buy music, I'd bet a winning lottery ticket on it.

    And with CDs. Why don't Amazon offer a physical CD and downloads as one purchase? You get an object, something to treasure, something that will work in your car, your mini hifi in the kitchen, and can be put on any device easily - and you also get the instant satisfaction of being able to hear the album minutes after buying it.

    I really think the record industries are to blame for not trying stuff out.
    Maybe the Pirate Party are right about a 5 -year limit. Don't patents have a similar type of limit?

  • Comment number 11.

    Again, I feel compelled to ask this most fundamental of questions.

    What does this have to do with technology?

    This is supposed to be a technology blog. Not a political blog.

    Maybe the Pirate Party was elected under the wings of the popularity of a particular filesharing website. But one could argue, that Labour lost many of its votes to disgruntled libertarians who don't want to see ID cards and national databases on this country's agenda. I know this, since I was one such vote. Technologically-based party preference, wouldn't you say?

    Please, return this blog to what it was meant to cover. Technology. I fear that such articles are posted here, since the bloggers know full well it will attract inordinate amounts of views and comments - a quick look at the amount of comments in the archived technology blogs that relate to filesharing and The Pirate Bay are most revealing.

  • Comment number 12.

    I found out something interesting yesterday.

    I live in China and if I go to google.cn I can legally stream all of the music from the big 4 labels for free. It seems that over here the record labels have realized that not in a million years are they going to be able to sell their music and so they are happy just to take some of the ad revenue from google.

    This seems like a much more realistic model for consuming media in the long run. Maybe they already know this and are just trying to milk as much as they can out of us in the meanwhile.

  • Comment number 13.

    @spider - Considering the younger generation generally constitute the the apathetic voters, they may not be that apathetic if such a party is marketed well!

    The publishing industry is certainly feeling the pinch of online media.. the introduction of the likes of Kindle and the already ubiquitous presence of news on the Internet leaves print publishers even worse off than the music and film industries. They have to contend with legal channels destroying their business models in addition to the already readily available copies of pirate books available in PDF format all over the internet.

    @synthil - technology doesn't live in a world of its own - believe it or not politics does affect the technology space significantly - from poor telecoms policy decisions stunting access to Internet in some countries to piracy laws that stifle tech innovation in others.

  • Comment number 14.

    @DarrenGriffin - excuse me, your hard work? Doing what? Taking data that is already free and then compiling it and charging for the service. If that is the case I'd hardly call what you do hard work.

    When companies like yours Mr Griffin wake up and realise that data is not a commodity then piracy will end because there will be no need for it.

    As for the Pirate Party, I say well done to them, it's a shame more people didn't vote for them.

  • Comment number 15.

    14. At 07:01am on 09 Jun 2009, ravenmorpheus wrote:

    @DarrenGriffin - excuse me, your hard work? Doing what? Taking data that is already free and then compiling it and charging for the service. If that is the case I'd hardly call what you do hard work.

    -------------

    Would you not call scientists hard workers? for that is what they do also.


    There is a need for copyright laws, all data can not be free, if it was then there would be no professional data collectors or content providers. That is the mistake that those in this party are making, if it were not for the big bad corporations or the draconian laws then they would have nothing meaningful to share. Those who believe everything should be free are always those who want somene else to do the work for them, they are very rarely those who create anything worthwhile themselves.

    I'm not saying that the record/movie associations are right, clearly they are not. Their pursuit of filesharers in such a draconian fashion as opposed to realising the need to modernise their industries to embrace the new distribution potential of the internet is intrinically short sighted and wrong. The success of cheap lower quality downloads (massively outnumbering actual physical single sales) shows that there is a market for this kind of distribution. The first movie studio to capitalise on this and start releasing lower quality downloadable movies for a couple of quid shortly after the physical DVD release will not only make a lot of money from people like myself who would otehrwise wait until the DVD is down to £4 in ASDAs but will also win a massive PR advantage.

    That embracing of techniological change is where we will eventually end up, but it seems to progress more and more slowly as time goes on when the reverse should be true, because it is being lead by idiots and extremists on both sides. The public face of filesharing is napster and pirate bay, run by extremist megalomaniacs who want the entire world to share their flawed vision, exactly the same as the ultra-protectionists in charge of the industry on the other side. The majority in the middle are nothing to them but pawns in thir stupid little games, the real people who would benefit most from modernisation are stuck between those who prefer feudalistic and fascistic control of information and those who prefer the anarchistic return to every man for himself kind of justice.

  • Comment number 16.

    The Pirate Party is also now the largest party in the 18-35 age-group, something that will be grabbing the attention of the local politicians...

    The plan to throttle file sharers? How will they know when everyone starts encrypting their traffic? Yet another unworkable fantasy from policy makers who don't have a clue about technology. There is NO technological solution, there will always be a way around it. Instead they need to put their efforts into developing an economically viable business solution. Just as the VCR made the movie industry more money instead of killing it as they so wildly predicted, so too can digital media if done the way the customers want it done.

    And on a slightly related note, Ben Goldarce rips apart those dodgy stats on the cost of piracy to the economy that the government published the other week. See http://www.badscience.net/2009/06/home-taping-didnt-kill-music/ or The Guardian website.

  • Comment number 17.

    I think that the entire problem is solved if copyrighted music and movies become free to file-share after 10 years.

    Most of the file-sharers will rejoice and most of the big bad industry men will complain (and will not realise the blessing in disguise)

  • Comment number 18.

    You can also join the Pirate Party Australia:

    http://www.pirateparty.org.au/

    Wikipedia also has some nice info on the parties around the world:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_Party

  • Comment number 19.


    15. At 10:21am on 09 Jun 2009, hackerjack wrote:

    14. At 07:01am on 09 Jun 2009, ravenmorpheus wrote:

    @DarrenGriffin - excuse me, your hard work? Doing what? Taking data that is already free and then compiling it and charging for the service. If that is the case I'd hardly call what you do hard work.

    -------------

    Would you not call scientists hard workers? for that is what they do also.


    Hi, I'm a scientist. We do do hard work in obtaining and abstracting information from the world, but we also perform various constructive acts, too. We also, and this is key to why your comparison is faulty, don't charge any money for access to the results of our hard work.
    (We get paid to do the work, of course, but once we've discovered something, we don't charge people extra each time they want a copy of it.)


    There is a need for copyright laws, all data can not be free, if it was then there would be no professional data collectors or content providers. That is the mistake that those in this party are making, if it were not for the big bad corporations or the draconian laws then they would have nothing meaningful to share. Those who believe everything should be free are always those who want somene else to do the work for them, they are very rarely those who create anything worthwhile themselves.


    Nonsense. The purpose for which copyright was originally intended was conceived in the context of a world very different from the present. At the time, only a few powerful people had the means for mass copying - "printing presses" - and the concept of copyright was invented to encourage them to pay content creators - "writers" - for their works (otherwise, the incentive was for them to get slightly more profit by taking the copies produced by the first press to pay the writer and copying them without notice - considering the real costs to the presses themselves in making each copy, this was an obvious choice to make).
    Notice that this is a context where profit is involved for the copier as well as the writer, and copyright was a way to protect copiers from each other as much as the writer. This, itself, was a new concept - the world at the time was moving from one where writers (for example) were paid directly by patrons to create, to one where they had to earn a crust themselves. Scientists are still, arguably, in the patron model of work.

    Copyright was also intentionally limited in term. The original writers of the law recognised that the primary benefit in any intellectual property to society is greatest when it is accessible to all (hence, also, libraries). So, the original copyright was for 14 or 28 years (if renewed) - long enough to give the writer fair recompense for their effort, and to incentivize the presses to pay them, but short enough that the "natural" state of non-copyrightedness would occur within the lifetime of those experiencing the work for the first time.

    The current situation is one where everyone can make copies and those copies are cheap to produce (in fact, almost free) - and no-one makes profit from making those copies (despite those warnings on DVDs about how piracy funds evil terrorists, this is only the case for those dodgy knockoff DVDs you pay for, not for the likes of BitTorrent, where there is no direct profit from the copies at all). It is clear that this is a totally different world to the world that copyright law was designed to deal with.

    In addition, under successive legislations encouraged by lobbying from the industries who depend on copyright, copyright itself has been turned from its original purpose. The current iteration of copyright - with duration comparable or longer than life, for example - no longer exists to encourage creators to create in order that the public domain is enriched. Instead, it allows copyright to be used as a commodity by entities controlling the creators, and incentivizes nothing but the creation of additional copyrighted works, regardless of their value to society.

    So, how do we do what copyright was originally intended for - encourage creators, whilst enriching the public domain?
    I don't know. I don't think anyone really knows. It's possible that we don't actually need copyright any more - that individual artists can get enough money from donations in a shareware model to incentivise their work. It's possible that the still-existing rarity of physical copies will allow profit to be made from them whilst removing copyright on digital copies (the Baen Free Library experiment seems to bear this out for books in a limited sense, as does the actual behavior of those who copy music - most of whom also buy large amounts of "legal" music).
    (It is certainly true that we need to reduce the length of copyright to a more public friendly value. The Pirate Party of Sweden suggests 10 years would be acceptable for physical copies. I think that 14 to 20 would be better, based on the distribution of profit over the lifetime of a work. Certainly, 70 to life+70 is obscene.)
    What is definitely the case is that it is certainly not clear that copyright is "always needed", especially in markets and contexts where the assumptions implied by it do not exist.

  • Comment number 20.

    @hackerjack

    I think your point about extremists on both side slowing down the process of moving forward is true to a point. However if the pirates were to back down then the fat cats would be having there way. Unfortunately this is how it will have to work until someone (hopefully politicians) come up with a sensible compromise.

  • Comment number 21.

    I thought the government were all for file sharing. They do it with social security records etc. OK, they dont upload them to the internet but they burn them to CD and onto Flash drives and leave them on beches and in taxi's, on the Tube.......

  • Comment number 22.

    The main losers from online file sharing are the publishing companies, but I can't see what purpose these companies serve in the 21st century, an age when any song, video, or game can be copied infinitely many times at no cost. It would be easy using the internet to create a non-profit publishing company which distributed music via torrents and gave all takings to the artists rather than to the shareholders of a large corporation. It could earn its money through advertising or perhaps a small fee which I'm sure no pirate party member would object to if they knew was going directly to the artists.

  • Comment number 23.

    20. At 3:45pm on 09 Jun 2009, ringsting-iom wrote:

    @hackerjack

    I think your point about extremists on both side slowing down the process of moving forward is true to a point. However if the pirates were to back down then the fat cats would be having there way. Unfortunately this is how it will have to work until someone (hopefully politicians) come up with a sensible compromise.

    Politicians won't come up with a sensible compromise, they're paid off by businesses, certainly in this country, in one way or another, you only have to look at the way that the idea of net neutrality has been dropped in favour of proposals from businesses to see that big business has more influence in how things are run in this world than they should.


    15. At 10:21am on 09 Jun 2009, hackerjack wrote:

    14. At 07:01am on 09 Jun 2009, ravenmorpheus wrote:

    @DarrenGriffin - excuse me, your hard work? Doing what? Taking data that is already free and then compiling it and charging for the service. If that is the case I'd hardly call what you do hard work.

    -------------

    Would you not call scientists hard workers? for that is what they do also.


    Hi, I'm a scientist. We do do hard work in obtaining and abstracting information from the world, but we also perform various constructive acts, too. We also, and this is key to why your comparison is faulty, don't charge any money for access to the results of our hard work.
    (We get paid to do the work, of course, but once we've discovered something, we don't charge people extra each time they want a copy of it.)

    My point exactly.

  • Comment number 24.

    Well... i'm from Brazil and here we currently have no laws agains file-sharing.

    I believe that this is not a criminal action, as was already well discussed, and i do believe that the only ones being riped of some more money are the industries. I have a good example to share: i don't know if you guys have seen the movie "Tropa de Elite", it's a brazilian made movie that states the daily work of a special division of Rio de Janeiro's police, BOP. The movie was first released on the net, under the faulty acusation that some one from the crew took an unfinished copy and released it on the internet. Why faulty acusation one may ask, simply because after watching the "Internet Version" theatres were filled with people wanting to watch the fully complied version and the producers made a tone of money.
    That's what i call a good way of using the internet, without arguing with file-sharers, and still making your all desired money.

 

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