"Avast ye scurvy file sharers!": Interview with Swedish Pirate Party leader Rickard Falkvinge

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Rickard Falkvinge, leader of the Swedish "Pirate Party"

MP3s for the people? The Pirate Party (official site), a new Swedish political party first publicized in January, wants to legalize sharing music, movies, and other copyrighted content using the Internet. What may seem like a doomed effort by a small group of idealists is attracting significant media attention, in part due to a recent police raid on The Pirate Bay, an extremely popular BitTorrent tracker (see Wikinews coverage).

The Pirate Bay allows people to download content listed in its database using the BitTorrent protocol (including the latest Hollywood movies or computer games) and has gained something of an international cult status, in part for its public and irreverent responses to legal threats received from copyright lawyers of major corporations. The site was reopened days after the raid on Dutch servers (but is now back in Sweden again). Rickard Falkvinge, leader of the Pirate Party, argues that regardless of the legal outcome in the case, the web site demonstrates that copyright law in its current form is not sustainable.

Adopting the moniker of the maligned "Internet pirates", the party argues for drastically limiting the scope and enforcement of copyright law, abolishing patent law, and protecting privacy in what it sees as a "control and surveillance society" (party principles). The party is hoping to garner enough votes in the September election to become a small but important faction in the next Swedish parliament. Rickard Falkvinge found some time in between interviews and party work to answer our questions.

There are rumours that the Swedish government was indirectly acting on behalf of the U.S. MPAA in shutting down the site. Do you feel that your government is beholden to U.S. interests?

Oh, the MPAA said so themselves in a press release, it's more than a rumor. Check their press release "Swedish authorities sink Pirate Bay". [Ed.: PDF copy

And yes, this particular fact has caused something of an uproar in Sweden. It's widely believed that Swedish authorities were more or less ordered by a foreign power to act forcefully against an entity that was in, at worst, a legal gray area according to Swedish law.

The raid must have boosted your recognition. How many members do you currently have, and how successful has your fundraising effort been so far?

Our member count is at 6540, no, 6541, no wait, 6543... well, you get the picture. Our members register themselves on our website after paying the membership fee electronically, which helps reduce our admin load considerably.

Fundraising brought in 108,000 SEK [Ed.: approx. 14,700 USD or 11,600 EUR], enough to buy 3 million ballots, which is some kind of at-least-we're-not-starving minimum. We're not full, but we're not starving, either. Following the raid on the Pirate Bay, we have received another 50K in donations. My sincere thanks to everybody who wants to help out; we are now looking into getting more ballots to make sure we don't run out on election day. (10 million ballots was our initial full-score aim.)

Do you think you will be able to cover future expenses such as radio and television ads?

Following the raid on the Pirate Bay, and our tripling of the member roster, we don't need advertising. We've been mentioned almost every news hour across all channels on national television in the last week.

Also, the established parties have now started to turn, following our success. Parties representing almost half of the elected parliament are now describing today's copyright situation as not working. They still don't understand why, though, they are just echoing what we say without understanding what the words mean. We'll get around to teaching them - them and the voters alike.

This might be hard for people not following the Swedish media to grasp, but we have made a big splash. Today, our Minister of Justice was quoted as saying that he's open to changes to copyright laws that would make file-sharing legal, with the headline "Bodström (his name) flip-flops about file sharing." Immediately underneath were the Pirate Party's comments to his suggestions. Let's take that again: when a minister makes a statement about file sharing, media calls us for comments, and publishes them next to that statement. That's how big we have become since the raid on the Pirate Bay.

The Minister of Justice later denied having made that statement to the press that reported it.

We will never be able to pay for television ads, the way I see it. Unless a very wealthy donor comes on stage. (If any such person is reading this, we have planned how to spend up to $375,000 in a cost-efficient way up until the elections, on the chance that donations appear. That spending does still not include any TV ads.)

Party supporters at a demonstration in Stockholm on June 3, following the raid on the Pirate Bay

Are you aware of similar initiatives in other countries?

Some are trying, but none have achieved the necessary momentum and critical mass that we have. We expect that momentum to happen once we get into Swedish Parliament and show that it can be done.

[Ed.: A United States variant of the party was recently launched. See also: Movement against intellectual property category on Wikipedia]

The name "Pirate Party" seems to identify the party with what is currently defined as a crime: piracy of software, movies, music, and so on. Will a name like "Pirate Party" not antagonize voters, given that the label is so negatively used? How about potential allies abroad who argue for a more balanced copyright regime, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation or Creative Commons?

Oh, it is a crime. That's the heart of the problem! The very problem is that something that 20% of the voters are doing is illegal by punishment of jail time. That's what we want to change. Where the established parties are saying that the voters are broken, we are saying it's the law that is broken.

Besides, it's a way of reclaiming a word. The media conglomerates have been pointing at us and calling us pirates, trying to make us somehow feel shame. It doesn't work. We wear clothes saying "PIRATE" in bright colors out on the streets. Yes, we are pirates, and we're proud of it, too.

Also, the term is not that negative at all in Sweden, much thanks to the awesome footwork of the Pirate Bureau (Piratbyrån), who have been working since 2003 to educate the public.

If you are elected, and have the opportunity to become part of the next government of Sweden, do you intend to focus only on the issues in your platform (IP law and privacy)?

A political poster saying: "We have set sail. Join our maiden voyage September 17." September 17 being the date for the 2006 general election.

Our current plan is to support the government from the parliament, but not be part of it. If we're part of it, that means we get a vested interest to not overthrow it, which puts us in a weaker position if they start going against our interests.

Overall, our strategy is to achieve the balance of power, where both the left and right blocks need our votes to achieve a majority, and then support the issues of whichever government that agrees to drive our issues the strongest. Basically, we sell our votes on other issues to the highest bidder in exchange for them driving ours.

Have you already made any contacts in Swedish politics?

Contacts... I'm not sure what you mean. Several of us have been shaking hands with some of the established politicians, particularly in the youth leagues, if that's what you mean.

I was thinking along the lines of exploring possible modes of cooperation with established political parties – are you already taken seriously?

We are taken seriously by most of the youth leagues and by at least one of the represented parties. In particular, which is what counts, we are now taken seriously by national media. However, we can't tie contacts that explore modes of cooperation quite yet – since our strategy depends on holding the balance of power, we need to not express a preference for whom we'd like to cooperate with, or we'd put ourselves in a weaker bargaining position.

What is your position on moral rights, as recognized by European Union copyright laws: the right of attribution, the right to have a work published anonymously or pseudonymously, and the right to the integrity of the work. Do you think these rights should be preserved?

We safeguard the right to attribution very strongly. After all, what we are fighting for is the intent of copyright as it is described in the US constitution: the promotion of culture. Many artists are using recognition as their primary driving force to create culture.

Publishing anonymously or pseudonymously happens every day on the Internet, so no big deal there either.

The right to integrity, however, is an interesting issue. We state that we are for free sampling, meaning you can take a sound that I made for my tune and use it in your own tunes, or for that matter, a whole phrase. That's partially in line with today's copyright law on derivative works; as long as you add your own creative touch to a work, you get your own protection for the derivation. We want to strengthen that right.

You might want to consider the alternative. In the 50s and 60s, a lot of rock and roll bands started doing covers of old classical music. This would almost certainly have been considered to violate the integrity of the original artist - and was considered to do so by many - but in the eyes of many others, it was instead great new culture of a previously unseen form and shape.

So I don't have a definite answer on the integrity issue. While I am leaning towards the promotion of new culture taking precedence over a limitation right, there may be unconsidered cases.

Do you feel that trademark law is adequate as it is?

Yes. We have not seen any hidden costs to trademarks that outweigh the benefits of reducing transaction costs on a market where seller and buyer are not personally acquainted.

How do you intend to deal with EU treaties which define certain legal frameworks for the protection of intellectual works?

What can they do? Fine us? Send us an angry letter?

Come on, countries need to think more like corporations. If the fine is less than the cost to society, which it is in this case, then the right thing to do is to accept the fine with a polite "thank you".

Actually, national media just called me about this very question; the Department of Justice has stated that we can't allow file sharing, as it would break international treaties. My response was that it is more important to not have 1.2 million Swedes criminalized, than it is to avoid paying a penalty fee.

Do you think that weaker intellectual property laws would lessen the amount of products released in Sweden by foreign companies, such as Hollywood studios?

As long as they believe that they will have a revenue here that exceeds the cost of operations, they will keep coming here. Anything else would be wrong from a corporate standpoint.

Besides, you need to remember what we are doing is to change the map according to what reality looks like. We do not want to change people's behavior. We want to change the law so it reflects what the world actually looks like.

So, as they apparently make a profit today, I expect that to continue.

Falkvinge at a demonstration in Stockholm on June 3, following the raid on the Pirate Bay

Do you feel that the music industry in its current form will still be needed in a world where non-commercial copying is permitted?

It's not so much if they are needed where non-commercial copying is permitted, rather if they are needed when they're not necessary any more to be the middle man between consumer and artist.

The music industry will lose its current chokepoint, because they don't add any value to the end product any longer. They will probably survive as a service bureau for artists, but they will not be able to control distribution.

It's actually quite simple: if they get their act together and provide a service that people want to buy, they will remain. If not, they will vanish. Today, they have legislated that people must buy their service regardless of whether it adds value or not, and that's not gonna hold in the long term.

Why fight against intellectual property laws, instead of focusing your energy on creating freely licensed content, such as Creative Commons films or open source software?

I want to raise the issue a level, to show that it's not about payment models or what level of control the copyright holder chooses to exert over his or her work.

Let me put it this way: we have achieved the technical possibility of sending copyrighted works in digital, private communications. I can send a piece of music in e-mail to you, I can drop a video clip in a chat room. That technology is not going away, leaving us with two choices.

So – if copyright is to be enforced – if you are to tax, prohibit, fee, fine, or otherwise hinder the transmission of copyrighted works in private communications, the only way to achieve that is to have all private communications constantly monitored. It's really that large.

Also, this is partly nothing new. We've been able to do this since the advent of the Xerox copier - you could photocopy a poem or a painting and put it in a letter in the mail. Again, the only way to discover or stop that would have been for the authorities to open all letters and check their content.

So we're at a crossroads here. Either we, as a society, decide that copyright is the greater value to society, and take active steps to give up private communications as a concept. Either that, or we decide that the ability to communicate in private, without constant monitoring by authorities, has the greater value - in which case copyright will have to give way.

My choice is clear.

The Pirate Bay was shut down and re-opened days later on a Dutch server. According to a Swedish newspaper report, traffic has doubled since then. How long do you think the cat and mouse game will continue?

Wikipedia
Wikipedia has more about this subject:

Until one of two things happen: The authorities realize they can't enforce laws that require monitoring all private communications, especially given the large international level of grassroots support, or [they] actually start monitoring all private communications.

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This audio file was created from the text revision dated 2006-06-22 and may not reflect subsequent text edits to this report. (audio help)


Wikinews
This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.


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