Opinion: Pirate Party Perspective

As leader of Pirate Party UK I often feel like ‘the elephant in the room’ at debates about the future of the Internet and file-sharing ‘piracy’. Good natured calls of ‘who let him in here?’ notwithstanding at the Lib Dem Voice fringe meeting on ‘who runs the Internet?’, I actually felt quite welcome. I guess that is because, as the panel pointed out, the web was founded on principles that are liberal and democratic in a way that most of us can get behind without needing any kind of orange book.

Unfortunately, these principles are under threat. The Digital Economy Act remains a prime example of such legislation. The powerful entertainment lobby has pushed through law which it claims is for the benefit of content providers, but in fact protects outmoded business models by harassing individual music and film fans. It lacks proportionality, as it stands it could well see someone kicked off the Internet for just sharing three short songs. It lacks transparency as there are no guidelines for evidence gathering. It lacks democracy because of the way it was rushed through the dying days of the most discredited parliament of recent times.

Perhaps worst of all, it will hit innocent people as you can not reasonably connect an IP address to an individual. Surely the way out of the current economic hole we are in is by increasing digital inclusion, rather than exclusion.

I know that many Liberal Democrat grass roots members share the same view as our members that this is a profoundly illiberal piece of legislation. It remains just one of the challenges ahead- poor infrastructure, pressure to abandon net neutrality, waste on IT in the public sector.

I agree with Evan Harris’ viewpoint that people will not accept a restriction of the freedoms of the Internet. But I am afraid to say that I am not optimistic about the short term, as worldwide we have seen this kind of law being aggressively lobbied for and enacted. This will continue to be the case while so-called ‘geek politics’ remains at the margins. It is too important just to be the subject of emergency motions. That is why as the Pirate Party digital policy is at the heart of what stand for and do in politics.

You currently have a significant opportunity to affect policy and government. It is vital that you do so for our shared culture and future economic development. We will all be watching, and defending liberal and democratic principles online. Even if for some of us it is with a small ‘l’ and ‘d’.

Loz Kaye is leader of Pirate Party UK

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25 Comments

  • I’m a geek, I’m also a writer, a content creator, so are many friends of mine and some of them are successful enough to call it their profession and to scrape a living from writing, software, graphics or music. Talk about ‘outmoded business models’ is simply hiding the truth behind fancy wording. Piracy is theft. It isn’t a victimless crime, it’s taking money out of the pocket of content creators everywhere. A small businessman I buy software utilities from noted that if he had been paid for every copy of his software that had been downloaded from ‘warez’ sites he would be a millionaire several times over, instead he’s just scraping along, dependent on contract work to pay the bills. Piracy is theft, it hits the content creators with the lowest margins hardest and until advocates of change admit and embrace the fact that piracy takes money out of the pockets of people just like us then they’re simply the pot calling the kettle black.

  • Disappointing that LDV gives a voice to such loonies, in my view these kinds of affiliations discredit the site.

    Next week, the BNP write for LDV regarding good race relations!

  • Alex Macfie 19th Mar '11 - 7:49pm

    @ChrisB: You’ve obviously mastered the art of the cheap shot. I don’t support the Pirate Party (I am a Liberal Democrat party member, and I don’t think single-issue parties are very effective generally) but it is far from being a “loony” movement. The comparison with the BNP is frankly offensive. They have practically nothing in common. The Pirate Party is borne out of concerns about the recent over-reach of intellectual property, the result of lobbying by wealthy corporate special interest groups. The BNP is a demagoguic movement that plays on and whips up public anxiety about outsiders in order to eventually overthrow democracy and civil society. [If only it were as easy to whip up public hysteria about excessive copyright law as it sadly is to do so about race and immigration.]

    @David G:

    … if he had been paid for every copy of his software that had been downloaded from ‘warez’ sites he would be a millionaire several times over

    Maybe, but in the real world he would never be paid for 99% of them anyway. The reality is (and you surely know this as well as I do) that most people who download from warez sites have absolutely no intention of ever buying the licenced product. This is not to justify them (I never download or upload warez: I do not do unauthorized filesharing of any kind); it is one of simple economics, that you cannot treat every unauthorized download as a lost sale. This is exactly the sort of bogus economics that discredits the supporters of maximum copyright law in many people’s eyes.

    “Piracy” (i.e. unauthorized trading of copyright material) is NOT “theft”, because “theft” means taking someone’s property with the intention of permanently depriving them of it. Copyright is NOT like physical property; it is a state-granted temporary monopoly. Infringing it doesn’t permanently deprive anyone of anything, except perhaps a sale, but as stated you probably would not have got the sale anyway. Again, this is not to justify infringement of copyright. However, copyright has now gone way beyond its original aim of encouraging creativity. Through recent laws and technology, is now widely abused to control the private use of legitimately purchased content: for example, region codes (and patronizing and unskippable coyright warnings) on DVDs; it is too long (terms of life + 70 years have creating a new breed of “professional descendant”: people who don’t have to do anything, but just live off royalties from what a grandparent created). It creates the absurd situations where it is technically illegal to do normal acts such as copying a song onto an MP3 player. And, as Loz Kaye has noted, it is leading to the adoption of extreme laws allowing for disconnection from the internet based on accusations (not convictions) of unauthorized file-sharing. I think disconnection from the internet is a disproportionate penalty for sharing a few songs anyway, but to do so without due process is simply unacceptable in a free society based on the rule of law.

    David G, you are mistaken if you think that the current excessive copyright laws do anything to protect small-scale creators like the ones you are referring to. The main beneficiaries are the large record labels and publishers, who no longer need to be creative at all, but instead can just sit on royalties coming in from works from 50 years ago, and from re-releasing old material in new formats, and force people through DRM to buy the same product again and again.

  • Alex Macfie 19th Mar '11 - 7:50pm

    I apologize for the garbled formatting 😉

  • ChrisB. You think that we should ignore the ideas of somebody just because they are from a smaller party?

  • “I am against laws, such as the Digital Economy Act, that punish people without giving them a fair trial (or indeed any trial at all), and which impose collective punishment on whole families by punishing all of them if one is allegedly an illegal file sharer. That’s why I’m a Pirate.”

    What bizarre logic. I too am against these draconian and unfair laws. But I’m also a content creator and woud like to see my work protected. As a result I argue against these laws. But I don’t go out and break them just to prove some kind of point.

    The problem is that Loz uses these draconian laws and the abuse by large copyright holders to attack the rest of us. With outright lies like this, “you are mistaken if you think that the current excessive copyright laws do anything to protect small-scale creators like the ones you are referring to.”. Oh they so do Loz. It’s dishonest to suggest otherwise.

  • “They have practically nothing in common. The Pirate Party is borne out of concerns about the recent over-reach of intellectual property, the result of lobbying by wealthy corporate special interest groups. ”

    The BNP are borne out of concerns about the recent influx of immigrant workers, the result of lobbying by wealthy corporate interst groups.

    The Pirate Party is a demagoguic (sic) movement that plays on and whips up public anxiety about draconian laws in order to eventually overthrow all copyright legislation.

  • Alex Macfie 20th Mar '11 - 1:41pm

    As a result I argue against these laws. But I don’t go out and break them just to prove some kind of point.

    I see. So you would never regard civil disobedience as a legitimate expression of dissent against bad laws? And I suppose you think that people should always follow all laws to the letter, however silly and unreasonable. I take it, then, that you would never consider ripping a CD or recording a film from the TV to keep.

    The BNP are borne out of concerns about the recent influx of immigrant workers, the result of lobbying by wealthy corporate interst groups

    Actually the loudest, and wealthiest, lobbyists in the immigration debate are the anti-immigration people, the ones who want to move our immigration policy towards the BNP position. They include well-funded astroturf lobby groups (such as Migration Watch) (this is very similar to what the pro-intellectual-property movement does) and most of the national printed press. Consequently, virtually all reforms in public policy on immigration have been to restrict it (or at least to look like they’re restricting it), i.e. towards the BNP position. And it is extremely difficult in the current political climate to argue in favour of immigration: look what happened to Nick Clegg when he argued for an amnesty for long-term illegal immigrants.

    In terms of its opposition to the establishment position, and its reliance of grassroots support, the Pirate Party is much more like anti-BNP and pro-immigration organizations.

  • What the Digital Economy Act does is further moving towards the ultimate goal of internet as a closed platform, where the major players dominate & push out the smaller, competing & original ideas. Even under a stricter internet, you are *never* going to stop piracy, the coder who wants to share is always going to be several steps ahead of the government, who really struggles with this kind of thing. The end result is going to be exactly what Loz reckons it’s going to be, ‘preserving traditional business models’, when what we need is innovation & new ideas to fight piracy, not authoritarian laws. Ideas like Spotify, Steam (these two have led to the over night cessation of my music & game piracy) & Lovefilm, but the industry hates these services & wants us back to other, traditional models.

    I still steal TV & films because piracy offers a better service, I love learning languages with the fan subs (French & Spanish at the moment!), the video is actually better quality, and of course the variety on offer is second to none. Steam & Spotify have the express ambition of *competing* against piracy, and they are winning, they offer a better service than you can get by stealing, we need a free & open internet to allow new services, like this, to appear, which also compete against the illegitimate product. The majors have not got the balls to try this sort of thing.

    And finally, as someone who’s been nicking binary stuff (oh, and in the day, VHS!!) for nearly 20 years, I am finally becoming a consumer, willing to pay for these things, it’s the natural journey from boy to man in this coming of techy age morality story. The pirate of today is the consumer of the future. But if they ever nabed me for it & fined me, they would have never have got another penny from me for the rest of my life.

  • Daniel Henry 20th Mar '11 - 2:40pm

    I’ve always seen file sharing as an unofficial extension of the welfare system. Many people I know buy legitimate products (CDs, DVD Box Sets, legal downloads) wherever they can afford it, but are also happy to enjoy more than they are legally “entitled” to.

    I wouldn’t go as far as to say that sales aren’t damaged at all by piracy, but certainly not anywhere near the amount that lobbyists claim.

  • Stuart Mitchell 20th Mar '11 - 5:26pm

    I think “Parasite Party” would be a better name. Downloaders are basically freeloading off those people who buy stuff legitimately. I would even take issue with the phrase “music and film fans”. True fans would want the artist to be rewarded in some way rather than just pinching the content.

    Those parasites who have a conscience try to assuage it by convincing themselves that entertainment is all provided by “wealthy corporations” so they don’t need to worry about anybody losing out. This is a very naive view. Most films and music albums lose money, always have done. It’s one of the most precarious businesses there is, and many of the companies involved are small independents living on a constant financial knife-edge. Even some notable majors have gone to the wall recently. Do the parasites give two hoots about this? No, they’ll happily take whatever content they fancy and not give a moment’s thought to who is actually losing out.

    Entertainment providers have already moved a long way to adapt to changing markets. 30 years ago you could end up at the Old Bailey for simply lending a legally owned film print to somebody. 20 years ago CDs cost £15. 10 years or so ago DVDs cost £20. Now the industry turns a blind eye to many common types of copyright infringement; cheap, low-cost downloads are freely available, and free streaming services are commonplace. Yet none of this will ever be enough for the parasites, because their bottom line is that they want to download high quality digital copies of any content they like for free, and won’t accept anything less.

    Sure, downloading is not the greatest crime in the world – but the way these people try to pass themselves off as some sort of pro-freedom, anti-corporate crusaders is sickening.

  • @Phil Hunt

    “According to you, that makes me a loony. I can only conclude that you are not very liberal.”

    Unfortunately, there are a number in our party who would consider the politics of Thatcher, Reagan and Pinochet to be be fine liberal politics.

  • daft ha'p'orth 20th Mar '11 - 8:40pm

    @Stuart Mitchell

    Yet none of this will ever be enough for the parasites…

    Very dramatic.

    the way these people try to pass themselves off as some sort of pro-freedom, anti-corporate crusaders is sickening…

    What’s sickening, if anything (and frankly nausea sounds like rather an overreaction, so let’s say ‘faintly irritating’), is the way people try to poison discussions through argumentum ad hominem. Calling large swathes of the population ‘parasites’ is unlikely to achieve anything useful, whether they are students, filesharers, single parents, welfare recipients, disabled, or ill enough to require the services of the NHS. The comparison conveys no useful insight, demonstrating only that the poster’s reflexes include a healthy kneejerk reaction.

    Loz Kaye – thanks for a great article. So many go from ‘series of tubes’ thinking to ‘OMG teh cyberterrorists are starving our artists!’ without passing through any kind of middle ground. As a Web programmer, I spend a lot of time consulting lawyers about how to achieve perfectly innocuous aims within the legal framework in the UK, and one of the relatively rare cases in which I agree with Cameron is, “Google [have said they] could never have started their company in Britain.” The legal advice we are usually given is approximately, ‘most of what you want to do could be objected to legally (web caching for example, unless transient). Calculate the risk of being sued versus the benefit, and choose whether to continue.’ Here be monsters…

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Mar '11 - 10:05am

    @daft: If Mr Kaye and his ilk wish to go around calling themselves “pirates” and wittering about how prosecuting a few people for file-sharing is an attack on “liberal and democratic” principles, then I’m perfectly happy to fight fire with fire by coming up with silly names and over-dramatic rhetoric of my own.

    “Calling large swathes”

    The implication is always “lots of people do it so we shouldn’t say it’s wrong”. Lots of people drive dangerously and drop litter but we don’t lionise them. File sharing, like speeding, is so common for one reason only (well, maybe two): because it’s very easy to get away with, and because the perpetrators like to think (wrongly) that it is victimless.

    I know a few people in the film industry. These people work incredibly hard and are exposed to a huge degree of financial risk. They deserve to be paid for their services by the people who use them, just as you, I, and just about everybody else who works in the economy deserves to be.

  • Statistics have proved time and time again that those that fileshare end up spending far more money on music than those that don’t. Personally, I’ve lost count of the number of artists that I’ve discovered via this method, and I’ve gone on to purchase their entire back catalogue.

    Of course, the fact that the music and movie industry have also announced record profits this year despite a global recession and the increasing number of alternative entertainment options, does make me question how much piracy is actually harming these industries.

    Even if the Digital Economy Act resulted in £400 million more being spent on music / movies, that £400 million would obviously be at the expense of another industry – cash is limited – any extra money spent on entertainment products due to the DEA will be money that isn’t spent elsewhere.

    I’d also question whether kicking people off the internet would actually increase sales. After seeing the scandalous way the DEA was rushed through at the tail end of parliament last year, and the way a member of the BPI obnoxiously boasted about celebrating by drinking expensive whisky on Twitter that same night, I haven’t financially supported the music or movie industry in any way since. Off the top of my head, I can think of 10 albums that I would have purchased if the DEA hadn’t come into effect – that’s around £80 in lost sales.

    I can imagine many more people boycotting once they start receiving threatening letters based on flimsy evidence – IP addresses are easy to fake.

  • I’m in with the line of thinking that “we all do it” doesn’t mean it’s OK. Be it file sharing, consistently breaking the speed limit by a small amount or whatever.

    I don’t, however, think being against digital piracy, and being against heavy handed draconian and illiberal measures to combat it are mutually exclusive.

    I do believe that hyperbole and over emotive language (ie calling illegal downloaders parasites) is never helpful.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Mar '11 - 5:06pm

    @Simon: Points taken. I concede that my “parasite” jibes were uncalled for, though on the other hand I think calling a political party “The Pirate Party” is pretty infantile.

    @gg: Would be interested to know what those figures are you refer to about the music and movie industries being more profitable than ever.

    On the general subject of whether the entertainment industry deserves any more of our hard-earned cash… one of the things that really irritates me about the “Pirates” is the way in which they seem to resent the whole concept of actually paying for entertainment. They talk endlessly about “powerful vested interested” and “corporations” as if the idea of actually paying for this stuff would be a greater moral wrong than snaffling it for free.

    This irks me, because I honestly believe that the entertainment industry (at least in terms of recorded media) actually gives me better value than virtually anything else I ever buy. When one considers the pleasure you get from a really good CD or movie, and compares that with the price of buying them, what else gives as much bang for the buck? When I look at my CD collection, I genuinely feel it’s probably the best money I’ve ever spent in my life. Certainly much better value than the £80 I spent on about two days worth of groceries yesterday. So why do so many people resent paying a few quid for a CD, in a way that they don’t seem to resent paying for other things? (The answer, obviously, is that they know they can download music for free and get away with it.)

  • @Stuart: People talk about about “powerful vested interested” and “corporations” in the context of copyright not because they want to download things for free, but because of the way that copyright law (and “intellectual property” in general) has gone a long way beyond its original purpose of encouraging creativity and innovation. There has been a “regulatory capture” of the copyright system by powerful copyright holders. Copyright is meant to be a balance between the interests of content creators (who should be able to obtain a fair pay for their work) and of users (who should not be subject to unreasonable restrictions in how they use coyright work (not only in how they “consume” it, but also how they build on it by creating derivative work). However, public discourse on this subject often leads to the impression that the only people who matter are the copyright holders, and specifically that their “right” to control the use of work is the only thing that matters.

    We have for a long time been subject to relentless propaganda and lobbying campaigns by large content creators to expand the scope of copyright law. These are usually successful, which is why it is illegal to tinker with your own electronic equipment so that it can play legitimately purchased media. Another example is the continual escalation in copyright terms. A proposal is working its way through the EU to extend copyright on sound recordings by 20 years, in response to the “threat” of works of Cliff Richard and the Beatles falling into the public domain. I agree with the idea of creators being paid for their work, but after 50 years?!?!?!?!? I’d LOVE to do a job for which I would still be paid 50 years after I’d done it. I don’t think it would be fair though.

    Organizations like the Pirate Party are only providing a counter-point to this well-funded lobbying machine, to advance the argument that copyright law should do what it originally intended to do.

    Content creators and publishers have cried wolf before about how copying and sharing content would be their downfall. Remember when home taping was “killing music”? Well music is still with us (while home taping has been overtaken by other technologies). Therefore I give little credence to the argument that file sharing will do the same (although I don’t do any myself).

  • Alex Macfie 22nd Mar '11 - 6:47pm

    I’m in with the line of thinking that “we all do it” doesn’t mean it’s OK. Be it file sharing, consistently breaking the speed limit by a small amount or whatever.

    I think that if many ethical people are routinely breaking the law, you have to ask whether the law is reasonable. The defence given for non-commercial file-sharing isn’t that “we all do it”, it’s that (despite all the propaganda from the copyright lobby) people don’t see what is wrong with it.

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