What started off as a show of political defiance, with thousands of file-sharing downloader’s joining forces and planning to field 140 candidates in the September Swedish elections, has spread to the US.
The trigger in Sweden was the May 31st police raid on a community of a million BitTorrent users called The Pirate Bay. The Piratpartiet (pirate Party), which actually formed in January, was quick to organize protests amongst the Xbox Generation. Indeed, some 1000 did just that in Gothenburg and Stockholm on June 3rd, and the resulting publicity in Sweden has seen Pirate Party membership swell to in excess of 6000. The chances of it achieving the 4% share of the popular vote required in order to gain representation in the Swedish parliament is, frankly, remote. Most right thinking folk are equally unlikely to accept that suspending copyright protections after just five years of creation and abolishing patents are the way forward. Not that it matters if they did, Sweden is governed by international agreements as a member of the EU and WTO that would make them impossible to achieve. Even the eradication of surveillance cameras, although getting a knee jerk vote of confidence, is likely to be rejected upon a little reasoned reflection.
But the cultural phenomenon of Piratpartiet is showing no sign of slowing down, and now The Pirate Party of the United States has been launched with much the same remit: to reform intellectual property laws. Founded by University of Georgia student, Brent Allison, it argues that all non-commercial copying and use should be completely free, while file sharing and p2p networking should be encouraged not criminalized and DRM technologies banned.
As someone with a professional interest in copyright, obviously I have strong opinions about safeguarding the rights of the creator of intellectual property. I suspect, as programmers and developers, many of you do as well. However, I do agree that technological changes in distribution methodologies do make a change to current laws necessary. Just as the record labels and publishers have not targeted individuals in the past for making a tape copy of a CD for the car, or to share with a friend, or for photocopying a page out of a magazine, I don’t believe they should be targeting file-sharers doing exactly the same thing in a different medium. They do it because the technology makes it relatively easy for them to trace ‘offenders’ and the law is such that litigation is a money spinner for them. I don’t condone copyright theft, I don’t condone commercial file-sharing operations, and sadly I don’t think the Pirate Party has any of the answers. We need to open a sensible dialogue that meets the needs of both sides of the argument, and does so with a large dollop of common sense. Unless we remove the emotionally charged arguments on one side and financially motivated on the other, I fear the whole issue is heading for a stalemate situation which will benefit nobody.