Europe’s struggle with piracy

All the kids I talked to this summer while on vacation in Norway, told me that they never paid for music. They found everything they needed online, and downloaded it for free. From Pirate Bay and other file sharing sites. (This blog post is also posted at the Personal Democracy Forum’s European blog)

My very unrepresentative research triggered me even more to read the Swedish book “Piraterna” (the Pirates), about the Swedish file sharers who are robbing Hollywood (my translation). The book gives a fascinating and intelligent view of the Swedish piracy scene, the country where the Pirate Bay originated. But just as I was reading this book, I found an old article from 2001 I had saved about the shut-down of the file sharing site Napster, “How the music industry blew it”, Richard Barbrook’s review of the book “Sonic Boom” at Salon. Guess what – depressingly little had changed since 2001: Technology and law is still on collision course. I do recognise one difference, though: Ten years after Napster’s birth, politicians have started paying attention, but are they doing the right things?

Debates about file sharing and copyrights are becoming impossible to avoid for most politicians. Running for election, most political parties need an answer for how to deal with those issues.

France and Britain are trying the tough approach – the “three strikes and out” approach (also called graduated response). If an indivual, after three warnings, does not stop illegal file sharing, the person will loose his or her internet access. French president Nicolas Sarkozy has pushed for this solution in France, but this spring, the Constitutional Council in France ruled the proposal “unconstitutional”. The European Parliament has also stated through voting that it is  “illegal to disconnect Internet users without direct judicial oversight of the process.”

But now Britain is trying to follow in France antipiracy footsteps with “Digital Britain”, the government’s policy proposal for the digital economy. Just like France, the British government, through Ofcom (communication regulator), will require ISPs to give three warnings to illegal file sharers. If the piracy continue, Ofcom will be given the “power to force Internet companies to limit a person’s access to the Internet via bandwidth “shaping” or “capping,” a technical process that curtails the amount of data a user can download”, according to the Wall Street Journal.

I expect the British proposal will create huge debate and protests, just as the French proposal did. If internet access is viewed upon as a fundamental human right, when is it fair to loose it (if ever)- if you download 10, 50, 100, 1000 or 10 000 illegal songs and movies? And does the age of the pirate matter? What about cutting the internet access for innocent people (the pirate might be sharing the internet access with several non-pirates who will also be affected)?

The Pirate Party (which originated in Sweden) got 7,1 percent of the votes in Sweden and gained one representative in the European Parliament election in June by running on this agenda alone: “Fundamentally reform copyright law, get rid of the patent system, and ensure that citizens’ rights to privacy are respected.”

The Pirate Bay trial and the two surveillance laws IPRED and FRA (both based on EU directives) have created a very hostile and tense file sharing/copyright/privacy debates in Sweden. As the election is approaching in Norway (September 14), some of the political parties have started to propose alternative solutions to the “three strikes” approach. As Cory Doctorow said at the Re:publica conference in Berlin in April, “losing your internet connection is a death sentence for your participation in the 21 century.” But conservative parties want to keep today’s copyright regime unchanged.

Here are some of the suggestions:

-Free filesharing, but everyone with a broadband connection should pay a licence to compensate the artists based on number of downloads (Liberal party).

-Reduce the number of years for copyrights (Liberal party)

-Government should sponsor file sharing (Socialist Left)

The Norwegian researcher Hendrik Storstein Spilker has also described how sponsering of artists might become more common. Another possibility could be to send the bill to the ISPs and producers of digital music players, since they are get all the trafic.

And in the middle of the heated piracy debate, a new Swedish music service has arisen – Spotify. Spotify, which is Europe’s most popular music sharing platform, lets you stream music with or without commercials, instant, legal and for free. If you don’t want to listen to commercials between the songs, you pay a monthly fee. Spotify is a digital equivalent to libraries, you have access to all (almost) the music in the world, but you don’t own it. Interesting enough, the biggest record label, Universal Music Group, earns more from Spotify than iTunes in Sweden, according to Wired.

Is owning your favorite tracks or not turning into the big question for music lovers?

One thought on “Europe’s struggle with piracy

  1. The funny thing about this is that I live in Sweden, and I download about 3 movies everyday. I’m seriously a thug… and you know what they say about thugs Bente!

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