Swedish pirates ahoy!

Strange news from Sweden, where a band of pirates have apparently seized a seat in the European Parliamentary elections

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By  Mark Sutton Published  June 9, 2009

Strange news from Sweden, where a band of pirates have apparently seized a seat in the European Parliamentary elections.

The Piratpartiet - Pirate Party - is apparently Sweden's third largest political party, according to Wikipedia - and has won electoral success with 7.1% of votes. Although the party doesn't have official links to Swedish file sharing site The Pirate Bay, it has a broadly similar agenda, and the victory could be seen as a reaction to the jailing of the Pirate Bay founders in Sweden earlier this year.

The Pirate Party is a bit more than a single issue group (see here for manifesto, usual rules about not trusting people that write with green ink apply), and its stance on privacy and freedom of speech makes sense in an increasingly monitored digital age.

On copyright and patent however, their stance, while couched in moderate terms, seems to be firmly in the 'no copyright ever' camp. The party's guiding principles include the line "to share or spread for non-commercial use must never be illegal".

I can't understand why certain groups think that the creator of a copyrighted work shouldn't expect any benefits from it. Of course, the persecution of young people by record companies and the like is nasty and bullying, but the blatant infringement of copyrights, and the sheer volume of files being shared is quite simply taking money from the creators of the work - to talk about 'non-commercial' sharing is nonsense - something either has value or it doesn't, taking it for free without permission is theft.

Many parts of the media industry are still developing and understanding how to make sense of distribution in the digital world, and while some organizations have gone too far in policing rights, there is a growing understanding that file sharing in some format will always persist, and that there's a need to find a middle ground that doesn't stifle creativity but still gives an incentive for artists to create content. The Pirate Party's approach would see a legally enshrined right to for non-commercial use of content, or banning all DRM solutions, which would leave music, games, films and so on completely at the mercy of pirates.

The industry is getting the message that the way forward is to make content cheaply and easily available online, and to use free content to encourage use of paid for.

For the Arab world, it's particularly important that a commercial model is maintained. One of the biggest problems with online media in the region is the lack of content and the lack of quality in the media that is available. There's a fair amount of popular tunes available as ringtones, but old films, and books in particular.

The content issue could be resolved in a couple of ways - either new content generated by amateurs, a good way to encourage creativity, or by creating commercial opportunities for the copyright holders to be able to make money from existing copyright. Both are gaining ground in the region, but they aren't mutually exclusive - but kill any financial incentive to create and both approaches will wither.

We are a long way off seeing a Pirate Party in the Middle East, but the issues are still there, if not more so. The authorities in the Gulf countries have been pretty intolerant of pirate DVDs, and are talking a good game on protecting IPR, but at the same time, end users in the region tend to be even more resistant to having to pay for content when they can get it for free through less legitimate means. The Swedish pirates might have won some legitimacy for their cause, but I don't think we'll see any such acceptance here.

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