“In just 24 months we have witnessed an amazing increase in consensus toward our ideals across the globe”. Renowned worldwide for being one of the most defiant and cheeky online centres for Peer to Peer and exchange of audio and video files, fresh from their success in the European Elections which took one of their representatives flying from the meshes of the Net straight into a political seat in Brussels, the board of Pirate Party International, the political branch of The Pirate Bay project, is euphoric.
And who could oppose such euphoria! The party of the pirates presented itself in Sweden and Germany obtaining a massive 7,1 % in the Scandinavian country that collocates it between those parties with the most consensus in
the under 30 range. Only 0,9% in Germany, a good result nonetheless, in order to obtain a greater audience worldwide and the access to election funds, which represents, according to the pirates, the launch pad in order
to do better in the future. “We wrote a page in political history” is the cry that was repeated during the past few weeks and the coverage and interest of the media all over the world confirms this.
The pirate who will sit in the European Parliament is Christian Engström, born in 1960, a programmer and political activist who deals with campaigns for the creation of a free market for the distribution of information technology alongside the Foundation For a Free Information Infrastructure. Even if, one of the first aspects that some journalists and analysts have shed some light on, is that Christian Engström of the Pirate Party, as well
as some of his colleagues such as Rick Falkvinge, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Bunde and Carl Lundström, are more or less openly associated with a centre-rightwing political view, with ideas that are in some way connected to a neo-liberal type of economy and politics.
Now, without seeming excessively naive or hypocritical, it seems clear that most of us imagined the universe of pirates to be a nihilistic stronghold of the Net, heroes of some fundamental rights for hacker communities (to say
the least) like peer to peer, for the free exchange of files and ideas. The surprise of being faced with a real creature with three heads was overwhelming, framed by the great election victory and the typical political
rhetoric of the Pirate Party, and the apolitical facade of the whole Pirate Party movement in its entirety (that has declared more than once of being in harmony with a possible “third option” that goes beyond the traditional
division between left and right) and last of all social and economical analysis carried out by Piratebyran represented by Magnus Eriksson, who is interviewed below and was invited to the most recent Hackmeeting in Milan.
And most of all, the indignation of the Net toward what happened few days ago was enormous: The Pirate Bay website was sold for almost 8 million dollars to a software house in Sweden, Gaming Factory X, who promises to launch a new model of business that can compensate the loss of content providers and copyright owners, and gratify those same owners of that collective platform based on the exchange of content that up until the day
before yesterday had approximately 14 million accesses per day! Owners who will see a part of the money directly in cash (with which they can cover the fine from their prosecution, which is “just” 4 million dollars, and avoid going to jail for a year) and the rest will go towards shares in GFF.
Good gosh! On the one side the owners of the Bay, are desperately reassuring their users that the money earned will be used for a foundation that will help projects based on the free distribution of information and the opening
of knots on the Net, on the other the activists who throw their arrows at the address of their ex- paladins. The experience of the bay of pirates, in the past few months, seemed to be a wonderful fairy tale: the success of the
portal as a neutral location, very much renowned for the free exchange of files, the legal battle fought in the name of peer to peer (and other slogans of the beginning of the millennium such as “we didn’t make any money and rejected entertainment industry accusations it makes a large profit”) against multinational music and film companies as well as a judge who was a member of the administration of one of these companies, the daily monitoring
in front of the Stockholm Court in a mobile media centre, to the unexpected success of the most recent European elections. Little did it matter if, digging deeper into the meshes of the Net, one could discover the legal controversy announced by Pirate Bay itself on the use of the logo of the Bay by two young researchers, Anders Rydell and Sam Sundberg, in their book written on the experience of the pirate movement in Sweden.
What are the objectives (or for some, the targets) of The Pirate Bay project? It’s difficult to say at this point, really difficult. It’s easy to drift toward the wrong direction, after the enthusiasm following the post-election period.
As Engström says, “if politicians intend to impede the sharing of files between normal citizens, the only solution is to expand the government’s capacity for controlling society”. For this reason in official statements they say they want to act incisively on the norms that regulate copyright and privacy. And to do so effectively they want to be in Brussels, where legislation itself is produced and then cascades onto the members of the European Union. The Pirate Party will definitely have access to important funds for a structure that up until yesterday (perhaps) was based on mere donations and volunteer work (as well as funds, the pirate forces include new recruits and different national pirate subjects who count 32 groups dispersed across Europe and the world, including Ung Pirate, the young association of Swedish pirates, with more than 20,000 subscribers it is the most common young political movement in Scandinavia); at the moment, the history of Pirate Bay reminds us of Napster and Kazaa, whose parabolas only made those great enemies of online piracy happy, that is to say, those monopolist Scrooges of the infotainment industry.
The story has already been told, perhaps, but has the connotations of an illusion and for this reason it is creating more buzz on the Net: a story that in our opinion could definitely be an important chapter in the history of the evolution of the Net toward a homologous location under the dictatorship of elite businesses, as well as the neo-liberal economical mould that satisfies the requests of great content providers, connection operators, and passive users. But maybe not, maybe behind this there is a plan that no one can see yet, maybe we’re wrong once again….
The interview with Magnus Eriksson (unfortunately done during his intervention at the Peer to Peer Economies conference held on the 18th of June in the Political Science Faculty in Milan during the Hackmeeting 2009
program, and so just hours before the statement of acquisition of Pirate Bay by GFF) clears just some of the aspects that have been analysed above but it is definitely food for thought for a broader view of the confusing
situation: we do not want to express any kind of opinion, we will let you read the text that we think underlines the important distinctions of thought regarding the political movements of hackers in Italy. We thank Magnus for
his time and for having answered on such short notice.
Marco Mancuso: Magnus, would you like to tell us more about the 3 three main branches of
the Pirate universe: the parliamentary fraction The Pirate Party (PP), the organic intellectuals of the Piratbyrån (PB), and the entreprenueral platform, The Pirate Bay (TPB). Is it an organic project, I mean it was born with a political idea behind, or it grown up from activits anti-cultural ad anarchist movement, step by step, enlarging objectives and programs? Which is your role inside Piratebyran?
Magnus Eriksson: First of all; if these are the three stars in our universe there are also plenty of bloggers or people in other groups, institutions and parties making up a system of planets and comets. Also, it’s not these
components forming a coherent whole, rather their dynamics make for a lively debate with symbiosis, mutation and productive disagreements. To understand this constellation you have to look at the history. This is not something
that has grown out of activist movements except from parts of Piratbyrån which in the early days of 2003 functioned as an exit-node for people who was tired of the autonomous movements.
Pirate Bay was founded by us in 2004 since other parts of Piratbyrån was deepely involved in hacker scenes since the early 90’s. So combine former activists looking for something fresher, hackers, philosophers and a general sense of making thing look really nice while having a party – you have the recepe of Piratbyrån and Pirate Bay. I think this is a difference with Italy. Had we formed there we would probably be more connected to social movements, for good or worse. The Pirate Party was formed by completely different people and has a different outlook. If the former is cryptonite radiating in all directions, the pirate party has a precision laser aimed at the formal political process. They have a narrow program focused on civil liberties and personal integrity more than anything else, but I consider them very necessary at the moment and are very glad of their success.
Our roles are basically determined depending on skills and energy. Myself have a lot of time on my hands so I get my hands dirty in most projects we do. I do give lots of presentations, talk to media and involve myself in strategic discussion, but also work with the art projects, try to organize the fuckin bus and design websites.
Marco Mancuso: You had a great victory at last Swedish Europan elections. I would like to know what do you want to do from now on. You have a great responsability not only in front of Swedish people
who woted for you, but also for all the people on the Internet. “With this victory, the intellectual property question has decisevly moved in to the charmed circle of liberal, parliamentary deliberation”…
Magnus Eriksson: I’m not a member of the party, but I’m still involved in the swarm taking part in forming the discussions about their agenda, just to clarify. Actually, at first, issues of intellectual property will have to take a step back. The Pirate Party will first and foremost deal with issues around net neutrality, internet censorship and blocking. These are the most urgent issues at the moment. Secondly they will focus on issues around civil liberties and prvacy, such as trying to prevent surveillence and data retention programs.
A lot to be done here as well. Only in third hand will intellectual property come and here a quite different method needed. The first two are already on the agenda with issues to involve one self in. There are already proposals to try to fight and the arguments are quite clear. When it comes to intellectual property, copyright or patents, the pirate party will have to do more to raise the issues themselves, forming publics, discourses and possibly write their own proposals. This would really take an effort by movements all over Europe, trying to get the issues it will be about on the agenda. But generally I think the Pirate Party needs a European wide support and pressure from within other countries if they are to have some influence. In the EU, you can’t just sit still and vote, but have to be active with suggesting changes. Politics is complicated of course and there will be compromises where no one wins in the end, so we will have to see how the performance will be evaluated.
No matter the political success though, the pirate party can function as a material resource that brings good information out from the EU that people all over Europe can use to raise issues and put pressure on their politicians. This is perhaps the biggest benefit. Before this, people did this on their spare time with no money.
Marco Mancuso: Try to explaing me the reasons behind your success at European elections. Two big events that happened in the last times in Sweden were the law proposing to extend military surveillance from radio to Internet trafic and the recent verdict against the founders of the Pirate Bay. Do you thing that these two episodes were in some way connected to what happened during elections?
Magnus Eriksson: These were definitely the reasons. Without external developments like these, pirate party wouldn’t have a chance. That’s because they bring new political issues to the table. Things that never was talked about in the public debate before. They don’t bring new answers to traditional political issues, but open up new spaces. So they were dependend on the public debate around file-sharing that was already quite big, dependend of the fame and sentence of the pirate bay and also about the FRA law that you mention where the old military radio surveillence departmend is going to be allowed to monitor traffic in internet cables
Marco Mancuso: Concerning both the Pirate Party, the Piratebyran and also the Pirate Bay, some anaylists and European journalists noticed that the political background of some of their former founders “was more shifted on the centre-right wing, conservative, or in some way connected to liberal economy and polytics”. Rick Falkvinge and Christian Engström, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Peter Bunde, Carl Lundström are all examples of what some analysts are talink about. At the same time, all the Pirate Bay movement, declared itself basically apolitical, close to a possibile “third-way” that goes beyond the classical division left-right (close to other political unclissified movements like the green one, the black one or the pink one according to Alex Foti and his book presented at Hackmeeting 200 in Milan, edited by Agenzia X “Anarchy in the Eu” – http://www.agenziax.it/?pid=29&sid=30). How can you manage this double political attitude (like the controversial about the use of your logo on the book about the Swedish pirate movement) and how can you face the impression of a left-wing or anarchist movement that you have had, I’m sure you know this, in Europe in the last years?
Magnus Eriksson: Just a detail, the controversy about the logo on the book was never about copyright but how they presented it as the official biography of the pirate bay. Even the authors themselves thought this was a bad idea but the publisher I guess wanted attention. Anyway, I noticed that Pirate Party is seen as left-wing or anarchist even in some places. This is simply not true. They have a narrow program about reforming copyright and
patent, stop surveillence and keep the net open. Not small things of course, but that’s it, call it what you want. If anyone want to connect this to other kinds of politics, it can be done, but you have to connect to them with an external relation. “Pirate Party does this in the EU, to us this is very connected to this other issue”.
Maybe this sounds strange for someone coming from the very polarized italian political environment, but here it works very well to do it in this project or issue driven, pragmatic way. To collaborate with people on some projects where on other projects it would be impossible because you would totally disagree. I mean even the guys running the Pirate Bay don’t agree on shit except that they want to run a bittorrent tracker.
I’m not too keen on cathegorizing the complex movements of politics but in a way it is beyond left and right. Not because it’s some kind of neutral politics of the middle but the range of supporters and antagonists are all over the political spectrum and a failure of handling these issues within the traditional political actors. Dominant parties on both left and right are working for more surveillence. The issue of copyright is both defended and attacked from both sides. We enjoy this confusion at the moment because it opens up new political spaces and thinking, something which is desperately needed.
So maybe it’s not apolitical, but omnipolitical. And maybe you have to understand the Swedish political landscape to get this. Both the social democrats and the autonomous left in Sweden seem to lack political energy and all the intreresting things I think are happening in Sweden comes from places hard to define at the moment.
Marco Mancuso: Speaking again about a neo-liberal kind of economy and politics: how, in your opinion, your attention to peer to peer items will be used by the Pirate Party to promote a new possible business model of “free content & free labour”? How much, in your idea, the Pirate
Bay could eventually become a profit-making venture and how could change the future of small indipendent grassroots economical acvitities?
Magnus Eriksson: If you’re talking about the Pirate Party, even the critique against the sentence of the pirate bay was mostly presented as a critique of how lobbyist could influence the political and legal system. Other than that it
was mostly about internet surveillence and things like that. It seems very unlikely that PP would engage in generating new business models as a part of their formal political work, although they will surely use these ideas in their rethorics to counter the arguments made by lobbyists. I don’t think business models in general will be generated by any central organisation. These things happen on the edges of networks, close to the flows of desires. This is the big fault in the argument of the copyright industry who is always asking for peace of mind from piracy so they can finally sit down within their industry and formulate the business models of the future. But
innovation doesn’t happen in this sea of tranquility but in the chaotic everyday life world.This does not mean that such ideas can spawn from the edges of the PP. They have a lot of enthusiastic members who will probably
be bored with formal political work and engage in more free flowing activities.
Marco Mancuso: How was your experience at Hackmeeting in Milan? At the light of my previous emails, how was your experience, emotions, feedbacks in front of such a mainly apolitical or anarchist audience, idealistic and optimistic in front of the potentiality of free code, free software, open source economies, free circulations of intellectual properties, which invited you as a concrete example of possibile success and a real hope for a better future. Do you feel a sort of responsability in front of them and, more in general, in front of European movements like Hackmeeting?
Magnus Eriksson: Wow, I do NOW after you put it like that. No seriously, I don’t feel a responsibility “in front of” them as you put it. I think it is the wrong way to put it that we are representing or are holding a power in our hands to use as a benefit for others. Our philosophy is the kopimi philosophy which is about spreading ideas and practicies as an epidemic. Even for the pirate party, they don’t have any influence at all except in what extent they can contaminate other political actors to also work for these ideas. And also with politicians from other countries feeling the pressure from movements in their countries. That’s why we have to be promiscous and contaminate everyone else. Not because they have the power and we are powerless, but because our ideas and precticies have all the power and if they don’t get on the train, they will be left without momentum. There is no centre of power that you can enter and from there change the world. Instead, you have to connect to everything and be
everywhere. Transforming all other entities, institutions and areas of society. So the EU is a place where many places transverse. You have to change it from a seat, form another country, from a company, from their email inbox, phone line and fax maxhines. Within a sentence, a proposal, a TV-station, an irc-channel or a hackmeeting. In, out, up, down, left and right. So everything that gets sucked into the EU magnet and later poured out carries your signature.