Thursday, June 11, 2009

Arrr.... We Be Having A Pirate Party

Rick Falkvinge (rick.falkvinge@piratpartiet.se) did the opening keynote at Open Web Vancouver 2009. His topic: the Pirate Party election of a member to the European Parliament, its aspirations to gain seats in the coming Swedish National election in 2010. The Pirate Party’s platform: save our civil liberties through the declawing of the monopoly of commercial intellectual property concerns and radical changes in the concept of copyright.
Over the course of 80 riveting minutes, Falkvinge went through the history of Copyright, its origins and who profits from it. Its origin in Europe was the printing press. Until that time, the Catholic Church had a stranglehold on arts, knowledge, literacy and culture.
The reaction to multiple sources of knowledge and reproducible information—the first spark of mass media—was revolutionary and disruptive. France banned the printing press in 1535. Henry the XIII founded the Church of English to abolish the Catholicism and dissolve his first marriage. His daughter, Mary I resented that move, she reinstated Catholicism. To squelch dissent, she gave some stationers in Britain the right to produce printed works—the rights to copy, or copy right. In 1710, the statutes of copyright were better defined and brought the concept of “intellectual property” – knowledge got cracked out of the people’s brains, snatched from the air and scraped off of the page—and made into a thing. Physical things can re-assembled, altered, used by others and sold. Intellectual property can have all of this done, but it has almost no physicality—it can be copied with a simple technical step. It can be moved through the technical infrastructure of the Internet.
What’s at stake is innovation and privacy. One is important for the advancement of all technology. The latter threatens to destroy our lives.
Second, first:
The only way to stop violations of intellectual property is to monitor for bad behavior. The only way to monitor is to review transmissions and files. If people can’t review your transmissions, the next best thing is to log their transmissions just in case they broke the law. This orchestrated move to strip away privacy or what Falkvinge refered to a “Postal Secret” means that we will never have privacy. The Copyright lobby has recently pushed:
  • 4 years in prison for accepting file sharing
  • Abandoning messenger immunity (killed the messenger’s business)
  • Equating file sharing with child porn to galvanize political action
  • Demanding the rights for private companies to install surveillance hardware
  • The right to cut off Internet access to some violators of copyright laws
Innovation has been stymied by patents. Twenty and thirty year delays some fields as a side effect of patents and near-miss patent violations. Airplane patents held in World War I had to be nationalized by the government to open them up to allow for innovation. Patent defense is expensive and chilling. I like to think that you need to adopt “the bliss of abdandonment”—don’t worry when the dog fertilizes your lawn; don’t worry when your Javascript code shows up on so-n-so’s page.
Falkvinge proposed sweeping changes to copyright:
  • Copyright applies to only commercial works. Encourage non-commercial derivative works. I think I liked Star Trek better in the 1990s when I could download a .wav of the Borg for my desktop. I got soured at the same time I couldn’t add geekdom from the ‘net without delving into shady corners of the Internet. Derivative non-commercial work can sustain and propel the popularity of a commercial venture.
  • Remove the political ban on intellectual property. Lobby on your own—make it a political topic. The thin edge of civil liberty loss is the fight to maintain the status quo in intellectual property. If we don’t fight that wedge, privacy and due process are at risk—they’re almost gone.
  • Limit copyright to 5 years from publication. I actually disagree, a little. I think it should be 20 years from publication: enough time to milk it. This could be a win-win: your local TV channel (always strapped for cash) could run free episodes of Mary Tyler Moore to remedy your insomnia ("oh… Mr. Graaantt!") at 4AM.
  • Abolish patents. They choke off innovation. The last thing we need is a sluggish rate of change in fields like electric vehicle development and climate change remedies.
"If you don’t threaten their jobs, they just won’t care" – Falkvinge
How much did the Pirate Party spent to get one of the 730 seats in the European parliament? About $50,000 US. The EU is the largest economy in the world. Through technology and satisfying the thirst for the young to participate from the confines of their cellphone (OMG-UR SO POLIT), this party gained political power. They have their sights set on the Swedish parliament. I have hopes that they make for deep political change, infect the world and re-ignite innovation.

By the way: feel free to copy or derive from this post. You’re welcome to link to it too.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009