Review: “The Case for Copyright Reform” by Christian Engström and Rick Falkvinge.

Christian Engström, MEP, and Rick Falkvinge are two names all Pirates should be familiar with. For the unacquainted – Engström is one of the two Pirate Members of the European Parliament, and Falkvinge is the founder of the Pirate Party movement. The Swedish copyright reformists have written what could well be the most succinct argument for reform, and a detailed explanation for why the Pirate Party exists that rivals any other literature I have come across. The Case for Copyright Reform (2012) is available for free online, and is in the public domain.

In The Case for Copyright Reform, they don’t waste time on any long-winded introductions. In two short pages the authors get straight to the point – file-sharing must be legal to uphold privacy, file-sharing can co-exist with professional creators, and file-sharing will not destroy our culture. Chapter 2 reinforces the notion that the Pirate Party is not anti-copyright. It explains the key elements of the Pirate Platform in regard to copyright: (1) moral rights unchanged, (2) free non-commercial sharing, (3) 20 years of commercial monopoly, (4) registration after 5 years, (5) free sampling, and (6) a ban on DRM.

Chapter 3 is strategically placed to present as soon as possible the ultimate reason for why copyright reform is necessary: in its present form, copyright threatens fundamental rights, particularly the right to private communications. The subsections of this chapter look at privacy, censorship, access to information, proportionality of punishments, and the right to due process.

Chapter 4 is primarily content that Rick Falkvinge has previously published on his site (and appeared in the United States Pirate Party’s No Safe Harbor, which I also reviewed). It looks at two issues, (1) what copyright is, and (2) the history of copyright. The former point is explained by the latter, and this chapter is useful for quashing the myth that copyright is a property right (it’s not, copyright is a limitation on property rights).

The Pirate Party movement is often criticised with the following sentiment:

Sure, fundamental rights may be violated to enforce copyright, BUT HOW WILL THE ARTISTS GET PAID?!

The Case for Copyright Reform acknowledges in chapter 5 that it is frustrating for Pirates to get this question after explaining the overwhelming negatives strict copyright enforcement can bring. Just as ”but think of the children!” can render years of anti-censorship campaigning worthless, so too can this halt attempts at copyright reform. The authors provide independently published statistics that show that since 1999, concert ticket sales have more than tripled in revenue. They examine six independent studies from Europe and North America that show artists are receiving a much greater share of “cultural revenue” than ever before, and explain that the number of working musicians has increased dramatically. This logically makes sense, as how did artists derive income prior to the recording industry? Engström and Falkvinge indicate that there is plenty of wealth out there for artists willing to seek it. The major labels and their manufactured “talent“ are the only ones losing out, and how necessary are they to the creative industry?

Chapter 6 expands on the Pirate policy toward copyright reform, while Chapter 7 gives us a look at “the cultural markets of the future.” Like all good critics, I’m not going to spoil the ending – read it for yourself!

All in all, The Case for Copyright Reform is an invaluable resource for all Pirates to refer to. We are all learning, and it’s information like this that helps us to remain enthused. I have always been sceptical of the link between file-sharing and privacy invasion. Having read the book, I am now aware that there are serious concerns. While I don’t value my privacy as much as others, that doesn’t mean I should ignore other people’s worries. I’m convinced that it’s not paranoia. In addition, it is also a great evangelical text. It’s short (only about 100 pages) and easy to read, so it can be finished in a few hours, yet contains enough information to undo a lot of the work of the copyright lobby.

A must read for all Pirates, and anyone who thinks we’re full of sh–. I think you’d be surprised at just how right we might be.


Author: Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer

Pirate Party Australia Deputy Secretary and Press Officer. Former member of the Pirate Parties International Court of Arbitration.