Not Idiots

There appears to be an assumption within the broader intellectual property industries that members of Pirate Parties are just whiny brats who “want everything for free.” They consider us uneducated idiots who have not really given any thought into what we advocate.

I find this odd.

I personally have spent a great deal of time trying to understand copyright law in particular, and when you’re a multi-discipline academic nearing completion of a Bachelor of Music, it’s pretty hard to avoid intellectual property.

That’s right, I am educated. I’ve studied most aspects of music at a tertiary level (analysis, composition, history, performance, philosophy, technology and theory), as well as literary history, philosophy and linguistics. Currently I’m strongly considering applying for a law degree (where I will major in international law, human rights and intellectual property).

Many members I’ve come into contact with are IT professionals, programmers and system administrators. There is a strong “geek” basis to Pirate Parties, because they understand the technology. However, I’ve had the privilege to interact with law professionals, fellow musicians and performing artists, journalists, film makers and engineers. Members consist of a wide cross-section of society. Loz Kaye, leader of Pirate Party UK, is an interesting example, as is Anna Troberg, leader of Piratpartiet (Pirate Party Sweden).

The average age of Pirate Party Australia members is 33. The brains behind our Liquid Democracy project currently under development is about 50 (at a rough guess). While we avoid making a big deal about age and gender, it’s important to note that members come from a wide variety of backgrounds. I think we represent a diverse group of individuals considering the issues we campaign on. We have a relatively high percentage of women for a political party, a wide range of occupations and qualifications for what we campaign on (i.e. digital liberties), and a wide age spectrum considering the Internet is, to stereotype, the domain of the younger demographics.

So when I hear people refer to “idiots justifying stealing” I am a little put off by them. As established, we are not idiots.

Secondly, if you can’t tell the difference between copyright infringement and theft, then immediately I have the upper hand because I actually know what I’m talking about. I once jokingly said “people shouldn’t be allowed to hold copyrights if they don’t understand them.” I am called an idiot for pointing out that there is a strong difference – and one of them is your legal standing. Theft is a criminal offense, copyright infringement generally is not (unless it’s of a commercial nature, in which case it is “criminal copyright infringement”).

I’d just like to briefly explain the difference between “theft” and “copyright infringement”. I’m not attempting to justify either of them, or say that the latter makes things okay, but it is an important distinction to make, whether you agree with my opinion on the matter or not.

Theft (or stealing, larceny, and so on) involves taking someone’s property without permission. I can take your car without permission, I can even annex your land and that could be considered stealing. I can walk into a video rental store and steal a DVD from their shelves – I am taking the physical item without permission. In the latter, I haven’t stolen the content of the DVD, but the physical manifestation of it.

Now imagine I take a laptop into the rental store. I rip the DVD, return it to the shelf, and walk out. I haven’t stolen anything, I have copied. The definition of copyright infringement is in the name. “Copy” + “right” + “infringement”. I have infringed your near-exclusive statutory right over the ability to copy that content by ripping that DVD.

The difference is that a limited number of tangible items can exist, whereas a potentially unlimited number of copies can exist. To copy is not to steal. Interestingly, it is impossible to steal copyright. The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) don’t seem to have grasped this. The right to religious freedom cannot be stolen, but it can be infringed. Rights cannot be stolen, but they can be infringed.

And now, onto the debate at hand. Each time I get hit by some rhetoric by the copyright lobby that I hadn’t heard before (and they do throw some interesting points out there from time-to-time), it makes me stop and think. I question whether what I believe is actually right. And then I do some research, and holes start to appear in their arguments.

As I mentioned before, we are not uneducated people. There is a wealth of material generated by academics, musicians, journalists, lawyers, writers and pirates themselves which indicate that copyright reform is not a bad thing. Books by Yochai Benkler, Philippe Aigrain, Matt Mason, James Boyle, Christian Engström and Rick Falkvinge, Kembrew McLeod and Lawrence Lessig, interviews with Neil Young and Thom Yorke, responses from Stephen Fry, Neil Gaiman and Michael Moore, comics and cartoons from Nina Paley. There is also a collection of copyright-related essays in a book compiled by the United States Pirate Party.

Each day, more and more voices are added to the debate. There are over 200 Pirate Party representatives around the world who have been elected to various levels of government – 45 state MPs in Germany (where they are federally the third or fourth largest party), 2 MEPs (from Sweden), and a mayor or two. Piratenpartij Nederland look set to take a seat or two in the next Dutch federal electons too.

I would much rather be on the side I am and be “wrong” than be on the other side and be “wrong”. I’d much rather continue to push for reform and what I believe in, only to be told to pack up and go home, than to sit on the conservative side and end up winning. Hopefully one day I will have grandchildren, and I will be able to sit them on my knee and explain to them that I was partly responsible for the freedoms society might enjoy in 50 years.

And if I’m wrong, at least when they ask me “it must have been great to grow up with the Pirate Bay – your generation really screwed it up for us” I will be able to say “at least I tried.”


Author: Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer

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

7 thoughts on “Not Idiots”

  1. Hi, thanks for the article. To improve marketing relating image of Pirate Party, my suggestion is to avoid *repeating* the perjorative aspect (whiny brats). To repeat it serves to broadcast more widely and also in some ways to reinforce the meme. The same article expounding how we are educated and try to be well informed, are responsible, and have a good wish to see artists paid fairly for work: all you need to omit is the initial confirmation of the meme ‘whiny brats’. I am a uk pp supporter. I had never been aware of the negative whiny brats meme until your article published and got tweeted more widely. Marketing – when did a successful marketing company (Microsoft?) ever include negative stuff about themselves in their publicity? Please consider? It would be good to spread positive stuff about what we do? There will be plenty of others who will put out negative crap, we do not need to repeat it ourselves.

    1. I’ve never heard of this “pejorative aspect” before. It was a minor nod to Rick’s “spoiled brats who want everything for free,” so I’m not sure I’m repeating it. Likewise, don’t know the meme, and haven’t found any retweets…

      1. Great post. Can you make some posts about alternative business models to wean the “whiny brats” off the IPR revenues model? If we make it irrelevant, they’ll stop pushing for protection and we can get some rights back.

        1. Hi Wendy. I hopefully will in the future. I received some interesting information from a musician yesterday about how record sales and live performances work. I’m also planning to interview a few “Pirate Partists” to get their ideas on how to make money in a copyright-reformed economy.

  2. Great post, Mozart. May I suggest a section on alternative business models to wean creatives off the IPR revenue stream? If we can make it irrelevant, they won’t need it any more and we’ll be spared more of the whiny entitlement.

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