Swedish Pirate Party: “Copyright Laws Threaten Our Online Freedom”

Op-ed notes that govts, in order to enforce copyright laws, are slowly restricting our ability to communicate with one another online.

Christian Engström, newly elected member of the Swedish Pirate Party to the European Parliament, has written an excellent op-ed article for the Financial Times criticizing the damage that copyright law enforcement is doing to the ability of individuals to freely communicate with one another, and that furthermore, is eroding any sense of a “common cultural heritage.”

“What we think of as our common cultural heritage is not ‘ours’ at all,” he observes by noting that one can’t watch or hear anything by our great musical icons like Elvis Presley without paying a fee. Artists like Presley comprise part of our very cultural fabric, defining a whole generation of people and influencing artists that follow.

It’s quite distasteful to think that copyright laws have been so warped that long after an artist dies, long after the need for artist compensation is necessary, society still must “pay to play.”

“Technology opens up possibilities; copyright law shuts them down,” he continues.

“This was never the intent. Copyright was meant to encourage culture, not restrict it. This is reason enough for reform. But the current regime has even more damaging effects. In order to uphold copyright laws, governments are beginning to restrict our right to communicate with each other in private, without being monitored.”

Exactly. Copyright law was written in an analog world so to speak, a world before the Internet and online communication, and fair use laws haven’t been appropriately strengthened since.

For section 107 of US copyright law specifies 4 factors in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

Copyright law was really meant to govern commercial use of copyrighted material not noncommercial, and so has resulted in a de facto state of affairs where copyright holders simply argue that posting copyrighted material without authorization isn’t protected by fair use, that it negatively effects the “potential market for” and “value of” it.

When it comes to illegal file-sharing, Engström notes that the only way too fight it is to inspect every byte of data as it’s transferred between individuals.

“Even if the authorities closed down all other possibilities, people could still send copyrighted files as attachments to e-mails or through private networks,” he writes. “If people start doing that, should we give the government the right to monitor all mail and all encrypted networks? Whenever there are ways of communicating in private, they will be used to share copyrighted material.”

This is a thought that should send shudders through all with it’s right to privacy and free speech ramifications.

“If you want to stop people doing this, you must remove the right to communicate in private,” continues Engström “There is no other option. Society has to make a choice.”

That choice is being made as we speak with copyright holders working overtime to enact “three-strikes” and data filtering legislation around the globe.

“The technology could be used to create a Big Brother society beyond our nightmares, where governments and corporations monitor every detail of our lives,” he says. “In the former East Germany, the government needed tens of thousands of employees to keep track of the citizens using typewriters, pencils and index cards. Today a computer can do the same thing a million times faster, at the push of a button. There are many politicians who want to push that button.”

Engström says that we must embrace file-sharing technology because it encourages cultural and civic participation, turning people from “passive consumers” who are fed information into people who actually share it with others, “collaborating on a journey into the future.”

The real point here is that copyright laws have yet to catch up with our online world, and until it does our online freedom truly is as “threatened” as Engstrom says, specially if deep-pocketd copyright holders succeed in updating it for us vis a vis “three-strikes” and other draconian measures.

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