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Pirates on the attack!Interview with the Pirate Parties International's leaders

Who can, in an instant, legally block our access to the Internet and how does free file sharing contribute to the affluence of the artists – Gregory Engels and Jerry Weyer, the co-chairmen of the Pirate Parties International give us answers to all these questions.

Engaging in acts of robbery and copyright infringement are only some of the aspects stressed in the definition of ‘piracy’. But this doesn’t stop you from dubbing your organization the Pirate Party. So, does it mean that you are, in fact, ‘the party of robbers’?

We call ourselves "Pirates" more as a reference to the major corporations who understand the term “pirates” as  ‘a group of people that share culture and knowledge on the Internet for free.’ It is true that initially the content industry used the term "pirates" to incriminate users of the Internet, but nowadays the term has a more positive connotation, partially because of a certain movie with Johnny Depp, partially because people realize that the persons the corporations called "Pirates" are in reality regular people that just enjoy having access to knowledge and culture. The Pirate Parties therefore are no robbers, but people like you and me who fight against the incrimination of thousands of Internet users. And let’s not forget that
the etymology of the word "pirate" comes from Greek "pei-ra-tes" which means " an attacker"- and that’s exactly who we are! We’re going to attack the politicians with an obsolete way of thinking, so beware!

We are also familiar with the stereotype of a pirate promoted in various movies – a smooth-faced swashbuckler unjustly hunted by an evil prince. And who are you exactly – computer maniacs, visionary lawyers, unfulfilled artists?

Our party includes people from different backgrounds. Apart from common principles, we also share solid education. People who comprise our party are avid computer specialists, artists, lawyers and scientists. As far as the leadership is concerned, Gregory is an IT consultant, and Jerry studies European Law.

What triggered your decision to set up a party?

While non-profit organizations can influence the society and politics, the founders of Pirate Parties believe that only by putting our agenda on the political level are we capable of solving the existing problems.

Where do you get the money to support your organization from? Who donates to your party? I gather you don’t organize hold-ups…

No, not really, it’s not our cup of tea. PPI itself has no donors at this time. If we need money, we ask individual benefactors who provide financial support for specific actions. The national
Pirate Parties all have their own systems of donations, which can vary greatly depending on the national legislation on the matter.

What do you want to change in the world, and how, to make it a better place?

The main objectives of the Pirate Party include the reduction of the surveillance society, increased protection of personal data and adaptation of the copyright law to the possibilities of the new technologies. It is for all these reasons that we promote such projects as Creative Commons or Open Source. Apart from those "classic" Pirate goals, some Pirate Parties have other items on their agenda, greatly depending on the political discussions of their country and region.

Could you explain briefly what the purpose behind the above-mentioned projects for free software is?

Open Source opens up the possibility of controlling and modifying computer applications freely, and in doing so, also offers the possibility of sharing them with other users. Creative Commons, on the other hand, the principle which, for instance, Wikipedia is based on, instead of monopolizing the access to information allows for sharing various contents. We support both projects wholeheartedly as they are based on the principle of freedom of choice.

What is your party’s activity centredaround?

Apart from lobbying the politicians to amend the law, organizing demonstrations and participating in various political discussions, we try to publicize these issues. For instance, the German Pirates Party regularly features in the news and its topics are regularly on the agenda. This is partly the reason why the German Pirate Party won 2% support in the last national
elections. By the way, it was then that we became interested in the Pirate Party movement. All this shows that our actions directly affect societies. That’s why we want to stand in national elections as well as elections for European Parliament on regular basis.

But you still have a long way to go if you want to have a significant influence on the election results in different countries.

That’s true. And that is why now we focus mainly on a large-scale information campaign and participation in public discussions.

What is then the difference between the Pirate Parties International and a typical non-governmental organization?

Pirate Parties International is a NGO! We act as the NGO supporting the political national Pirate Parties. As there is no such thing as "international elections" and  PPI can’t participate in any elections anyway, our aim is to support the national parties. What is special about PPI as an NGO is the fact that our members are all political parties. And since we grant moral support to some kind of political movement, we can’t enjoy the kind of independence typical of a non-governmental organization.

Could you give some specific examples of your actions?

Examples of PPI initiatives are still scarce as we were officially founded in April 2010, which means we did a lot of structural work until now. However, we managed to hold a few conferences - most importantly, in April 2010, we organized the founding conference where over 50 Pirates from 25 countries met,  but we also try to take part in all events devoted to the issue of copyright.We tried to explain and present the Pirate view of Copyrighton the
European Liberty Conference in Milan, we are alsoplanning to apply for observer membership in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). An important tool which we use is PARROT (PPI Press release exchange). Representatives of the individual Pirate Parties can exchange articles on the topics which are of interest to us, which are then published in the national media. Due to this, everyone is up to date with the ongoing world situation. PARROT can be found on

Let’s get back to your objectives, as I see it, they aim at introducing changes in the international Internet law.

Frankly speaking, although there are no limits to the Internet, the international Internet law as such does not exist yet. Different attempts have been made in different countries to decide what rules should apply on the Internet. However, the solutions provided by the traditional political parties are often unsatisfactory as they limit the freedom of the Internet. The issue of this restriction of freedom affects millions of people all over the world and, to our way of thinking, it is not something that can be solved only on the national level.

I presume you are talking about non-democratic regimes.

Actually, countries where such regimes do exist are not the only ones I have in mind. While it is true that in China, Iran, or North Korea the Internet contents is filtered and the users have only limited access to it, such countries as France or Great Britain are also on the list of countries with the worst Internet legislation. The reason for this is that in these  countries the Internet connection can be cut off out of the blue without due legal proceedings on copyright infringement.

I don’t believe it!

But that’s the truth! France and Great Britain are the two countries which implemented the so-called Three Strikes Law, i.e. the three crimes law. This means that an Internet user having received two warnings on copyright infringement ( for instance while downloading a music file), if caught for the third time, gets cut off from the Internet and has no possibility of obtaining new access to it for a specific period of time. And to make it clear - this isn’t regulated by a judge’s order, but it just happens as a "simple" regulatory measure.

One might say that this course of action is justified – if a person breaks the law, prevention measures should play an important role and setting the machinery of justice in motion isn’t necessary…

I can see that you don’t fully understand how the network society works. The Internet has become the primary source of information and serves as a basic means of communication for millions of people. Copyright, as it stands now, hasn’t been yet adapted to the new media, but  Internet users shouldn’t be the ones to suffer the consequences of this. Nor should they be blamed for the fact that they want to share their culture with their friends via the Internet.

So you strongly advocate the idea of free circulation of the Internet contents, but do you ever wonder who will actually pay for it?

Well, a lot of contents present on the Internet is not meant for sale anyway. Consider videos on Youtube - majority of them are made and uploaded by people who just want to share their creativity with others. But even the contents that is produced in order to make money can be freely shared on the Internet and still be profitable. This is demonstrated by numerous independent studies, for example the research carried out by the British research institute Demos which was published and broadcast last year by BBC. These studies show that people who download illegal music files actually spend twice as much on legal music files as people who do not download illegally. Free contents is free advertisement and a way to get to the prospective customers, so artists can only benefit and profit from this. When it comes to the free circulation of the Internet contents we are still in the middle of a transition period, and intelligent businesses are already making a lot of money with business models adapted to suit these changes.

What about books or TV archives?

These two, as it happened with television or pictures, are already successfully offered free of charge. An “old-fashioned” way of publishing and editing books or producing music simply belongs to a bygone era. There are many artists who have achieved success not despite, but because of file sharers exchanging files with the artists’ works. These artists include, among others, Nine Inch Nails – the band who, in this way, sold millions of albums worldwide, Paulo Coelho who agrees to his entire books being uploaded, or the low-budget film Ink screened in theatres all over the world after it had gained its popularity due to being downloaded million times first.

But the major corporations don’t speak kindly of you…

Well, it is true that they often react in a very negative way - they try to undermine us e.g. by calling us names (it started with “Pirates”, now there are "criminals, illegal file sharers" etc.), but this is mainly because they want to hold on to their old business models and don't
care for the rights of their customers.

And what about journalism? Don’t you fear that free, decontrolled exchange of information will cause quite a “news chaos”? After all, the process of generating news is quite costly – one has to send a journalist who will check all the facts and hire the editors who will edit it.

Only free, unedited information is truly unbiased. If people had the chance to read the journalists' sources, they would be able to distinguish fact from fiction. If all information was widely available, the readers would be able to make up their own mind about all the issues. In Germany at the beginning of the 19th century, in times of unregulated copyright, the intellectual and cultural output was ten times higher than those of England and France which had strictly regulated copyright systems.

Aren’t you afraid that if there are no authorities to control the exchange of information, news websites will look like or, where the number of  ‘point-and-clicks’ is the only measure of the significance of a given news item?

This might be true provided that you visit only the pages like and don’t bother to check on the news pages, blogs or social media portals. The future of journalism is not endangered, although the way the journalists work will undoubtedly undergo some changes. There are people who prefer “raw” data and those who prefer comments or summaries and analyses. A good example of journalism in the age of the Internet was the reaction after Wikileaks released the so-called Afghan War Diary - some people read the entire documentation, but a lot satisfied their curiosity with the summaries and explanations of the news agencies such as Spiegel, Guardian or New York Times. What is important and what should be encouraged is providing people with the possibility of choice.

Should there be any limits to this freedom of information and data sharing as far as you are concerned?

Honestly, we don’t think so. Culture is there to be shared with the world, not to be locked up
in a safe somewhere deep under Disneyland! The general rule that should apply is the "freer" the better. This means that there should be no charges or limitations to the data usability, including DRM blocks.

What kind of block is DRM?

DRM, or digital rights management, is a term for access control technologies that can be used by hardware manufacturers, publishers, copyright holders and individuals to limit the usage of digital content and devices. The term is used to describe any technology that inhibits uses of digital content not desired or intended by the content provider. We are strongly against it. Internet users should be able to manage and use data as they wish.

So you are in favourof complete freedom? What about pornography and paedophilia?

Pornography can be extremely difficult to limit as the term itself is ambiguous. It can mean different things depending on a given country or culture, so regulating it by law is problematic. When it comes to paedophilia there is no doubt – under no circumstances should child pornography be published, whether online or offline. That is why we struggle for such contents to be deleted from the net immediately and fight against measures such as blocking this kind of contents which aim at hiding the problem rather than eliminating it for good from the Internet.

Can you see any changes in our way of thinking and in the society as such, which could be brought about by such an approach to the Internet and free data sharing?

Changes are usually quite slow, but we can already notice the society evolving and changing its attitudes, for instance a lot of people do not perceive copying MP3 files as an act of stealing any more. The older generation of politicians grew up in a world without computers and the Internet, so quite often they have problems with grasping the simplest concepts like “copy-paste” on a PC. Fortunately, we are part of the generation that can see the benefits of these technological developments and thanks to it we have complete confidence in the spread of our “pirate” ideas throughout the world in the next couple of decades.

Thank you very much for doing this interview.

Interview by Milena Rachid Chehab