Pirates in Government

What happens when a lot of people get upset about copyright laws? In Sweden, the Pirate Party gets a seat at the European Parliament. As the Guardian reports, “revulsion” over a controversial I.P. enforcement directive and the arrest of The Pirate Bay’s owners helped the Pirate Party secure 7 percent of the national vote. Another Pirate Party won nearly 1 percent of the vote in Germany, and similar parties exist in Austria, Spain, Denmark, Poland, and Finland. It may be a good thing that Dubner’s new term for internet piracy didn’t catch on. The Downlifting Party just doesn’t sound as appealing. [%comments]


John Doe

I support the Pirate Party. Sharing is not stealing.

Y. Arrrr

Yarrrrrrr!

Me

There is a pirate party in the US, also.

Kevin

They do make some good points. I can honestly say that Youtube (and other similar services) are how I have found out about a lot of music. Without those services, these recording companies would never have made a single cent off of me.

The problem is that it's not easy to measure the indirect gain from online sharing, but it's easy to measure (or at least think you are measuring) the direct costs.

PMyran

Kevin: There are independent scientific reports (e.g. from Netherlands and Sweden) that shows exactly what you're talking about. They show that more money than ever are flowing to the cultural sector. The problem is that more of this money goes straight to the artists and not via the "industry" like it obviously should...

Jim

Despite the tongue-in-cheek name, the primary aim of the Pirate Party is to correct the privacy invasions, presumptions of guilt, ridiculous extensions of copyright, and other attacks on civil liberties that have been perpetuated in the US and Europe in the name of copyright enforcement. The goal is not simply to get "free stuff". The EU, the French Constitutional Court, and US judges have thankfully begun realizing how far and dangerous these efforts have been, but we still have a long way to go when Orrin Hatch is applauding draconian enforcement and President Obama is naming RIAA lawyers to his team.

ben

....and VHS will surely destroy the TV/movie industry

Dave

Nonsense, the 'pirate party' are primarily kids who dont understand the value of other peoples work. The idea that it is some pro-privacy campaugn is frankly laughable.
The pirateparty do not belive in copytright. They think that freakonomics should have been written by amateurs in their free time and its authord not been paid for a single copy.
Its telling that their spokesperson is an 18year old swedish student. In other words, someone who has never, ever done a days work in her life.
A sad symptom of the 'entitlement generation'.

cbp

Good on these pirates for giving it a shot, but I can't imagine actually voting for a party based on something like my right to download torrents. Surely there are grander things to worry about? Surely the power of the internet could be used to rally people together for better purposes?

It all sounds terribly petty and ridiculous to me.

Chris

@cpb

"a party based on something like my right to download torrents"

Pirate Party in Sweden is not based on that. Torrents themselves are not illegal either.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_Party

jorma

Dave: She is a spokesperson. One of them. She is not 18, but 22 and a member of the European Parliament (and a voting member if the lisbon treaty passes). It's pretty evident that you have no clue what the pirate party wants, but you should not make stuff up like that when you simply do not know. You are on the internet, use tools like Google and knowledge shall be yours!

She'd also rape you hard in any discussion on copyright and patent law. She is awesome!

John Doe

Economists cares about the money. Actually the money in their pockets. They are always in the place where money is.

BSK

The issue I take with movements regarding piracy is that, as far as I've seen it articulated, the opponents of anti-piracy law seem to basically be saying, "We don't like these laws." I have seen few arguments from advocates of filesharing that philosophically or ideologically justify filesharing without compensation to the original artists. Not liking a law is not a reason for it to be changed. Even if a majority of people don't like a law, that is not necessarily reason to change it, if the law itself is right. I'm not saying specifically that anti-piracy laws are right; rather, I've yet to see a compelling argument for why filesharing is philosophically right and should be allowed.

Hmbg

BSK: dude, if a majority of people think a law should be changed, it should be changed. That's sort of a fundamental part of democracy, laws are enacted based on popular opinion.

blue92

"[I]f a majority of people think a law should be changed, it should be changed."

Except that most "democracies" are actually republics, and the majority opinion is (in theory) supposed to be tempered by giving power to fair-minded people who actually have experience making, enforcing, and interpreting laws.

That said, I agree that copyright laws are archaic and need to be drastically revised. Artist should be justly compensated, but the distribution channels of the past continue to demand unreasonable compensation for media that, by all rationality, should be public domain.

Hmbg

"Except that most 'democracies' are actually republics..."

Very true. However, in the ideal representative democracy (we like to model ideally here among economists, right?), if the fair-minded people act against popular opinion without managing to convince the majority of their unfair-mindedness, they will be replaced in the next election. The (ideal) process will end with the law being changed.

The philosophical argument of a higher moral, suggested by BSK, can be employed by fair-minded representatives to convince the public to change their mind, democratic systems are far from ideal and the majority is not always very politically astute, but in the long run, laws against public opinion are not viable.

Jesse

BSK: "I have seen few arguments from advocates of filesharing that philosophically or ideologically justify filesharing without compensation to the original artists."

If that's the case, then you haven't been looking in the right places.

My personal belief that file sharing is justified is based in the freedom of speech: I believe I have the inherent right as a human being to share my knowledge and experiences with others. That includes any information I know or discover about property I own, such as the contents of a book or a CD from my shelf, or about things I've seen and heard, such as a recording I've made of a concert or movie. Copyright law restricts what I can say, for no reason other than to allow someone else to charge for saying the same thing. That makes a mockery of free speech.

My opposition to copyright is not based in a desire to get things for free, and I believe copyright opponents in general have put more thought and effort into new ways to fund the production of content than copyright apologists have put into justifying the status quo.

It shows a dire ignorance when people like Dave claim that copyright opponents think all works "should have been written by amateurs in their free time". People who make silly claims like that are simply stuck in the mindset that the only way to make money as an artist or writer is to sell copies -- as if the act of writing had no inherent value, and only the copies were worth anything!

On an economics blog, we ought to know better than that. A writer's labor has value as long as people still want new books written: if the only way to get a new book is to pay someone to write it, then writers will get paid. Writers don't need special government-granted monopolies any more than barbers, accountants, CEOs, actors, or anyone else who provides a valuable service.

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blue92

"...if the fair-minded people act against popular opinion without managing to convince the majority of their unfair-mindedness, they will be replaced in the next election."

As nice at that would be, it depends upon the scope and perceived importance of the issue. In this country, the majority of people don't vote, so the "majority" is actually the minority. Keep in mind that the issue is more present for the younger segment of the population, whereas voting and law-making tends to be the province of the older segment. The sufficient demographic shift may take upwards of 10 to 20 years, and, like most government action, it's as likely to happen as a series of infrequent stops and starts as it is all at once.

Perhaps when copyright & patent law reform becomes a hot-button issue among actual voters, the position's advocates will have some significant political muscle. Until then they may just as easily be labelled criminal by the "majority".

Jesse: I have to disagree on one point. We most definitely need a new Federal Barber Office to protect the design of new haircuts and aid the FBI in cracking down on clipping infringement. It's a tragedy that the heirs of the inventor of the bowl-cut are not receiving royalties from those hacks that use their method.

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Karen H

"if the only way to get a new book is to pay someone to write it, then writers will get paid. "

Yeah, and that's the problem. If all you get for writing a book is a flat fee per book, then you're getting anywhere from $1000 to $5,000 per book for a year or more's worth of labor (trust me, most book authors don't get much more than that per book up front). The only way one might remotely make a living at it is through royalties on copies. But since people prefer not to pay for those copies, but download them for free, then what consumers are demanding when they go for the free download is that the author work a full time job, and then work another part-time or full time job for sweatshop wages. (At 4% to 6% of cover price, the royalties don't add up to a lot, either, unless people actually go out and buy a lot of copies.)

Trust me, it leads to burn-out pretty quickly, especially when the author has to put food on the table and keep a roof over his or her head. I know more than a few published authors (published by mainstream publishers in NYC) who have had to quit writing because they just can't afford to keep doing it.

I understand it's worse for musicians.

If what people are willing to pay for the work of artists reflects what they think their work is worth, it looks like the work is not worth much.

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Jesse

Karen: "If all you get for writing a book is a flat fee per book, then you're getting anywhere from $1000 to $5,000 per book for a year or more's worth of labor (trust me, most book authors don't get much more than that per book up front)."

They don't get much more than that today, because the expected arrangement is that they'll make the rest of their money from royalties.

But if that payment up front were the only money they could expect to get, writers would demand more up front. And people who wanted to read new books would have no choice but to pay more.

"The only way one might remotely make a living at it is through royalties on copies."

Only if they can't make a living by being paid for their labor -- which is how everyone else who provides a valuable service makes a living. Perhaps you could explain why writing is such a unique endeavor that the business model that works for everyone else can't work for them.

"If what people are willing to pay for the work of artists reflects what they think their work is worth, it looks like the work is not worth much."

It doesn't, because artists who rely on copyright don't charge for creating art: they charge for copies of art that's already been made. The price people are willing to pay for copies reflects what they think making copies is worth, and in an era when music and movies can be copied at home for pennies, that isn't very much. Making copies is the wrong business for an artist to be in.

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