europe-piracyWe’ve been having a lively discussion on the effects of digital piracy in Europe this week, including some debate on the best way to respond. It’s a controversial topic, and we wanted to hear a variety of different viewpoints, so we contacted Swedish Pirate Party MEP Christian Engström and invited him to join the debate.

In our last post, there was some disagreement in the comments about the actual effects of piracy. Glyn argued that file-sharing can actually benefit artists, because it provides, in effect, free marketing for their work. Rob, on the other hand, argued that piracy is damaging the entertainment industry and costing billions each year. Which is it?

It’s beneficial. You can divide the studies into two groups. One is the studies that are funded by the film and record companies, either directly or through lobbying firms. They typically have the methodology that they pick two big numbers, multiply them together and say “Wow! We are losing billions”.

The other set of studies are those undertaken by independent academics and research institutes. There has been a study (PDF) done at the University of Amsterdam, for example. These studies show that the cultural sector is doing better than it ever has. But you need to differentiate between record companies and artists.

It is true that the record companies have lost half their revenues. I say: ‘Excellent! Half the job done’. What record companies do is distribution – it used to be an important function but now any teenager in his or her bedroom can do that work for free. In a market economy, your company will dissappear unless it’s competitive. The losses by the record companies just reflect a healthy market economy. If you look at the statistics, people are spending as much, or even more, on music. But the big shift is that the record companies, who used to take lots of that, no longer have such a large cut – so more money is coming into the cultural sector, but more is also going to artists directly.

We recently interviewed Francis Gurry, head of the UN World Intellectual Property Organisation, who suggested that in order to get more people to download content legally, it has to be as easy to pay for and download as it is to pirate. He suggested users need to be able to get in one click a global licence to use a film or book or whatever it might be.

Well, yes – that is absolutely true. We in the Pirate Party want to make non-commercial file-sharing as widespread as possible. But we have absolutely nothing against commercial alternatives. We like competition and we want many different choices. Currently, you’ve got 27 different copyright legislations in Europe, and all talk about an internal market is greatly exaggerated. When it comes to a single digital market, it simply doesn’t exist. Instead, we’ve got 27 different markets – and this is holding back the legal alternatives.

Let me give you an example: we have met with the legal council from Spotify. Spotify exists in 7 of the 27 EU member-states – and they would love to be pan-European. But in every single country they have to negotiate with half a dozen rights holders organisations. For them, it’s simply not feasible to put together a pan-European offering if you have to do 150 negotiations in 27 different countries. So, we would definitely need to reform European copyright laws.

Does there also need to be a “stick” as well as a “carrot”, though? Francis Gurry suggested that there need to be certain limits on what a person can do on the internet, and if somebody is a repeated offender of intellectual property rights – and if due process is followed properly – then it doesn’t seem to contravene questions of rights to cut off their internet access. Would you agree?

No, we don’t need a “stick”. First of all, you can’t have an efficent stick unless you infringe fundamental rights. The internet allows people to connect to each other – and there are a million ways you can do it. If you shut down file-sharing websites, then people can start sending music as email attachments to each other. If you want to monitor that, you will have to monitor people’s email. That would be an absolute infringement of people’s right to privacy.

Second thing – it isn’t working. Governments are introducing harsher rules, and still file-sharing is increasing. Even if you think it’s okay to infringe people’s right in order to defend copyright, it is still not an effective solution.

The third thing is, the artists are doing fine. It’s always been very difficult to make a living as an artist, but at least more is going to the cultural sector and to the people actually making the content.

What about you? What do YOU think the correct response to digital piracy should be? Do you agree that copyright laws need to be harmonised across the EU to create a single digital market? Do you think tougher sanctions against illegal downloaders are ineffective? Let us know in the form below and we’ll take your suggestions to policy-makers and experts for their reaction.

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19 comments Post a commentComment


  1. Alison

    Christian Engström said, “The third thing is, the artists are doing fine. It’s always been very difficult to make a living as an artist, but at least more is going to the cultural sector and to the people actually making the content.”

    My sister worked full-time for 15 years as a gigging artist in the Republic of Ireland, set up her own record company and sold her own CDs at gigs. CD sales represented a huge proportion of her income. For every pirated copy of her music distributed online, that’s less income for her, no question, no debate. And let’s not forget, pirated CDs and DVDs are produced and sold by organised crime – my sister went to a market once and found pirate copies of her own CDs – profits going to… the IRA.

    In summary, a lot of artists are NOT doing fine. My sister retrained and is now working in Singapore. That’s one excellent musician fewer gigging in Ireland.

    • Arthur

      What you are talking about is commercial piracy, sometimes commonly referred to as counterfeiting, which is a very different thing to non-commercial file-sharing. Nobody has suggested that commercial piracy should be legalised, that would be idiotic. No-one has the right to profit from another’s work.

      An artist can sell a whole lot more than just CD’s at a concert, and frankly if your sister couldn’t compete, well that’s just capitalism in action. Diversify or die (metaphorically speaking).

    • Kevin

      ” For every pirated copy of her music distributed online, that’s less income for her, no question, no debate.”

      That is probably the first thing people think of. And i am sure you’ve seen the effects first hand, but what most people seem to forget, is that most of the pirated copies obtained online are not lost sales. They are instead free marketing for the artist and more often than not people buy the music if it’s really good.
      But most people pirate music because they wouldn’t have bought it otherwise. So copies obtained like that are not loss of sales.

      This is especially true for online books. Putting books online for free sold more books than just retail books in the shelves.

    • Bill Rosenblatt

      This is nonsense. Why would someone buy something if they can get it for free? The legitimate music services are pushing closer and closer to this anyway. Eventually there will be no difference between legal/free and illegal/free, except that the former will result in big losses to commercial enterprises while the latter won’t.

      Anyone who thinks that the music industry will persist by people paying EUR 0.99 per song is just plain dreaming. Steve Jobs is dead and so is this model.

    • Pontus

      Well, Microsoft have done a great with Windows 7 that costs about 1100SEK while its main competitor (Linux in different shapes and forms) is distributed for free. The same phenomena can be seen in the newspaper business where many papers sell for 10-90SEK even though they have the same material online for free.

      So what you are saying is basically, “the business don’t want to compete with free because the business don’t know how to do it and ergo it shouldn’t be supposed to”, what I’m saying is that there is always people willing to pay for mediacontent, the business just don’t know how to reach them and therefore deserves to disappear and leave room for those who knows how to reach them!

    • stefan

      yes, question. yes, debate.

      first of all, I could download plenty of her CDs, and each of them many times. None Of them would be a lost sale.

      Second, Christian wasn’t talking about specific artists. Some might have done better before file sharing came along, but generally, musicians are better off now.

    • Avery

      I don’t know of many artists who make a living from CDs. Was that her primary source of income?

  2. Jesper

    Alison: The case of organized crime (re-)packaging and selling CDs without her consent is commercial counterfeiting. Christian Engström is against that, and so is the rest of the Pirate Party. Your sister would probably be helped by the larger pan-EU market that Christian pushes for.

  3. Billy G

    OR, because of piracy, your sister got a larger crowd going to her gigs and even buying a cd or two once in a while..

    HOWEVER.. if we are talking about downloading someones album, burning it on a cd, then standing in the square selling it, that should be punished, cause they are profiting moneywise off someone elses work, however, if that recording was say more than 10-15 years old, I have no problems if a 3rd party is selling it..

  4. Pontus

    Alison said:
    “And let’s not forget, pirated CDs and DVDs are produced and sold by organised crime – my sister went to a market once and found pirate copies of her own CDs – profits going to… the IRA.”

    That is not filesharing, espicially not for personal use, there is nothing in the pirate parties program that supports that kind of copyright infringment.

    “set up her own record company and sold her own CDs at gigs.”

    With filesharing she could have reached outside of Ireland without any larger costs, she could have reached consumers like me (who like irish music without living there) and I for one and many of my friends would have bought her music if it appealed to us. Without promoting her records online, sharing them with others, they surely didn’t reach me.

    “That’s one excellent musician fewer gigging in Ireland.”

    No, that’s one more excellent artist gigging in Singapore.

    For a relevant parallell, I’m a software developer, developing open source and freeware, I have even more protected rights on my work than a musician have, but still I manage to economically support my wife and daughter while living in a costly scandinavian country. Basically what I’m saying is that everybody should be allowed to do what they like, but it isn’t a basic right to earn money on it, that right is for the market to decide.

    And finally the integrity and fundamental right of a private life online of millions must outweigh the imaginary losses of four record companies (yes there are more record companies, but most of suing come from the four biggest), dont you agree?

  5. Fredrik

    Alison: “pirated CDs and DVDs are produced and sold by organised crime” – That isn’t even slightly related to online piracy. Pirated music distributed by organized crime has been sold long before the Internet even existed. This is wrong because someone is making money by selling someone elses stuff.

    Imagine the following scenario: An artist sells cds at his/her gigs. A couple of million people worldwide download the CD, of those maybe 100 would have bought it at a gig. 500 thousand people really enjoyed the music and 100 thousand people enjoyed it enough to buy a concert ticket if a concert was held close enough to home. 500 people actually goes to a concert and pay more for the ticket than they would for the CD. These numbers are totally made up of course, but in no way unrealistic.

  6. Alison

    Thanks for your comments on my thoughts. There is obviously a wide range of opinion.

    If the Pirate Party doesn’t support counterfeiting or copyright infringement, maybe the Pirate Party is a misleading name – shouldn’t they just call themselves the Freeshare Party?

    Like most musicians, my sister did change with the times and her songs were available to hear on her website – anyone could log in and listen. If people want to recommend her music to friends, they can just send the link. Her music can be purchased to download online legally. So if people want to put the music on their ipods, etc. they should pay for it.

    Interesting figures on how effective filesharing is on promoting an artist, but I think you’d have to agree, they are plucked from the air and there is no way to prove lost sales versus the advantage of ‘free promotion’ via filesharing. The University of Amsterdam says ‘the cultural sector is doing better than ever,’ whatever that might mean. It might be true on a grand scale but how do small scale artists put food on the table? Royalty payments and CD/online sales. Is the Pirate Party proposing anything that will protect small scale artists while going after the big record companies?

    The fears expressed are about people’s online privacy being lost. But by removing the stigma attached to stealing an artist’s work online, you are forcing artists to find other ways to make an income other than just producing good art. Fans might have heard material online and gone to the gig as a result – one more ticket sale, a large proportion of ticket sales go to the venue, not the artist. What’s the motivation for them to buy a CD at a gig if they think, “I can just go home and get it for free online”? As Arthur said, “An artist can sell a whole lot more than just CDs at a concert, and frankly if your sister couldn’t compete, well that’s just capitalism in action. Diversify or die (metaphorically speaking).” I think you have no real idea what gigging artists actually do Arthur. They drive for miles, stay in cheap hotels, lug their gear and their supply of CDs, play their hearts out and get home at four in the morning. They spend hours writing, and they use what little money they have to invest in studio time to record a CD which they hope will pay for itself and make them a profit. This debate is not just about putting less money in the record company coffers. Very, very few gigging artists have record deals. We are talking about art and artists – music is not, and should never be, just a commodity. There has to be protection to allow them to make some financial gains for the effort they are making. And, as I’m sure someone will argue that if artists aren’t good enough to make it commercially, then they should just give up, let me ask you how a cultural sector can really thrive in an environment like that, and let me also mention that plenty of amazing performers don’t make massive amounts of money.

    Does the Pirate Party have anything to say on publishing rights?

    • ForskarGurra

      Trying to stop free access to old work is just impossible. Any attempt will probably just be like throwing money in the sea.

      The only thing still having a value is the service of producing more. You can’t really “sell” already produced music or books anymore – but it is easier than ever show the world what you can do (by showing your old work) – and to let your fans support your work by donations if they find it promising enough. As internet spans the whole world, and even the average fan may only donate, say half a dollar a month, that can still be quite some contribution if you have talent.

      For a promising musical band finding 10 000 fans over the whole world willing to donate 0.5$ each a month really shouldn’t be that hard… And that will probably pay for quite some hours of playing every month.

    • Bill Rosenblatt

      This model originated with Kevin Kelly, who called it “1000 True Fans.” It has yet to be proven out by more than a tiny handful of actual recording artists, most of which reached their original notoriety the old traditional way. It just plain does not work.

    • Jesper

      The Pirate Party was named in an attempt to “take back” the word Pirate, not because being a pirate is something to strive for, but to discredit the industry’s deliberate attempts to conflate multiple things and assign all of them the bad will of the worst. (There are plenty of phrases reclaimed like this in history; “gay” is one example.)

      There’s a large difference between non-commercial copyright infringement and commercial counterfeiting. If you were to find a text file of a 1940′s book written by an author who died 65 years ago, you would engage in non-commercial copyright infringement, at least according to the US copyright laws where the copyright extends 70 years beyond the death of the author. I think it’s safe to say that the author will not be more creative or live a more prosperous life regardless of whether you pay for that book or not. On the other end of the spectrum, if you package up a just-released book and sold it without the author’s permission, that’s commercial counterfeiting. I am not saying that any of those scenarios are applicable, I’m just demonstrating that you might find some variance in this spectrum, which some people think contains of a single morally abhorrent action or attitude that can be summed up in a single word.

      The Pirate Party’s position is that noncommercial copyright infringement for personal use should be allowed without punishment. This has the effect of letting people download and listen to your sister’s songs without paying for them. As you say, they already could on her website.

      If your sister is unable to capitalize on her music, maybe that means she won’t be able to have a career in it. But that was true yesterday and it will be true tomorrow. There have always been ways in which people could listen to songs without paying for them, and the record industry has always had ways of marketing and anti-piracy efforts that used huge chunks of profits in a way to combat or exploit them – profits that could have gone to artists like your sister.

      In the previous century, there was a period of about 60 to 70 years during which there was sufficiently advanced technology to sustain the current business model for the record industry, but it looks like those days are now behind us, thanks to even more advanced technology. No amount of legislation will change this – it is literally impossible to turn this tide unless you introduce constant surveillance. You are referring to a stigma, but the stigma is already sufficiently gone (or, I would posit, was never sufficiently in place, but was traditionally less exploited) that there’s no way back.

      On the other hand, the Pirate Party position of allowing non-commercial, personal use copyright infringement frees up enormous resources for law enforcement – resources that they could spend on other things, like hunting those that spread or produce child pornography or why not commercial counterfeiters.

      Professing these opinions will always put you in the crosshairs of character assassination. If I want for this to happen, I must be a horrible person, etc. I want to add three things to what I’ve said before:

      * I have twice voted for the Pirate Party in Swedish elections; one of them was a vote that helped elect Christian Engström.

      * I probably know more than most of my friends who download music and movies about the seedy underbelly of the music and movie industry, and have more reasons to not support them, more grudges to take.

      * Regardless, I do not acquire anything using file sharing than that which I can’t already acquire from a legal supported service, paying the author or makers their due. It is important to me to support the works of art that I “consume”. Thanks to a widening repertoire, I hardly even use file sharing anymore.

      If you were to provide a link to your sister’s web site, I would love to buy her every album in triplicate just for support, and I wish her all the best. But I don’t see tension between my desire to support artists and my unwillingness to see their distributors and intermediaries dictate laws in reckless attempts to salvage their own business models in a changing world.

      28/10/2011 Stef Coninx, Director of the Flemish Music Centre, has responded to this comment.

    • Scary Devil Monastery

      “If the Pirate Party doesn’t support counterfeiting or copyright infringement, maybe the Pirate Party is a misleading name – shouldn’t they just call themselves the Freeshare Party?”

      Basically the party started using the name we filesharers have been stuck with for a long time. The distribution industry started comparing noncommercial filesharing with bootlegging at about the same time the cassette tape was invented. After a few decades of that, every freedom-of-information activist simply started using the term and redefining it.

      Getting the public to know the difference is fairly easy and once you explain it they start looking at the hyperbole the industry is churning out in a new light.

      If we called ourselves the free-sharing-party all that would happen is that we’d be called “pirates” as an unofficial nickname instead.

      “Interesting figures on how effective filesharing is on promoting an artist, but I think you’d have to agree, they are plucked from the air and there is no way to prove lost sales versus the advantage of ‘free promotion’ via filesharing.”

      There may not be any easy scientific way to trend that market no, since by it’s very nature the internet is not conducive to empirical statistics on this issue. What you can say that as filesharing has gone up and remained a constant major factor along with decreasing industry turnover the net effect of media purchases has stayed the same or risen.

      If the main distributors are bleeding but the sum total doesn’t diminish then we must accept that the non-distributor segments of the markets have taken off in a massive way. This alone at least indicates the benefits of the commercial effects very strongly.

      “The fears expressed are about people’s online privacy being lost. But by removing the stigma attached to stealing an artist’s work online, you are forcing artists to find other ways to make an income other than just producing good art.”

      I suggest you think long and hard about what you just wrote. If you are no longer allowed to go online (i.e. communicate) without being subjected to the same search-and-seizure rules on your communication service which were used in old East Germany, Soviet and China then you have lost a great deal more than just your online privacy.

      If that’s the only way to guarantee an artists “right” to make a living according to old business models then the “choice” isn’t even an issue.

      “There has to be protection to allow them to make some financial gains for the effort they are making.”

      At what cost? The blunt truth is that you can not enforce such protection without at the same time abolishing the rights of every citizen on this planet to communicate freely and unsupervised. Although I sympathize with many artists put in a tough position there is absolutely no contest between which evil I would be willing to accept and which is completely unacceptable.

      “And, as I’m sure someone will argue that if artists aren’t good enough to make it commercially, then they should just give up, let me ask you how a cultural sector can really thrive in an environment like that, and let me also mention that plenty of amazing performers don’t make massive amounts of money.”

      You mean like Shakespeare, Beethoven, Mozart, Leonardo da Vinci, Goethe, Michelangelo, and just about 99% of every culture creator who lived in the course of human history???

      Honestly, even the question itself took me aback.

      I’m sorry to say this, but not every person manages to support themselves purely in their chosen vocation. For the last few thousand years of recorded history the verdict on artists who do not manage success has been “Don’t quit your day job”. As uncaring as that may sound it is the same as it is for any other profession – I know personally a number of skilled academics who’ve had to make ends meet by spending years flipping burgers on MacDonald’s instead of working what they’d been studying for six years in order to be able to work with. I find the implicit idea that simply being a good artist should somehow guarantee decent work somewhat offensive when no other profession has a similar deal.

      Having to scrounge for good gigs and living in a trailer may not be a barrel of laughs. Neither is flipping burgers for minimum wage when you’ve spent the last quarter of your life becoming an expert at something you chose as your life’s vocation.

      A great many amazing artists are metaphorically resigned to flipping burgers in a fastfood joint for the rest of their lives. Now and then. A few will become amazing stars and earn millions. Now and then.
      The internet has not changed this. What it has changed (and rightly so) is to sink the idea that information distribution can be controlled.

      We will have a great many Mozarts and shakespeares in the future as well, of this I have no doubt.
      There will be far fewer Britney Spears or Biebers.
      And there will be as many truly amazing artists never gaining fame or money as there always was.

      Assuming there remains any means of mass communications at all available to individuals filesharing will go on unabated. You can choose only whether to embrace that change. Not to have that change go away.

  7. Christos Mouzeviris

    The World is crumbling down, and young Europeans are debating about their right to piracy! What world am I living in? Is it more important for a young European to download free music and movies, than have his rights secured? Jobs, sustainable future, development, economic stability? Eeeerrrmmmm…No…!! Girls (and boys) just wanna have fun..!! Enjoy the downloading guys…What next? If we have a Piracy Party now, then perhaps we should get a “Free To Skate Everywhere Party” as soon as possible..?? Duhh..!!

  8. Miguel

    What a bunch of liars file-sharers are. To hear them tell it, they have downloaded hundreds of songs, put dozens of them in their playlist and then gone through the trouble to seek out and pay for a legal copy.

    • Scary Devil Monastery

      We certainly do. A book, a DVD or a game with good merit not only deserves shelf space (in which case the boxed version looks much better than the blank disc), there is also the fact that filesharers, being enthusiasts, have always bought as much media as they could possibly afford.

      But don’t take my word for it. At least one of those studies Christian Engström refers to, above, covers this subject in great detail.

      Basically what it amounts to is that casual filesharers wouldn’t buy the media anyway. They just grab a copy since it’s there. Hardcore enthusiasts on the other hand use filesharing as a way to see what they should spend their money on.

      Which is, coincidentally, why it’s been empirically established – time and time again over the last ten years – that filesharers spend a great deal more cash on purchasing media than non-filesharers.

      I’ll just assume your name-calling reflects only your ignorance and preconceptions and not the general trend of your intellect for now.

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