Berlin, 2012-07-07

Civil Copy Rights

Fifteen years of copyright discussion and we're still not done. In fact we have developed a tendency towards talking about the possible conclusions the Internet intellighenzia converged upon, alternative business models powered by creative commons and all that, while the general public frequently doesn't understand how we got there, and therefore just shakes its heads and wants to see authors' rights enforced.

Sometimes politics boils down to getting the right priorities of basic values: The social democratic movement introduced the priority of respecting labour. The green movement introduced the themes of ecology and sustainability. The copyright lobby forced us to articulate basic priorities and by calling us Pirates, even gave us a name — a name so absurdly exaggerated for the crime we were supposedly committing that we ironically started using it and slowly turned it around into meaning 'fighters for freedom.' Let's talk about Pirate priorities and how they relate to copyright.

The Secrecy of Correspondence is a basic human right that has been implemented for the sake of democracy and privacy in form of safe delivery of pieces of paper wrapped in an envelope. It may sound obvious, but we require this level of secrecy also in Internet communications, and we are terribly distant from actually achieving it. Not just that we're having some difficulties deploying the necessary technology, now we also have to deal with copyright industry who would love to inspect our private exchanges because it just might contain music.

On a broader scope we should consider the integrity of the Internet itself. Pirates and people like us believe the Internet to be the platform of true participatory democracy in the 21st century. So-called net neutrality is therefore essential to us, the guarantee that communications on the Internet are not inspected, filtered or otherwise tampered with. We are allergic to any technology being deployed that provides such potential, because the mere fact that it's there and from one day to another could stop doing some harmless job like counting how many times a piece of music has been exchanged and start doing nasty surveillance of the population, we consider a threat to democratic society.

It shouldn't need explanation that surveillance is the basic ingredient for running a totalitarian government. We have seen it in Nazi Germany, we've seen it in the so-called German Democratic Republic and we're still seeing it in unhappy countries around the world. A population that cannot communicate freely cannot defend itself from totalitarian abuse. That's why net neutrality is a must. That's why we won the battle against ACTA. Because the population understands, and it cares. It's a question of getting the priorities right and traditional lobby-infested politicians can't do this. And it's not like any politician is planning a dark take-over of the government — they're all acting in good faith and think it's okay if it's them doing the surveillance, not worrying where this leads to and who will be in power ten or twenty years from now.

But there's more to this. Since we need technological devices to execute our democratic will over the Internet, these devices are themselves in need of protection. Just recently the computer industry has started taking software control away from the users by obfuscating how devices function. For the purpose of digital democracy we need a trend in the opposite direction. A guarantee that our devices are safe from backdoors. Legislation that ensures that when you buy a technological device, you actually do own it. Not the way it is currently being done: you pay for it but the manufacturer keeps control over it. In fact you are installing a bug into your own home. Bringing a snooping device into your life. This is inacceptable.

So these are our priorities. These are the three things that copyright enforcement must not tamper with. If authors and copyright industry bear these in mind, they will find reasonable partners for debate in Pirates, concerning what the remaining options are for having authors' interests respected. The International Pirate Movement is not about file sharing. It's about safeguarding democracy and basic civil rights in a technological world.


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If you already sold your
soul to the surveillance
market, you can . . .  

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