Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Compare and Contrast: the Free Culture movement and the Pirate Party

A comparison of the Pirate Party in Sweden and the U.S. Free Culture movement reveals interesting covergances and points of departures. Quinn Norton's WIRED coverage demonstrates some of the differences,
Sweden has faster broadband with deeper penetration than just about anywhere in the world. That, combined with the techno-friendly attitude that pervades Scandinavia and a government slow to take any kind of action, allowed file sharing to root deeply in practice and popular culture.

In her articles, Quinn highlights a fact she uncovered in interview after interview: ideology being secondary to history. The growth of the Pirate Bay grew from the fundamental technological fact of Swedish society: the deep, powerful broadband connectivity saturating the culture and its people. It's fascinating that Quinn's subjects repeatedly emphasize their society's connectivity and discount ideology as the motivation for the founding of such a movement.

Quinn quotes Rasmus Fleischer, one of the founders of Pirate Bay (Piratbyran),
But Piratbyran is not dedicated to copyright or patent abolition -- it has no legislative agenda. It holds a nuanced view of the created work itself: Each work must find its own social and economic niche. "I don't think of this (as) the big battle," says Fleischer, "but thousands of microbattles [someone needs to make sure Ramus and Chris Anderson, Mr. Longest Tail have drinks]."
Later, one of Pirate Bay's leaders strategizes that, "the talk turns to strategy: how to create media events, awareness campaigns, educational programs to let people know that piracy isn't about free movies -- it's about clearing the way for culture to progress [my emphasis]."

Quinn closes,
It's not the problem of the pirates, he tells me later, to figure out how to compensate artists or encourage invention away from the current intellectual property system -- someone else will figure that out. Their job is just to tear down the flawed system that exists, to force the hand of society to make something better.

If the next thing isn't good enough, they will tear that down, too.

The Free Culture movement also came out of a specfic context: the unique, protected space of under-graduate, small liberal art colleges. While at Swarthmore, the two founders of Free Culture, Nelson Pavlosky and Luke Smith, who, according to Mother Jones, had already founded the Swarthmore Coalition for the Digital Commons, began the Free Culture movement. The catalyst was Pavlosky's and Smith's outrage at electronic voting-machine manufacturer, Diebold's, use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to intimidate ISPs from hosting stories about deficienies in their voting machines. Following leaders such as Lawrence Lessig, the organization promotes the establishment of college chapters comitted to the creative commons, the promotion of freedoms to remix, create, build and imagine new possibilities.

The organizations differ in their treatment of the risks that come in tearing down old frameworks and imagining new ones. The Pirate Bay is honest in their disinterest in promoting an alternative to copyright, focused soley on its destruction. They leave the promotion of new freedoms and models to others. In contrast, Free Culture promotes a specific vision: a remix culture and new democratic forms of expression.

Quinn reports on their electoral results: a failure to generate 1 percent of the vote, less than the 4% needed for one representative. This was down from a party who had registered more members online than the Green Party who had 17 seats in Congress.

What both movements promote, not just what they oppose and want to tear down, will be fundamental factors of their growth and success.

1 comment:

Elke Kolodinski said...

Watch out, Sweden. Our trade officials might just petition to have your WTO status revoked because of your laissez-faire attitude toward copyright infringement. (See allofmp3.com post.)