Pirate Party leader talks strategy and tactics

P2P Consortium's interview with Rick Falkvinge, leader of the Swedish Pirate Party, is really meaty and interesting. Falkvinge devotes most of it to an incredibly frank discussion of the long-term strategy and tactics of the copyfight, where it will all go when 100/100mbit broadband is everywhere. This guy isn't (just) a bomb-throwing (metaphorically speaking) anarchist, he's a serious tactician and a sharp rhetorician, too:
What was remarkable was that this was the point where the enemy - forces that want to lock down culture and knowledge at the cost of total surveillance - realized they were under a serious attack, and mounted every piece of defense they could muster. For the first time, we saw everything they could bring to the battle.

And it was... nothing. Not even a fizzle. All they can say is "thief, we have our rights, we want our rights, nothing must change, we want more money, thief, thief, thief". And shove some poor artists in front of them to deliver the message. Whereas we are talking about scarcity vs. abundance, monopolies, the nature of property, 500-year historical perspectives on culture and knowledge, incentive structures, economic theory, disruptive technologies, etc. The difference in intellectual levels between the sides is astounding.

Link (via /.)


  1. A question I have over this whole kerfuffle is how beginning artists/writers/etc are ever supposed to become more than guys that spend a couple hours a day on their craft, if making money from it is so evil. If I write a book, I’m supposed to put it up on my website as Creative Commons, right? If I make a song, I’m supposed to put it up and give it away or I’m siding with the RIAA?

    Clearly established bands and writers can do these things without putting themselves in any danger. If, for example, they were making money with ads on their site, famous authors could just say ‘Hey, I wrote a book, it’s on my site’ and be so deluged with traffic that they’ll be just fine with an AdWords sidebar and a tip jar.

    But for someone trying to break into a field, there’s two major demons; distribution and time. If I’m working full time while I create my graphic novel, it’s going to move _slow as dirt._ ‘Bout the only chance in hell I have of making the thing in less than ten years is by getting a publisher to pay me to make it, or to save up money, quit my job, and crank the sucker out.

    Point of all this is, if I do manage to finish my novel and just gave it away, I’d have no way of achieving what I want for myself; to make graphic novels all day. If I gave it away and you liked my work, you might get two or three books in my lifetime, at a snail’s pace. If I was being paid a living wage to make stories, you’d have bunches more of them.

    So that’s my question; I’ve read this blog for a long time and always come away feeling that if you want money for your work, you’re some sort of ghoul. And honestly, I wouldn’t even care if I got rich doing what I like. I just want to be able to feed myself while I do.

    How do we reconcile this?

  2. Alefscine, did you read the article?

    In any event:

    The old system produced one or two “full time artists” for every several thousand would-be artists. A small portion of the rest had modest part-time careers. The remainder vanished.

    The new system has produced one or two “full time artists” for every several thousand would-be artists (e.g. Ask a Ninja) and a small number of part time artists getting money from touring, ads, merch, etc.

    Just like the old system.

    The two biggest differences between the old system and the new are:

    1. The new system doesn’t pay a dozen middlemen for every artist who makes it — commercially successful artists gross less money, but generally net more

    2. The artists who don’t “succeed” (that is, earn a lot of money) in the new system still get to make art that finds an audience. They still get to distribute. They still get to participate in culture. Unlike the old system, where success and publication were synonymous, the new system allows even those who don’t “succeed” to be published.

  3. They made a stupid choice to name themselves the PIRATE party. Very strategic connotations. Then, they play dumb when people assume they’re pushing a pro-piracy campaign. LOL

    Their support of The Pirate Bay is a f*cking joke. I’m pro copyright-reform but distributing stolen copies of movies or music, whether using the computer or not, should be illegal. Anybody who’s familiar with the Pirate Bay knows that they are making money from participating in & fostering the distribution of illegal content.

    Further complicating the issue is the fact that the Pirate Party doesn’t have a straightforward platform posted on their site (at least in English, and I searched google and couldn’t find a translation). They talk so much about reforming copyright, but I have a lot of trouble finding specifics on their ideal policy. Is it Creative Commons that they want to implement? If so, most of the filesharing on the Pirate Bay and the like is STILL illegal.

    The real problem is that the free market doesn’t provide the means to meet the demand for art and culture. The issue nobody wants to talk about is that many people can’t afford the music and movies they want, but still feel entitled to experience and participate in society’s art & culture. The

  4. Cory,

    I did indeed read the article, although it mainly seems to address a different question:

    Can file sharing/p2p be stopped, and should it be?

    The stance taken is clearly ‘No,’ which I think is reasonable. File sharing is in the same department as gun control now; unless brutally dictatorial methods were in place, anyone that wants a gun can get one with little trouble, and said methods wouldn’t work all that well anyway.

    What I’m asking is, as someone trying to break into a field, is embracing the new system actually going to help me? If I go and make something like a graphic novel and release it under the new system, is the herd just going to mosey over, consume, burp, and move on without me seeing a cent?

    For the most part I see the new system being embraced by musicians, who can physically distribute their music by standing up in a concert hall/bar/venue and belting out songs. Free downloads means more interested folks equals more ticket sales. Very smart.

    But I can’t perform a graphic novel, and it generally is not a repeatable experience. The prime value of a book is in not knowing the story, and once it’s known, someone won’t return to it for a long time, if ever.

    The limited ways to interact with it is also a snag; even if people download music, a live show offers something that no MP3 can provide. A graphic novel has limited delivery; at the moment either print or screen, neither of which offers more narrative content. I can’t give away one and expect that the reader would want the other.

    I could cripple the content of one version (log on to our subscription site to get Color!), but I don’t want to do that. People shouldn’t be paying me money to get around a punitive weakening, they should be paying because they like the novel.

    In any case, don’t take me as a money-grubbing sell-out. The work is being done, the ink inked and the story released whether I make money or not. I’m just asking questions.

  5. Aelfscine @5 asks: “is the herd just going to mosey over, consume, burp, and move on without me seeing a cent?”

    As a businessperson, I’d say the answer to this is “mostly yes.” The vast majority of people absolutely will not pay a thing for anything they do not absolutely have to pay for, if they are buying it more-or-less anonymously from a more-or-less anonymous corporate entity.

    The exception to this rule is the case when media consumers have a pre-existing relationship with the producer, as in the case of the Radiohead album with “pay what you want” pricing. By creating a feeling of community with the band, and by effectively giving fans a means of expressing their thanks and loyalty via pricing, the band got about $5 per download on average.

    The challenge for new artists is: how to build that kind of relationship with prospective fans?

    To put it another way, rather than “they should be paying because they like the novel”, the reality is: they will pay if they like you. They won’t pay “for” the novel in the old “exchange of money for goods or services” way, but they will pay you if they like you (and part of liking you is liking the novel, and the previous novel… it’s all about building the relationship over time.)

    We can therefore predict that the successful artist of the future will be someone with a highly likeable public persona who turns out work that appeals to the sentiments of the crowd. If that sounds like Charles Dickens, I don’t think it is at all a matter of coincidence.

    There will still be a place for awkward buggers whose art makes people really uncomfortable, but the reality is that they have never had much of a place, simply because people don’t like them very much.

  6. There are a small number of graphic novelists earning a good living from their online work, just as there are a small number of graphic novelists earning a good living from offline work.

    And just as with music: most people who set out to make graphic novels don’t get any money. A small number get some money. A smaller number get lots of money.

    The difference — as with music — is that in the online world, the pool who don’t make any money at least get the consolation of actually having their work read or seen.

    The idea that the incentive to create — and to sacrifice one’s own time and money to create — is due to a reliable expectation of money is visibly untrue. There’s *no shortage* of people spending their own time and money, in great amounts, to make art.

    Indeed, the refrain, “Without full-time incomes, no one will put in the long hours necessary to make great art,” is typically uttered by people who aren’t actually engaged in making art.

    That’s because under every system — from pre-copyright patronage to early copyright to late copyright to European-style state subsidy to net-based sharing models — every artist spends decades making art essentially for free, while hoping to break out and become one of the tiny — statistically insignificant! — minority of creators who go on to fame and fortune.

    The people who say, “Without a living, I won’t create,” have *never ever* been the pool of people from whom society has drawn its artists. That’s because there has never been a system that rewards artists from the early part of their career, except in freak cases where someone just happens to get a hit with their first song or book or comic (becoming a full-time artist is like getting hit by lightning; becoming a full-time artist based on your first work is like being hit by lightning while clutching winning tickets to every lottery in the world).

    This is a non-problem.

    The Internet didn’t create the world in which the vast majority of art is poorly compensated.

    The Internet will not end the world in which the vast majority of art is poorly compensated.

  7. Aelfscine, I think a good example for you to consider would be the Penny Arcade guys. They have their entire work history, from the first Penny Arcade strip to the latest, up on their web site 100% for free. You can read every strip they’ve written, at any time, for free. Yet they make a living at it! How? Well, part of it is the advertising on the site. Another part is their books, shirts, and other merch. Books? Yes – that’s right! People will pay money for the books even though they can read it for free online. With something like a comic (and graphic novels, too), there’s a certain satisfaction to holding a good quality print of the material. Leafing through pages is high-touch rather than high-tech, and it’s very desirable for some.

    Now, 99.9% of readers will consume, burp, and move on, but the audience for something released like this is much, much bigger than a self-printed and stapled graphic novel plunked in the back racks of a local basement comic shop.

    Just like how Cory’s books are available free online but also sold in print form. The content is the same, but the print copies still sell. The theory goes that the sales are greater by having the free electronic version: it introduces people to the material that otherwise wouldn’t have found it.

    I would actually disagree with you with the musician comparison. As opposed to a musician, whose recorded product is distributable online with no loss in fidelity, a graphic novel is much less satisfying to read on-screen versus in print.

    So give away electronic versions and sell print versions! Also, put nice ads in your web pages. But not in the novels.

  8. I just saw Cory’s latest comment; I would add: where do you think the term “starving artist” came from?

  9. Cory, I have followed your arguments regarding individual artists such as musicians and graphic novelists, and I can see where you come from regarding the consolation of at least having art read, even if one isn’t paid to make it.

    But, where I am sitting right now are about eighty full-time artists engaged in the production of a large-scale creative product. The sort of thing we make takes the concerted full-time effort of all these people for months or years on end, and our revenue comes almost wholly from the sale of individual copies directly to the consumer. Without that revenue, we cannot make payroll, and none of these people will work on our project. If we cannot sell our units, the kind of thing we produce will simply not be made at all.

    So, my question to you is: is there a new revenue model that we can use to recoup our payroll costs? Or in the future will we simply no longer have the business of many people working on major entertainment projects, and working on them full-time for years because they can pay the bills?

  10. Is there an old one?

    Innumerable people have hired 80, 100, 1,000 people to work on some creative endeavor that tanked.

    Most creative efforts tank.

    First: because they are businesses. 2/3 of all new businesses tank.

    Second, because they are art. Most art that’s made does not earn out and loses money for those who finance it.

    But if your question is: can the Internet sustain 80 artists who work together on stuff? The answer is undoubtedly yes. I’m confident that somewhere out there, some group of 80 people have collaborated on something that’s turning a profit.

    However: is it repeatable? Will it work for you? Probably not.

    If you’re starting a business that requires the outlay of salaries to 80 employees and you don’t know where your revenue will come from you’ve got a serious problem.

    The Protestant Reformation killed the practice of building cathedrals. Once anyone could have a copy of the Bible, the One Church fell apart and with it went the ability to capitalize multi-generational cathedral-building efforts.

    Now, I’m as much a fan of cathedrals as the next guy, but it’d be pretty silly to aver that the Reformation was bad for *religion* or *preachers* or *church builders.* As a group, these people found more employment after the Reformation than they had before.

    Enforcing copyright online — such as we can — involves restrictions on free speech and new entry into the marketplace (for example, requiring YouTube or Flickr to vet every submission before posting it would raise the cost of operating both services to such heights that they’d cease to exist).

    That means that sustaining the kinds of comics (or music, or movies) that requires the strict enforcement of copyright online means killing all the kinds of comics that thrive from the existence of sites like Flickr, Blogger, and every cheap web-host.

    As between preserving a very few 80-person shops that make graphic novels and preserving the platform that allows millions of creators to publish their works, I choose the latter.

  11. Whatever opinions we have on this issue or any, ultimately everything should be decided democratically, right?

    When most people think culture should be free, it should be free.

    If most people think the world should be controlled by the rich, then it should stay that way.

    I think everyone should have a say in every decision everywhere, if they feel like it.

    You might argue that it’s none of anybodys business what you decide to have for breakfast and it won’t be, since the majority would probably vote that you should have whatever you want. Similarly, all other freedoms and responsibilities would be decided by all.

    All we need is some sort of global network of computers.

  12. Cory, thank you for your reply.

    If you’re under the impression that I’m talking about a new start-up business, I’m afraid I’ve misled you; we’ve been around for quite a few years and the revenue model I mentioned has paid our bills so far.

    You mention the enforcement of copyright as an impediment to the existence of free speech, but I’m afraid I don’t see the conflict there. It reminds me of an argument I often receive from free software advocates, who somehow feel that my legal ability to sell proprietary software impedes their ability to give away theirs for free. I have no objection to their right to give away their own work, yet they object to my right to charge for mine.

    In the same vein I’m afraid I don’t understand how my having the rights to my work makes it impossible for YouTube to exist: the only use I, the copyright holder, object to is the one where they take someone else’s work, repost it in its entirety without permission, sell adspace all over it, and pocket the cash for themselves.

    The existence of copyright in the original Constitution didn’t inhibit anyone’s ability to take their own work down to the local printer’s and self-publish, no more than my desire to control my own words at all impedes what you do with yours. The converse is not true: if I lose control of the right to sell my work, I will be unable to make it at all.

    I’ve been in the entertainment business for a while now, and I know a great many commercial artists who earn a living by working for hire on larger projects. I like those projects, and to be honest I personally derive much more joy from seeing a new Pixar film or Battlestar Galactica than I do from watching amateur jugglers show their moves on YouTube. I would never, ever want to make a law preventing those jugglers from showing their own work, but I would be very sad if we could not preserve a business model that supported my industry’s contribution to culture even as we do theirs.

  13. Cory:

    “The Protestant Reformation killed the practice of building cathedrals. Once anyone could have a copy of the Bible, the One Church fell apart and with it went the ability to capitalize multi-generational cathedral-building efforts.”


    That’s kind of the Protestant version of things.

  14. Crash, for example: Viacom believes that YouTube should take such steps as are necessary to prevent the posting of infringing materials in the first place (presumably, they believe that this duty extends beyond YouTube, too). Doing this would raise the cost of running a YouTube — or any hosting business — by having to have copyright lawyers vet every item posted.

    By Viacom’s theory, this very message board should have every post reviewed by counsel to determine that it does not infringe copyright.

    Indeed, this is how pretty much every offline publishing venture runs. There’s a reason that we don’t have newspapers where anyone can add their own stories, or record stores that let you shove any CD you bring in into the bins. The copyright liability for those businesses — who are, in fact, legally obligated to police their output/stock for infringement — precludes this.

    This is not so on the Internet. As a result, you and I are able to carry on this conversations.

    If, however, the Internet were redesigned so that trained legally skilled human moderation prevented infringement from taking place in the first place, it would not be so.

    Here’s a column I recently wrote about this:


  15. Cory said, “The idea that the incentive to create — and to sacrifice one’s own time and money to create — is due to a reliable expectation of money is visibly untrue”

    Ah, I might say that it’s pretty true. Not always true (I’m proof of that!), but for the most part I think we can correlate (highly) the result of human effort (creative) with the expectation that this effort will translate into money, so that the bills can get paid. The street artists are out there with an open boxes to take coins…

    Now, for those of us who just give their stuff away: I have a day job that allows me the freedome to create and give my stuff away. But I am not the rule, but the exception. Cory is the exception also, not the rule. And I say this with much esteem and respect.

  16. People seem to be confusing several issues here. Artists have no more inherent right to make money with their creative output than anyone else. Protecting an old paradigm by suppressing culture and technology is an illegitimate path to income. The only way anyone deserves to make money is if they can figure out a viable business model for a new digital age.

    Under the scarcity economy, the business model entailed selling books, paintings, CDs, and other tangible goods. That paradigm is winding down, as more and more art is going digital. Society is being radically remade as copying and sharing technology become ubiquitous. Steal This Film 2 and Falkvinge correctly point out that the only way to prevent file sharing is to create a police state and shut down the Internet.

    When people ask me how artists will get paid in the future, my standard answer is, I don’t know. It’s not my job to figure out a new business model for artists. Art and artists existed long before there was a film industry, or a music industry, and they will continue to produce and sometimes get paid long after those industries no longer exist in their present form.

    My concern is to protect the extraordinary freedom that comes from free and open information exchange. If the old business model no longer works, then it’s the job of artists and other creative types to figure out a model that works under the new rules. Markets adjust and people are resourceful. Have faith that open file sharing will bring extraordinary and unforseen new opportunities to all creative people.

  17. I am currently trying to launch a new online marketplace (Propagate Ltd) that may be the win-win solution to digital piracy that everyone has been waiting for. Instead of just selling restricted copies of creative works, it enables copyright owners to sell certain rights to the collective “public”. In other words, one can allow redistribution rights go to the public domain after collecting enough money from enough people to compensate.

    If it works, then creative artists could have their cake and eat it too: Get paid a lump sum to let go of a royalty stream, and then gain new fans/customers as their now royalty-free work is spread around by profit seeking sharers racing to saturate the market.

    Jeffry R. Fisher
    President, Propagate Digital Content, Limited

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