Do You Prefer Copyright or the Right to Talk in Private?

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Five years ago, when I founded the Swedish and first Pirate Party, we set three pillars for our policy: shared culture, free knowledge, and fundamental privacy. These were themes that were heard as ideals in the respected activist circles. I had a gut feeling that they were connected somehow, but it would take another couple months for me to connect the dots between the right to fundamental liberty of privacy and the right to share culture.

The connection was so obvious once you had made it, it’s still one of our best points:

Today’s level of copyright can’t coexist with the right to communicate in private.

If I’m sending an e-mail to you, that e-mail may contain a piece of music. If we are in a video chat, I may drop a copyrighted video clip there for both of us to watch. The only way to detect this, in order to enforce today’s level of copyright, is to eliminate the right to private correspondence. That is, to eavesdrop on all ones and zeros going to and from all computers.

There is no way to allow the right to private correspondence for some type of content, but not for other types: you must break the seal and analyze the contents to sort it into allowed and disallowed. At that point, the seal is broken. Either there is a seal on everything, or on nothing.

So we are down to a crossroads. We, as a society, can say that copyright is the most important thing we have, and give up the right to talk in private. Either that, or we say that the right to private correspondence has greater value, in which case such correspondence can be used to transfer copyrighted works. There is no middle ground.

Once you accept that copyright must be scaled back, a whole palette of advantages to that scenario become apparent. Two billion human beings would have 24/7 access to all of humanity’s collective knowledge and culture. That’s a much larger leap for civilization than when public libraries arrived in 1850. No public cost or new tax is involved. All the infrastructure is already in place. The technology has been developed, and the tools are deployed: all we have to do is lift the ban on using them.

What surprised me recently was the level of understanding of this within the copyright industry, and how they persistently try to eradicate the right to private correspondence in order to safeguard current disputed levels of copyright.

A cable leaked by WikiLeaks just before Christmas outlined a checklist given to the Swedish government with demands from the US copyright industry, IIPA. The U.S. Embassy was quite appreciative of how the Swedish justice department was “fully on board” and had made considerable progress on the demands against its own citizens, but in favor of the US copyright industry.

In those demands were pretty much every big-brother law enacted in the past several years. Data retention, IPRED, three strikes, police access to IP records for petty crimes, abolishment of the mere conduit messenger immunity, everything was in there.

It became clear that the copyright industry is actively driving a Big Brother society, as it understands that this path would be the only way to save copyright.

Myself, I think it’s more than time to throw that industry out of the legislative process.


Starting today, Rick Falkvinge is a regular columnist on TorrentFreak, sharing his thoughts every other Friday. He is the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, a whisky aficionado, and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. His blog at focuses on information policy.


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