Copyright law turns kids into criminals - Reform will enrich artists and the public

01.10.2011 - 12:23

 

Today’s copyright legislation is out balance, and out of tune with the times. It has turned the entire young generation into criminals in the eyes of the law, in a futile attempt at stopping the technological development. Yet, file sharing has continued to grow exponentially. Neither propaganda, fear tactics, nor ever harsher laws have been able to stop development.

It is impossible to enforce the ban against non-commercial file sharing without infringing fundamental rights. As long as there are ways for citizens to communicate in private, they will be used to share copyrighted materials. The only way to even try to limit file sharing, is to remove the right to private communication. In the last decade, this is the direction that copyright enforcement legislation has moved in, under pressure from big business lobbyists who see their monopolies under threat. We need to reverse this trend, in order to safeguard the fundamental rights.

At the same time, we want a society where culture flourishes, and where artists and creative people have a chance to make a living as cultural workers. Fortunately, there is no contradiction between file sharing and culture. This is something we know from a decade's experience of massive file sharing on the internet.

In the economic statistics, we can see that household spending on culture and entertainment is slowly increasing year by year. If we spend less money on buying CD records, we spend more on something else, like for instance going to live concerts. This is great news for the artists. An artist will typically get 5-7% of the revenues from a CD record, but 50% of the revenues from a concert. The record companies lose out, but this is only because they are no longer adding any value. 

It may well be that it will become more difficult to make money within some parts of the cultural sector, but if so, it will become easier in some other — including new ones, that we have not even imagined so far. But as long as the total household spending on culture continues to be on the same level or rising, nobody can claim that the artists as a group will have anything to lose from a reformed copyright.

Should this also have the side effect of loosening up some of the grip that the big distributors have over cultural life, then so much the better for both artists and consumers.

When public libraries were introduced in Europe 150 years ago, the book publishers were very much opposed to this. The argument they used was the same one that is being used today in the file sharing debate: If people could get access to books for free, authors would not be able to make a living, and no new books would be written.

We now know that the arguments against public libraries were wrong. It quite obviously did not lead to a situation where no new books were written, and it did not make it impossible for authors to earn money from writing. On the contrary, free access to culture proved to be not only a boon to society at large, but also turned out to be beneficial to authors.

The Internet is the most fantastic public library that has ever been created. It means that everybody, including people with limited economic means, has access to all the world's culture just a mouse-click away. This is a positive development that we should embrace and applaud.

The Pirate Party has a clear and positive agenda to end the criminalization of the young generation, and provide the foundation for a diverse and sustainable cultural sector in the Internet age. We invite all political groups to copy our ideas. Sharing is caring.

 

Christian Engstrom is an MEP for the Swedish Pirate Party