Last week I wrote an article about Digital Rights Management and made you all read my opinions. There was reference to pirates, and I kicked myself when I realised that I know a pirate (“know” meaning a handful of tweets exchanged!) Amelia Andersdotter is a Member of the European Parliament and the Swedish Piratpartiet (Pirate Party). I ramble about media and play games. Amelia is a far more knowledgeable person than me, but not as wise because she accepted my interview. So I sent her a bunch of rambling questions. Here are those questions and in the traditional fashion they are followed by the answers.
Tom: Hi Amelia, my first question has to be, what are your views on copyright and intellectual property?
Amelia: Copyright is dead. The brand name lives, a bit like Saab is still a known brand name, but the idea of applying copyright in a day to day social situation is, I think, belonging to the past. When on the internet, people post videos on websites with the words “I don’t like pirated videos, but this song is great. Sorry for copyright.” it shows that people are unable to reconcile a relationship with creativity and creative material with copyright.
The intellectual property debate is very big, and kind of complex. Essentially it completely lacks direction and analysis – it is clear that when the state grants monopolies to some actors in society in order for them to be able to accumulate money, or seek rents, rent-seeking is the result. But we completely lack a debate about what extent of rent-seeking is desirable. Similarly, intellectual property rights are increasingly becoming a method of upholding borders and border controls – nobody is questioning this either. Why would we choose a very broad and uncertain tool to apply for a border control measure, which implications on the ability of people to interact naturally with information and innovation, rather than picking any other measure (tariffs, other trade defense instruments, certification systems, etc) for achieving this? I would honestly like to know how other politicians reason about this, because currently I am very confused with the unequivocal support for IPRs that is very tangible in our in-house debates, without any analysis of which benefits they actually bring to society.
Tom: Do you believe that all forms of media are equal, in terms of content “protection”?
Tom: So do you think Digital Rights Management hinders video game pirates or motivates them? (Everyone likes a challenge)
Amelia: Primarily, I think DRM hinders a normal relationship between a communication tool and a user of a communication tool. The games industry basically grew up alongside piracy, they have always benefitted from it. Still they are very very defensive about the games they put on the market. In the last few years they’ve even turned on gamers that get second-hand games.
Tom: A lot of people who play pirated games claim that they get a better experience than those who buy the retail versions, why isn’t this ringing corporate alarm bells?
Amelia: Because customer relations is not prioritised for them. Rent-seeking industries have spent most of their time and money on cultivating good relations with political entities rather than with the gamers. They also, as far as I can tell, don’t care much about plotlines anymore. Me, I stopped gaming at approximately the same time as Black Isle was overtaken by EA. They’ve increasingly moved operations online in an attempt to control information and information flows better, but they have really bad respect for consumer and user privacy of data, as was shown by the LulzSec actions against Sony last year. I really don’t know why the alarm bells aren’t ringing. It’s not healthy to cultivate a regulatory and business environment where the users are always the culprits.
Tom: A lot of indie video game studios are starting to find success through initiatives such as Kickstarter and the Humble Indie Bundle. Is this just a phase or could it be an indication that people are willing to pay a fair price for a good product (and even fund the creation of a product)?
Amelia: It is probably the right way for some game developers to get start-up funds. It might not be the right way for all game developers. The information society is very dynamic, so one can imagine any myriad of solutions which aren’t dependent on excessive communication control that would work for revenue collection. Some of them will fly for a while, some of them will become more permanent. Many, unfortunately, will run into legal problems since we have a very restricted regulatory environment today which makes online entrepreneurship a very unsafe business for start-ups to enter into. This is even more so for the European Union than for the United States (disregarding a few patent problems that I believe are extremely tangible on the American market).
Tom: People (including my students) have an argument: “I won’t pay for X because most of the money goes to the publisher and not the people who made it.” Have they got a point?
Amelia: I think so. Every time you buy a license to use something, where part of that money goes to a publisher, you are effectively subsidizing the lobbying activity that leads to a very poorly balanced intellectual property rights system. Even with smaller publishers, you cannot feel comfortable, because very often they make themselves heard through interest groups they have in common with larger publishers in the places where impact matters. This means effectively also the small publishers contribute to bad policy making, even if they have good intentions. Maybe there should be a consumer information network for mapping which publishers are unlikely to be, knowingly or unknowingly, contributing to bad policy through making extreme statement in public institutions? At least in the European Union, it should not be too difficult to track memberships and statements made in consultations to the Commission.
Tom: As they say, copyright was designed to protect the intellectual property of people and companies, but if technological advances improves society’s general quality of life, shouldn’t it be available to everyone?
Amelia: Copyright was not created to protect technological advances, surely? In Europe, the debate is less commercial. In the European Union, especially southern European countries have a very strong tradition of moral rights – the idea that it is wrong to copy, to usurp, the intellectual fruits of labour of the creator. This idea of the immorality of copying and being inspired by other people’s work is also spilling over into other intellectual property rights such as patents, design rights and trademarks even if the latter three traditionally have a much more industry-society balance aspect in the actual legislation.
I have difficulties seeing how it is advantageous for a society to ban people from collecting ideas from each other, or companies from collecting ideas from other companies (or any permutation of these idea collecting exercises). The intellectual property system may well have arisen as a conflict minimizing legislation at the time when it was introduced, but it is clear that the conflict minimizing qualities of these laws have diminished over time. A regulatory framework for a society needs to be based in the actual morality of that society, in something people can identify with in their day to day actions. This clearly is not the case for many intellectual property rights, which tells at least me that they need to be made less stringent and more permissive.
Tom: A somewhat philosophical point has always put me in two minds. If a person can’t afford to buy a film, and would never buy the film, why is it wrong for them to view it ‘illegally’?
Amelia: I don’t think that it is wrong. That assessment is unrelated to the financial status of that individual.
Tom: And finally, do you think society will ever learn that aggressive content control doesn’t benefit anybody? (Complete objectivity from the interviewer here)
Amelia: Society learns this at regular intervals, and then society forgets. In the end it is all cyclical, but the current cycle is definitely such that it needs to be broken. It’s like the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (forgive me for making this reference): just because the Trollocks moved in on a village doesn’t mean we don’t continue fighting them in the next village. Move on move on, the future is ours!
Tom: The interview has left me with a lot to think about. There are more aspects to the issue than I had considered in my original article, but I feel we’re moving in the right direction. Well this was my first ever interview, and I think it went well! Thank you for reading, and thanks Amelia for taking the time to answer a bunch of random questions!