Monday, June 08, 2009

Pirate Party Elected to EU Parliament

Christian Engström (left) and leader of the Swedish Pirate Party, Rickard Falkvinge as activists. Christian is now on his way to a seat in the European Parliament

The winning of a seat in the European Parliament by Christian Engström from the Swedish Pirate Party (PP) should be considered an important turn in the ongoing (and far from over) developments around the law and the conceptualization of intellectual property.

Only a dismal 44% of Swedes actually bothered to vote in the 2009 EU elections (compared to around 89% that voted in the last national election in 2007) and the PP received 7.1% of the vote. The primary base for the PP vote is apparently younger people (under 30) and males. The commentators attributed this demographic to the PP preventing an extreme right wing party gaining a Swedish seat in the EU parliament.

While the figure are flying in the Swedish media tonight about how many and who brought this new political party into a representative institution, the broader ramifications are yet to be discussed on television or in the press. On the state broadcast news tonight Rickard Falkvinge was questioned about policies on tax, abortion, employment and health care. The PP does not have policies on these issues in a sense that they are dealt with separably from policies on the development of an information based society. I find this extreamly important as a development in the media ecology of the region.

If I were to go into describing the revolution we are living in when it comes to media I would be stuck at this keyboard for a longer time that I can afford, but consider this example that I gleaned from my Twitter feed just now:

"There is fundamental challenge to the foundational modus operandi of the University — the model of pedagogy. Specifically, there is a widening gap between the model of learning offered by many big universities and the natural way that young people who have grown up digital best learn." Edge

At the moment many universities are struggling to keep up with changes in media and information creation, storage and distribution. One of the major epistemological tenets of the struggle to come to terms with what is happening is the concept of 'real life' and the virtual, online, cyberspace or 'whatever it is that people are doing with digital media' (even finding names for some of these practices and realisations is difficult and confusing).

My impression is that the virtual/real discrepancy is prevalent in university leadership throughout much of Europe. The major parties in the Swedish EU elections expressed a 'real life' and 'virtual life' dichotomy when describing such issues as Peer to Peer file sharing prior to the EU election day last weekend. In the recent Pirate Bay trial here in Sweden the now mythic phrase "We don't use IRL. Everything is real life. We use AFK." (IRL- In Real Life, AFK- Away From Keyboard) was uttered in the courtroom by one of the defendants. The concept of AFK summarises many of the problems that have brought a representative of the PP to a seat in the EU parliament. These problems should be considered in light of Sweden being a land that has a very advanced level of digital media connectivity. Fast broadband is standard in Sweden. I believe that the situation in Sweden represents a future scenario for many presently less connected societies.

The narrowness of confining multimedia representation and embodiment to a 'virtual' sphere is fast running out of currency. The list of examples I could summon on the reality of what is happening just in online, so-called 'virtual worlds' is long. The Swedish tax authorities are struggling to find a solution for taxing the income of those who work with such communities as Second Life. How does one organise a working day according to union regulations when one works in a 24 hour world mediated by super-fast high resolution three dimensional internet worlds. Last term I tried to convince students (yes, young people who are supposed to be 'digital natives') that they can work according to the time it is in Second Life. Weekends could be used for socialising inworld rather than in the local pub. They did not like the idea. But this is something many of us are dealing with already. I read that our local hospital here has sent two doctors to live and work in Australia. Their jobs are to review x-rays that are done by Umeå Univesity Hospital in the north of Sweden during the day and are then sent to them in Sydney, where there is a 8 to 9 hour time difference. While the patient sleeps through the night here, the doctors in Australia examine the x-rays, sending a report by morning. The savings from not having to pay a night rate to two doctors makes the project worth while. These are just a few examples of the digital society we are seeing developing around us now.

Mr. Engström alone in Brussels will probably not be able to accomplish much. The desired goal of the PP of

"All non-commercial copying and use should be completely free. File sharing and p2p networking should be encouraged rather than criminalized. Culture and knowledge are good things, that increase in value the more they are shared. The Internet could become the greatest public library ever created." Pirate Party

Involves the dissolution of several international treaties to which Sweden and the rest of Europe are party to. Furthermore I am uncertain of the logic involved in the idea that all "culture and knowledge are good things". I think it does seem idealistic and somewhat naive. But is is also brave, and the sentiment behind the idea is to be admired. I think that what we see in the election of Mr Engström to the EU assembly is an important turn. This turn is away from the court rooms and the police raids that have filled the pages of our dying newspapers over the past few years, to the activities in the legislative bodies of the democratic state. I think there will be more stories in the coming year or two about how those that oppose the attempted preservation of the hierarchical media model as it has been for the past hundred years are seeking direct political representation.


robotsoul said...

"uncertain of the logic involved in the idea that all "culture and knowledge" are good things". He never said "all" so the statement you made puzzled me since you are sharing your knowledge about digital culture... online. I think you are right about this being a future scenario for the rest of the world. As essentially social beings we deal in communication. It is how we progress, barriers like copyright laws seem arbitrary to me tantamount to saying " this invisible piece of abstraction that you have created belong only to you" when ideas by nature "increase in value the more they are shared" . For example, this awesome video on the Pirate win, means nothing if I don't share it:

((((((((ö)))))))) said...

I am happy for you and pirates everywhere. I added the "all" but I just assumed that a generalization such as 'culture is good' should be considered carefully. Is all culture 'good'?
As to value, what 'value' do you mean? Monetary, exchange, spiritual? By something being spread it may gain some form of cultural value but how can it be exchanged.
When it comes to the economics of it, the shift around new media and value I think has to occur at the level of how a product is exchanged for money. The need to sell music or films has to be replaced by another system. Live performances, art films, small producers making genre films; things like this are going to flourish in the new network culture.