Party questions copyright laws

BERLIN — Germany’s Pirate Party is flying its flag high. A week and a half after winning an eye-opening 9% in Berlin’s state elections, the party is making waves across the land, and a new poll indicates the Pirates would easily be seated in German parliament if federal elections were held today.

Founded in 2006 and inspired by the Swedish Pirate Party, Germany’s Pirates advocate shortening the duration of copyright protection, allowing noncommercial file sharing of digital works, strengthening privacy protection, drastically limiting the patent system, abolishing data retention laws and rolling back government surveillance legislation as well as legalizing marijuana and making city metros and buses free.

While the party’s platform is vague on what exactly constitutes a digital work, such language is enough to set alarms off in the entertainment industry.

Granted, a minority party in a state legislature can’t do much to affect federal laws, but Berlin is seen as a trendsetter in Germany, and according to a recent poll by RTL and news magazine Stern, 7% of people surveyed would vote for the Pirates if federal elections were held today, putting them on par with the socialist Left party.

While modeled on the Swedish party — which has inspired a global movement — Germany’s Pirates appear far less antagonistic toward the entertainment industry than their Scandinavian brethren, who last year went so far as to host Pirate Bay on its own server after the notorious file-sharing site was forced offline by its previous Internet service provider.

That’s not something the German Pirates would do, says Pirate Party spokesman Ben de Biel. “The dumbest thing you could do is make a legally questionable decision that could lead to a very negative result.”

A Berlin club owner and photographer, de Biel says the party is more concerned with what it perceives as monopolistic tendencies in the entertainment industry, whether it’s Hollywood squeezing out small independent films from local theaters or music labels signing acts and controlling music rights for decades. He stresses that the German party is not focusing on entertainment or advocating the illegal downloading of films and music.

De Biel explains that the party’s stance on issues of copying, file sharing and noncommercial use of digital works is related to its goal of free transfer of information from scientific research and technology that has been funded by taxpayers, adding that government funding in science and medicine often ends up benefiting private companies more than society at large. That’s something the party hopes to change.

The entertainment industry has nothing to fear, de Biel says. “We are not a leftist party. We think pragmatically. We have companies of our own and, like filmmakers, we create content that we also want to sell and make a living from.”

Reactions from local industry reps in Germany have so far been sanguine.

“I have not really heard any representative of the Pirate Party condone illegal piracy of copyrighted material,” says Martin Moszkowicz, head of film and TV at Constantin Film. “Part of the party’s program is to change copyright and intellectual property laws into a so-called ‘modern knowledge society.’ I am personally curious how that (would) actually work and what business models the party has in mind — but so far I have not heard anything constructive.”

Likewise, Senator Entertainment CEO Helge Sasse says it’s not explicit in the party’s platform whether its position on intellectual property really refers to film. “I’m not of the opinion that the Pirate Party people really want films to be illegally copied under the current law,” Sasse says. “If that were the case, our view would be that that is simply not possible, and we would take action against it.”

Nevertheless, de Biel does take the entertainment industry to task for its refusal or inability to evolve with changing markets and embrace new technologies, which he argues has only encouraged the spread of piracy.

“It’s a situation that has developed because the music and film industries were not quick enough to understand where the market was going. We don’t want people not earning money for their work. We want to make things more transparent. We may end up destroying some business models when people realize that there are other ways of doing business. Ultimately the customer will decide.”

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