Pirate Movement is Dead, Long Live the Cause?

So, I stumbled across this TorrentFreak post by The Pirate Bay founder Peter Sunde, in which he not only concedes that the “pirate movement” is dead but also exhorts the faithful to get over it and find new ways to further the “cause.”  Writes Sunde:

You’ve all heard it. The “pirate movement” is dead, diminishing and what not. But ignore that. What are the causes that we talk about here? Freedom of information, freedom of speech, surveillance, state corruption, corporate overlords, control of our infrastructure, the right to access education and culture, plenty. Are these discussions dead? No. But are we moving anywhere with them? I’m afraid not.

I’ll stop short of saying The Pirate Bay is to any of these causes as the Weather Underground was to the anti-war movement, but only because the Swedish trio didn’t set off any bombs.   My colleagues and I talk a lot about the casualties of piracy — the authors and artists, the labor force that supports creative works, the macro-economic losses, and the folly of rationalization posing as reason — but Sunde raises an interesting point that is usually a parenthetical note in these conversations.  And that’s the belittling of otherwise perfectly good causes worthy of real energy and attention.

Of course, each of the issues to which Sunde refers must be defined in order to give any movement direction other than centripetal griping; but that delta notwithstanding, if Sunde and his fans are indeed committed to any of his stated concerns, perhaps the post-mortem assessment on the “movement” ought to begin with the premise that the “service” provided by The Pirate Bay and similar sites is not anything like a foundation for social change. Forget that digital theft of popular media is illegal, immoral, and rude; it’s also far too pedestrian to serve as a catalyst for political action that would effectively contend with a thorny problem like surveillance or ascend such lofty heights as universal education.

In the past, I’ve made snarky statements like this:  some American teenager illegally downloading a Thor movie is not how one speaks truth to power.  But there’s a second part to this, which is the potential damage to political will and intelligence that would occur if millions of young people actually think otherwise.  What a fabulous way to breed a namby-pamby generation of whiners that no corporate or government power would ever have to take seriously.  Fortunately, I don’t really think the millions of committed users of pirate sites around the world ascribe that kind of significance to the act. Yes, Sunde paid lip service to this idealism in defense of TPB; and the bizarrely convoluted Rick Falkvinge founded a whole pirate party; and a smattering of followers buzzed about for a bit. But then, people can make a religion out of an old gym sock and a kazoo given the right conditions. In what way could the “movement” aspect of piracy not be DOA?  Writes Sunde:

“So fuck the ‘pirate movement’. Rename it, re-brand it, do whatever you want. Just fucking don’t be a pirate. Be something more awesome. Be a world citizen that cares about the same topics. Join other parties and make them understand the topics at hand. Infiltrate them. Cooperate and have people join all the parties in your nation, make sure they all agree. Be a fucking undercover ninja for all I care. Just don’t sing songs about pirate booty, looting and shit.”

I don’t know, Peter, maybe media piracy is just about ripping people off, and political action on complex issues is something else? As such, I wonder who he is addressing in this post.  I’d love to read the mission statement for No-Longer-the-Pirate Movement 2.0, but it’s naive to think that millions of people who just want free stuff on their computers have ever been a political base.

Avanti popolo!

© 2015, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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