Why Pirate Party members are not ‘whiny brats’


The following post is by Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer, an officer of Pirate Party Australia. It was first published on his blog and is licensed under Creative Commons.

analysis There appears to be an assumption within the broader intellectual property industries that members of Pirate Parties are just whiny brats who “want everything for free.” They consider us uneducated idiots who have not really given any thought into what we advocate. I find this odd.

I personally have spent a great deal of time trying to understand copyright law in particular, and when you’re a multi-discipline academic nearing completion of a Bachelor of Music, it’s pretty hard to avoid intellectual property. That’s right, I am educated. I’ve studied most aspects of music at a tertiary level (analysis, composition, history, performance, philosophy, technology and theory), as well as literary history, philosophy and linguistics. Currently I’m strongly considering applying for a law degree (where I will major in international law, human rights and intellectual property).

Many members I’ve come into contact with are IT professionals, programmers and system administrators. There is a strong “geek” basis to Pirate Parties, because they understand the technology. However, I’ve had the privilege to interact with law professionals, fellow musicians and performing artists, journalists, film makers and engineers. Members consist of a wide cross-section of society. Loz Kaye, leader of Pirate Party UK, is an interesting example, as is Anna Troberg, leader of Piratpartiet (Pirate Party Sweden).

The average age of Pirate Party Australia members is 33. The brains behind our Liquid Democracy project currently under development is about 50 (at a rough guess). While we avoid making a big deal about age and gender, it’s important to note that members come from a wide variety of backgrounds. I think we represent a diverse group of individuals considering the issues we campaign on. We have a relatively high percentage of women for a political party, a wide range of occupations and qualifications for what we campaign on (i.e. digital liberties), and a wide age spectrum considering the Internet is, to stereotype, the domain of the younger demographics.

So when I hear people refer to “idiots justifying stealing” I am a little put off by them. As established, we are not idiots.

Secondly, if you can’t tell the difference between copyright infringement and theft, then immediately I have the upper hand because I actually know what I’m talking about. I once jokingly said “people shouldn’t be allowed to hold copyrights if they don’t understand them.” I am called an idiot for pointing out that there is a strong difference – and one of them is your legal standing. Theft is a criminal offense, copyright infringement generally is not (unless it’s of a commercial nature, in which case it is “criminal copyright infringement”).

I’d just like to briefly explain the difference between “theft” and “copyright infringement”. I’m not attempting to justify either of them, or say that the latter makes things okay, but it is an important distinction to make, whether you agree with my opinion on the matter or not.

Theft (or stealing, larceny, and so on) involves taking someone’s property without permission. I can take your car without permission, I can even annex your land and that could be considered stealing. I can walk into a video rental store and steal a DVD from their shelves – I am taking the physical item without permission. In the latter, I haven’t stolen the content of the DVD, but the physical manifestation of it.

Now imagine I take a laptop into the rental store. I rip the DVD, return it to the shelf, and walk out. I haven’t stolen anything, I have copied. The definition of copyright infringement is in the name. “Copy” + “right” + “infringement”. I have infringed your near-exclusive statutory right over the ability to copy that content by ripping that DVD.

The difference is that a limited number of tangible items can exist, whereas a potentially unlimited number of copies can exist. To copy is not to steal. Interestingly, it is impossible to steal copyright. The Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) don’t seem to have grasped this. The right to religious freedom cannot be stolen, but it can be infringed. Rights cannot be stolen, but they can be infringed.

And now, onto the debate at hand. Each time I get hit by some rhetoric by the copyright lobby that I hadn’t heard before (and they do throw some interesting points out there from time-to-time), it makes me stop and think. I question whether what I believe is actually right. And then I do some research, and holes start to appear in their arguments.

As I mentioned before, we are not uneducated people. There is a wealth of material generated by academics, musicians, journalists, lawyers, writers and pirates themselves which indicate that copyright reform is not a bad thing. Books by Yochai Benkler, Philippe Aigrain, Matt Mason, James Boyle, Christian Engström and Rick Falkvinge, Kembrew McLeod and Lawrence Lessig, interviews with Neil Young and Thom Yorke, responses from Stephen Fry, Neil Gaiman and Michael Moore, comics and cartoons from Nina Paley. There is also a collection of copyright-related essays in a book compiled by the United States Pirate Party.

Each day, more and more voices are added to the debate. There are over 200 Pirate Party representatives around the world who have been elected to various levels of government – 45 state MPs in Germany (where they are federally the third or fourth largest party), 2 MEPs (from Sweden), and a mayor or two. Piratenpartij Nederland look set to take a seat or two in the next Dutch federal electons too.

I would much rather be on the side I am and be “wrong” than be on the other side and be “wrong”. I’d much rather continue to push for reform and what I believe in, only to be told to pack up and go home, than to sit on the conservative side and end up winning. Hopefully one day I will have grandchildren, and I will be able to sit them on my knee and explain to them that I was partly responsible for the freedoms society might enjoy in 50 years. And if I’m wrong, at least when they ask me “it must have been great to grow up with the Pirate Bay – your generation really screwed it up for us” I will be able to say “at least I tried.”

Image credit: Penny Mathews, royalty free


  1. that the pirate party has to write an article in order to explain how they’re not ‘whiny brats’ doesn’t bode well for the issue of whether they are ‘whiny brats’.

    • You are so right, it does not bode well at all..

      Nor does it bode ill.

      Really your strawman argument says a lot more about you and your own agenda than the ‘issue’ discussed in the article.

      According to your reasoning, no-one can ever defend themselves against the charge of being a whiny brat without appearing to be a whiny brat.

      So, thanks for stopping by and failing to enlighten us.

  2. Mozart

    Your argument between theft and copyright infringement can probably be argued . However what I find amusing with the elasticity of your ‘swashbuckling’ rhetoric is how you correctly define copyright infringement yet still justify your position that everything should be free by conveniently using terms such as “non-commercial copyright infringement” and “culture”. As someone of alleged intelligence and an interest in law you (correctly) define copyright infringement as infringing the “exclusive statutory right over the ability to copy that content”. However you agree full heartedly with another pair of alleged “academics”, Engstrom and Falkvinge, who argue in their wonderfully written year 9 homework “The Case for Copyright Reform” that (quote) “ To share copies or otherwise spread or make use of somebody else’s copyrighted work, should never be prohibited if it is done by private individuals without a profit motive”. This argument was reiterated by PP Australia in their submission to JSCOT re the ACTA inquiry (page 4). I note that you were a co-author of this submission.

    I wouldn’t necessarily argue that TPP’s are “whiny brats” or even “uneducated idiots”. I would however argue that you pontificate extremely elastic and convenient arguments. You argue that copyright infringement isn’t theft but, to ensure you can morally justify your freetard position you then put forward the very dubious moral and legal argument of “non-commercial file sharing” and of course your conveniently broad use of the word “culture”.

    • Alison,

      I don’t see the words “non-commercial copyright infringement” or “culture” that you have quoted anywhere in the above article. In fact I can’t see any claim at all in the article that justifies any form of copyright infringement, leading me to believe that not only have you not read the article above, but you have copy/paste this response from elsewhere without either checking it’s applicability or it’s points of rebuttal.

      From what I read, the article is highlighting the need to have more educated people in the discussions around copyright reform, and that those educated people are to be found amongst the members of TPP.

      • Dan

        Had you read my comment you will see that I am referring to Mozart’s contribution to the PPAU’s submission to DFAT and their full hearted agreement with Pirate Party ‘Captains’ in Europe that non-commercial piracy is perfectly acceptable and should be legalised. I think I am permitted to point out the lack of substance in the author’s (and the pirate party’s) dubious argument – or is such ‘freedom of information’ not permitted if the information doesn’t support the preferred freetard position.

        • “Freetard?” How emotive.

          Here’s a riposte.

          Your views are as relevant as someone opposed to fire. Go copyright fire, you “paytard.”

        • So you admit are arguing off topic (not un-heard of even for my self!) Good thing you linked to what you were talking about.

          Also personal attacks are against the delimiter comments policy. (re: freetard)

          • PS. my position on the whole thing is this:

            Copyright is a right that should exist. You should not be “allowed” to infringe upon it in a personal/private or commercial manner.

            Commercial infringement should not be defined by the number of copies made; it should be defined by the motive for the infringement. Commercial infringement should have very large statutory penalties.

            Copyright duration should not exceed 25 (arbitrary, 25 is about my maximum I’d be ok with, I would prefer more like 10) years under any circumstance. If you haven’t made back your investment into “culture” in 25 years, clearly monetizing your creative output is not the motivating factor for you to publish your creative output.

            In considering future changes to copyright; the prime concern should be this: Copyright is intended to encourage authors to release their work, so that in the nearest future possible their contribution to culture can be freely accessed by anyone.

            (This is just before anyone accuses me of being a “freetard”)

          • +1 PeterA

            I’m of a similar mind, and the changes away from this are what frustrate me about the whole RIAA/MPAA copyright stance.

            When the last big review of copyright laws was done, there was a tier for commercial copyright infringement. You know the guys, they are tne ones copying a movie, packaging it, and selling it for $10 at the markets. Those are the real pirates with copyright, and those are the infringers the copyright laws are intended to target.

            Somewhere along the way though, the customer has been branded the same – sharing 1 song is as bad as copying and selling 100,000 copies illegally. The laws have been massaged to the point that people get penalised when they arent monetising the activity, which was one of the key issues with copyright in the past – people/organisations profiting off their actions.

            Pro-copyright disagrees, and expects a zero tolerance to ANY copying, ignoring the fact that you can never stop it entirely. In the 50’s and 60’s it was people sneaking into theaters and driveins to get a free movie, now its a download.

  3. The Copyright infringement vs Theft thing has always annoyed me.

    Everytime I see one of those ads saying movie piracy is stealing, I scream at it “No its not, its copyright infringement”. (My wife hates that)

    I always wondered how they can get away with such blatant misrepresentation of the law.

  4. The world is full of idiots. I was told by a cop several months ago that using free wireless internet from my car at night was “like stealing a car when the owner had left the keys in.” Apart from the stupidity of anyone who would leave the keys in their car, and the similarity of that stupidity to anyone who would leave a wireless local network unprotected, I see no parallel at all.

    BTW … I was accessing the local library, of which I am a current member. I am also 59yo and homeless, and need to use the internet to find work. Since theat library is now full of chattering teenagers, old ladies having tea parties and pre-school nursery rhyme singing sessions, using wireless in the car is much more pleasant and productive.

    Don’t wonder what will happen when the zombie apocalypse finally arrives, it has already happened. The stupid are infecting this planet at an alarming rate. I will soon have to travel 1700km back to my home town to defend myself against a parking fine incurred by the new owner of an unregistered car I sold for parts eight months ago, because I couldn’t provide the new owner’s details to a local council.

    What will future generations say about those who saw the issues and were unable to change society? If they can do better, let them try first before complaining. But don’t give me this crap about it being your right to “share” copyright material. You’re simply part of the problem, because you live in a self-centered little suburban world and you’re fighting for entirely the wrong issues.

    • Hi Robb

      Sorry to hear about the troubles, but your wrong that it’s the wrong issue.

      The Copyright Monopoly tries to define this argument as a spat over free music/move downloads. It is so much more. The US is currently trying to claim ownership of information, pretty much all of it. From drug formulas to genetic codes, to technology patents, even agricultural techniques. (Seems to be their last-gasp imperial tactic.)

      In a few years time, 3DPrinters are going to bring digital piracy into the real world. That car you sold? You’ll be able to print a new one. Seen a nice shirt on the street? Print one. Broke a glass from that collection of six? Find the pattern, print a new one.

      While digital technology has devastated the status quo of old inefficient industries, 3DPrinting will blow them up.

      The Copyright Monopoly is getting its ducks in a row to tell you what you can copy and what you can print so it has absolute control over the process and you pay at every turn. Needlessly. These pricks want to walk into your house and tell you to put out a match because they own fire.

      They don’t own shit and we are going to take them down for the crime of trying to hamstring humanity’s development for personal greed. Pathetic clowns.

  5. Imagine restaurants peeping into your kitchen to see if you cook your own food (thus rob them of “potential income”). Copyright monopoly in the internet age is just this: some companies entitle themselves to have more important “right” to make money by their favourite set of rules than people have right to the freedom of privacy and hobbies. Cooking is a hobby which may destroy the income of restaurants, as communicating online is a hobby which may destroy income of publishing businesses.

    We don’t allow restaurants any extra set of rules to prohibit home-cooking and spying into our kitchen…

  6. When talking about copyright law, the benefits are very subjective. They can be a godsend, or a curse.

    One article I like to point to is the following:


    Short summary is that it displays quite well how copyright laws held England back at the height of their global supremacy, while the lack of copyright laws let Germany, a very rural country at the time, catch up industrially and intellectually in a relatively short period of time.

    Well worth the read, regardless of which side of the fence you are on.

  7. As long as this doesn’t lead to people setting up their music up in a busy through-fare and then charging people who walk through a toll because they are listening to your music. And there is no such thing as free music, so they must pay for it.

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