After the German Pirate Party's String Of Successes, Here Comes The Backlash
from the it-was-bound-to-happen dept
Over the last few months, Techdirt has been reporting on the amazing rise of the German Pirate Party, with win after win after win. Politicians in the other parties have looked on aghast, powerless to halt the rise of something they clearly can’t fathom. Inevitably, the fightback has finally begun, but packaged as an artists’ revolt, not simply that of the copyright industries worried about their profit margins.
Perhaps the most dramatic manifestation of that was a major section in the Handlesblatt newspaper (German original) a few weeks ago. It was entitled “A hundred creatives provoke the Pirates”, and included 160 statements on the subject of “My head belongs to me.” That paints this as huge numbers of artists having their ideas taken away by the Pirates, but the reality was a little different.
Of those 160 statements, only 30 came from artists; the rest were from politicians, media companies, lawyers, academics and business groups (German original.) Unsurprisingly, most of those 130 statements were attempts to defend their own positions as gatekeepers of culture – often well-paid ones.
The artists’ comments were little better. Here’s a small selection:
The Pirate Party would never think to demand in the name of freedom that German bakers should in the future give away their bread, and have their baking sponsored by the state. (Gisa Klönne.)
Free content is intellectual theft. (Thomas Weymar)
The Pirate Credo, that ideas can’t belong to only one person, is good news for people who don’t have any ideas of their own. (Frauke Scheunemann.)
Without protection for intellectual property there would be intellectual chaos. (Pater Anselm Grün.)
It’s also true in the age of YouTube: without copyright, there can be no quality films or TV. (Franka Potente.)
Germany can’t afford to turn the majority of its creators into hobbyists. (Carolin Otto.)
The comments mainly consist of willful, or perhaps real, incomprehension of the digital world, combined with a sense of entitlement demonstrated by many artists. But there’s also something new here, which the German magazine Der Spiegel analyzed as follows:
Artists can always be counted on when it comes to standing up for democracy and justice. Ever since [the Nobel Prize-winning writer] Günter Grass drummed up support for [former German Chancellor] Willy Brandt and the [left-wing party] SPD 40 years ago, Germany’s intellectuals have congregated on the progressive side. When in doubt, they lean to the left, and participating in the cutting edge is considered a central duty.
But their love affair with the Pirate Party is cooling off before it even had much of a chance to begin. In recent days, artists have spoken up one after another, expressing their unease at the movement’s calls to deregulate all digital content.
The rise of the Pirate Party has suddenly revealed many of these “progressive”, “cutting-edge” intellectuals to be just as keen on preserving their privileged position, and just as frightened of change, as they’ve mockingly accused the bourgeoisie and the conservatives of being in the past. Indeed, many of the artists’ comments in the Handelsblatt section are little more than unoriginal variations on the old “get off my lawn” theme.
That will come as a shocking realization for many artists who until now have believed themselves to be in the vanguard of society, and the champions of every kind of progress. The rise of the Pirate Party has called that into question — hence the vitriol that it has encountered recently.
And it’s not over yet. The Netzpolitik blog notes that another 100 artists have just signed a declaration in the leading newspaper Die Zeit, under the rubric, “A call against the theft of intellectual property”. Just to hammer home the point, the term “theft” is used twice more in the text (German original), which points the finger at “global Internet companies” whose business models are based on the “appropriation” of artists’ work, and demands that copyright protection be strengthened, rather than moderated.
Although it’s disturbing to see this kind of poorly-informed mud-slinging, it does demonstrate one thing: that the Pirate Party is not just shaking the German political system to its foundations, but also challenging a whole range of cozy assumptions about copyright and creativity, and their role in modern society. Expect even more — and dirtier — attacks in the future.