There is never a dull moment at an IFLA Congress. This afternoon in Gothenburg we were addressed by a pirate. The joint session of FAIFE (Free Access to Information and Freedom of Expression) and the Section of Information Technology featured Christian Engström, who represent’s Sweden’s Pirate Party (Piratpartiet) in the European Parliament.

He started by drawing an analogy between Pirate Bay (where people can obtain copyrighted stuff free of charge for their personal enjoyment) with libraries, where people can obtain copyrighted stuff free of charge for their personal enjoyment. (Of course, I have used the word “obtain” to refer to two rather different operations. And Mr Engström eliminated public lending right (PLR) from the discussion. PLR is a mechanism in terms of which authors in some countries receive payments in proportion to the number of times their books are borrowed by library patrons. He does not consider this to constitute compensation of rights holders but rather as a form of cultural policy to encourage Swedish authors. All this, of course, is a bit more complicated than can be put in a few sentences.)

Mr  Engström stressed that the Pirate Party does not want to abolish copyright, but to reform it. Copyright should be confined to business-to-business transactions and not apply to what private citizens do to gain access to information and culture. Here is his party’s reform agenda:

(1)    The moral rights of authors should remain unchanged. (In fact, he claims that netiquette already ensures this, since on the Internet there is peer pressure for people to give credit for materials they borrow from others, by making links to the original sites.)

(2)   All non-commercial use should be free, as it was for all practical purposes, until about twenty years ago.

(3)   The term of copyright should be reduced to five years. (He says no serious investor expects payback on an investment to come seventy-plus years down the line.)

(4)   Rules on derivative works should be relaxed, since all culture builds on previous work. [I like this. Most of Shakespeare’s storylines were lifted from other authors. Under the current copyright regime Shakespeare would be spending too much time in court to write any plays. PJL]

(5)   DRM technology should be banned.

Mr Engström mentioned two reasons for this position:  First, culture is a good thing, and relaxing copyright restrictions will stimulate cultural production. Second, in the digital age copyright can only be enforced by monitoring all private communications on the Internet, which would be an intolerable invasion of privacy.

Points to ponder…


About Peter Lor

Peter Johan Lor is a Netherlands-born South African librarian and academic. In retirement he continues to pursue scholarly interests as a research fellow in the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
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