Peter Sunde is co-founder of The Pirate Bay and Flattr. He is also currently charged with assisting copyright infringement in Sweden. So, who better to interview him than a lawyer! We asked Rick Shera to interview Peter for us. This is the result.
Rick: You are one of the four founders of The Pirate Bay (TPB), bitTorrent site. How did that come about?
Peter: Actually three, not four — the fourth is the owner of the ISP that TPB used for a while, and since he’s considered a rich asshole (both rich and an asshole) the prosecutor wanted him in on the terms of him helping with helping.
It’s a long story 🙂
Anyhow, for me it was many years ago that I noticed a Swedish organisation called Piratbyrån — “the bureau for piracy” — that was saying that we shouldn’t just swallow the things that came from Antipiratbyrån — “the bureau against piracy” — which was published in the news all the time. Piratbyrån was started to shift the focus from moral “right or wrong” to what actually happens when the internet kills off the old models. I was very intrigued and joined them. There was a discussion right then about the new technology — bittorrent — and that there was no Scandinavian place for people. So TPB was started, and the rest is history!
Rick: For those not up to speed with how bitTorrent and the p2p protocol in general operates, can you give a brief overview of how TPB works
Peter: TPB is a seach engine! Not much more, really. TPB helps people find works that other people have told TPB about. When you want to download, you get a small file containing metadata (a .torrent file) which says where to find people that have the actual data, and what to look for. People then share the data between each other. Bittorrent is very effective in the way that you download small segments of the data from everyone that has parts of it. Instead of downloading from 1 place, you can download from thousands of places at the same time. And also, even though you don’t have all of the data yourself, the bits you have can be shared. It’s very effective in terms of speed and distribution.
Rick: TPB has become the poster child for digital anti-copyright activism — what is your copyright philosophy?
Peter: That it’s not at all aligned to peoples usage or believes. Everything was turned upside-down with the digitalisation and decentralisation of the internet, and the only organisations that still benefit from the old model are the ones that are also fighting it with 1B USD per year (own figures). All independent research shows that with file sharing, artists makes more money than ever before. I think that research and reality should be used when one creates laws, not who has the biggest wallet. It becomes a classic fight of the classes for me, and hence I’m interested.
Rick: How can business models and copyright be adapted to cope with a global internet — the best copying engine ever invented and one that does not respect jurisdictional boundaries?
Peter: By making new tools to help financing work, and giving up certain models that will not fit in todays world. You can’t close your eyes to facts really. People have no problem with the money side of content, as long as it’s easy. Today you don’t read one newspaper, you read all of them. If you would actually pay for all of them, the set amount that they all wanted, you’d stop reading all of them. Instead, find a method that is fitting for how people consume and participate in it.
Rick: Your activism with TPB has obviously gotten under the skin of the regulators and that has seen you and your TPB co-founders charged with assisting copyright infringement in Sweden. What stage is the case at and why do you think it was brought?
Peter: We’re waiting for the second appeal, which is at the supreme court of Sweden. After that, there might also be the European Union court, since the case is so important to the whole union.
The reason it was brought is very obvious, but a bit long to write — it’s multiple chapters in my book ;).
Three days after the famous raid, we learned that the White House had pressured Sweden to take action or end up in being trade embargoed like Cuba(!). In Sweden it’s actually illegal for politicians to decide which individual cases the police or prosecutors should prioritise, but they did in ours. There’s been lots of wrong doing in the case, it’s all a big mess.
Rick: TPB has also given rise to a wider political movement. What’s that about and what has been your role in that movement?
Peter: It’s been about the fundamental rights of people, in a modern world. It’s the same as people have been fighting before us, but we don’t recognise it being as important now that we have it. Freedom of speech, expression and assembly. About fair rights, privacy and all that comes with the network.
My role has been to make people understand that there ARE issues and that they should talk about them. I try not to decide for people, rather influence them to take a stance on it. I have not been part of the pirate parties, although I know most of them (especially in Sweden obviously) and I sympathise with their issues. I’m a member of another party that also have the same views at The Pirate Party, but also fight for other things that I see as just as important (particularily animal rights, the environment and equality).
TPB has three founders who are very different when it comes to politics, and all of us have different arguments (from left to right) on why these issues are so important — that’s our big strength, and personally it’s the other two guys weaknesses that they don’t understand how right I AM 🙂
Rick: Your micro-payment system, Flattr, was launched in early 2010. What is it and how has it been going?
Peter: It’s an experiment on how to do exactly what we should do on the internet — share money as we share other information. Very simplified you could call it a facebook Like-button, but with money added to it.
Flattr gives you a wallet that you fill with the amount you can afford to share each month, you decide the amount yourself, between 2-100 EUR. We then calculate how many things you click per month, and share the money equally to the people that created them. A flatrate for flattering!
Rick: What else have you been doing?
Peter: Oh, Lots! I’ve been travelling, speaking and working on Flattr, played music and so on 🙂
Thank you to both Peter and Rick. We’re really looking forward to having Peter at Webstock!