Commentary: Pirates and Copyright

“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”
—Sigmund Freud


Avast! The safe haven for pirates has been o’ertaken by the law!

As I’m sure you and everyone else with internet access knows by now, police have shut down The Pirate Bay and confiscated the servers. This has naturally created quite a stir in the wild frontier and bastion for free entertainment that is the internet.

The Pirate Bay – never meant to aid illegal file sharing, according to some; not responsible for the files shared by its users, according to others. Why then, pray tell, name it The Pirate Bay – using the well-known term for illegal copying and spreading of programs, movies and books, named after the age-old profession of high sea robbery.

Pirates of old were criminals, pure and simple.

They engaged in stealing, killing and robbing to make a living outside the law. Why pick that term if your intentions are pure? And if your intentions aren’t pure, why complain and try to hide? The current romanticizing of pirates as somehow free and noble fighters against an oppressive government have no doubt rubbed off on self-view of the modern file copying pirates.

File sharing began in the infancy of computers.

Costs for software was aimed at corporations and not home users – people would copy programs that cost a month’s salary or three and use them at home. Back then there was a need for such illegal file sharing, as the market did not yet exist for the individual consumer and the use of such software in the home advanced computer literacy and created a market that might otherwise have gone overlooked. This then spread to games and created a computer based culture of sharing. Over the years, this has morphed into the current mentality of ‘everything that can be copied should be free’. But we do not need free access to most (if any) of the files shared illegally online today – we need better ways of legal, suitably priced access.

Before, the need overcame the availability – now, the availability has overcome the need.

Today I heard someone defend the Pirate Bay by claiming that unregulated media is necessary for democracy, and I found myself wondering how a site providing the technology and intermediary to freely share large files became a Protector of Democracy. Sure, there’s a value in being able to share important information in ways that aren’t controlled by the powers that be – but that’s hardly the same as being able to download the latest blockbuster without paying for it and away from the prying eyes of the law.

What about you, you ask, up there on your high and mighty horse? Do I take part of copyrighted material for my own personal enjoyment? It happens, but it is much rarer than most people would think. Am I perfect and stay completely clear of illegal file sharing? No. As a rule, however, I will pay if I have the option – and often I will pay even if something is legally available for free, if there’s a way to donate or ‘pay what you like’. Or I will find some other way to contribute to the artist, by supporting a crowd funding project or donating on their site.

There will always be both a need and supply of free art and entertainment, but that doesn’t mean that all art and entertainment should be free.

Art is extremely important to any society. Music, stories, images – they have been around since before we became civilized and they are a vital part of what makes us human. I can understand the gut reaction that access to it should be free – a human right. But it’s not that simple, and it is not just about art – it is about anything that can be digitally copied (and these days, that is a lot!).

People say that we must separate between what’s legal and what is right.

They know that sharing copyrighted files is illegal, but they believe the law to be wrong and therefore they ignore it. “Information wants to be free” and they are simply engaging in civil disobedience to prove that fact. But they usually forget that a corner stone of civil disobedience is to break the law openly and be willing to suffer the consequences.

Personally – as a creator and consumer of culture – I welcome a thorough examination of copyright laws, the creation of some form of international standard, and a review of copying fees and artist compensation. All in the name of bringing our legislation and economy up to date with current technology and modern society – a society should be evolving and adapting, after all.

But…and this one is huge as far as buts go:

You cannot achieve a change in copyright law, artist compensation, or societal views by secretly engaging in illegal file sharing for your own personal benefit. As soon as you stop openly breaking those laws and instead try to hide behind others or mere technicalities to avoid punishment you cease being an altruistic rebel and turn into a selfish petty criminal.

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

Commentary: #HeForShe

Emma Watson is in the hot seat for her views on gender inequality.

Dear Reader, if you’ve been living under a rock – or perhaps under a bridge – you might have missed Emma’s gender equality speech in the UN this past Saturday. If so, I’ve included it here for your convenience. Please take the thirteen minutes to watch this if you haven’t seen it:

Now, before I comment on the speech itself, let me talk a bit about my own position in this matter.

Growing up, I was surrounded by a lot of strong, varied – sometimes stereotypical – role models: everything from politically active and outspoken women, real ‘man’s man’ working men, successful business leaders, self-sacrificing house wives, artists and musicians, bikers, gay florists, sailors, dedicated teachers, farmers and entrepreneurs – native Swedes as well as immigrants from a wide variety of countries. Most of the women around me were far from the soft spoken, demure, submissive stereotype (naturally – few women belong to that stereotype). As such, I’ve never really felt the gender stereotypes to be as powerful and cemented in as they obviously are in the world. Almost every company I’ve been employed by have had equal salaries and a fair amount of women in at least lower to middle management. Part of it is growing up in the capital of one of the most gender equal countries in the world, I’m sure – part of it is being raised in a family of strong, outspoken, confident women. Even so, I’ve been surrounded by the objectification of women and the idea of gender stereotypes, as well as gender prejudice. It’s hard not to, in modern society.

To me, gender equality has always been a given, yet I have been loathe to call myself a feminist.

As Emma mentions in her speech, the word has lost a lot of its meaning to many people, and has been infected by the male-bashing, man-hating side of the issue. There are many, many different types of feminism out there today and many of them can’t agree with one another. Some are of the ‘men are scum’-type of opinion, some deny any biological differences between the genders, some want to preserve gender stereotypes but create equal opportunity, some want to eliminate gender altogether, some want forced equality on all levels, some want freedom of choice – and everything in between. At this point, the statement ‘I’m a feminist’ is just not enough – depending on who you speak to, they will assume very different things about you.

Our various societies and cultures still have a very long way to go before we reach anything resembling true gender equality. Some cultures and nations are a lot closer to it than others, like my own native Sweden. But even those countries have a long way to go. And gender inequality doesn’t just affect women. However, if you speak out about the negative effects on men you become an instant target. Men are the privileged ones, after all. Shining a light on their problems is just diverting from the real issue, and – according to some – just another way of oppressing women. I couldn’t disagree more. The fact that men also suffer under gender inequality does not in any way diminish or invalidate the struggles of women! On the contrary – it adds to the problem and it needs to be discussed. By everyone.

Much like Emma Watson, I’m speaking from a point of privilege – does that make us less qualified?

Emma Watson has gotten some critique for just that – her privilege. Some have seen a petite, prettied-up young wealthy white woman speak in a quivering voice and felt that this somehow diminishes her message. They see a woman ‘appealing to men’ and fitting into a stereotype that they are fighting against. To me, they couldn’t be more wrong.

The fight against gender inequality needs all of us.

A privileged rich young woman speaking out in this way, to this crowd, will likely have a greater impact than if it had been a child bride from some third world country up there on the podium. People listen to, and respond to, those within their own group first and foremost. I’ll be the first to admit that I wouldn’t have been as affected by the speech had it been a young oppressed African girl recently escaped from a slave-like marriage. Not because I do not value her experience, but because I cannot identify as much with her. This is not due to prejudice or arrogance – it is only natural to listen more closely to the group you identify with the most. It is basic survival and human interaction 101: you need a cohesive group to accomplish anything, and the opinions of those closest to you mean the most.

Like attracts like.

Yes, we need oppressed women of color speaking out against gender prejudice – but this does not mean that we don’t need people like Emma Watson. Gender equality is not about separation, segregation or an ‘us against them’-mentality. It’s about inclusion. We need good role models speaking out from all walks of life – all genders, all social standings, all occupations, all cultures.

We need Everyone.


Commentary: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Well, I never thought this day would come: the day when I recorded a video and published it on the internet! But, what else can you do when you are challenged in the name of charity? So, my heart-felt thanks to Jeff Cavaliere of Athlean-X…here we go:

If you watched, then please take a moment to read this:

Those who know me will likely tell you that I’m not really the kind of person who does things like this, but they’ll probably also say that I’m not one to back out of an honest challenge. For some this challenge has been a fun and quirky way of gathering viewers and likes and shares, but it is so much more than that. I’m not doing this for me. Knowing that this video is now out there – forever – will eat away at me at times, but that silly discomfort is really nothing compared to what ALS does to a person.

Imagine having your body slowly turn on you, bit by bit becoming unreliable and eventually stop working, until the point where you can’t even breathe for yourself. No one can tell you why this is happening and no one can cure you. There’s really no hope; no way you can definitively get better. Sure, changing your diet may have a positive effect. Or it may not. It’s not really a question of if the disease will kill you, just when. And not before it has made you a prisoner in your own body.

We know very little about ALS, there’s no test that can be done to determine if you have it and there’s no telling who will get it and who won’t. Over 90% of those diagnosed seem to be completely random occurrences. Really the only way to determine if you do have ALS is to rule out everything else. Half of those diagnosed survive for 3 years or more – some go on to live for over 10 years. Only about 1 in 20 live with the disease for more than 20 years. There are medications available that can treat some of the symptoms and delay the deterioration, prolonging the patients life by several months. Months.

Every 90 minutes, someone somewhere receives the diagnosis.

Commentary: R.I.P. Robin Williams

O Captain! my Captain!
by Walt Whitman
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
                         But O heart! heart! heart!
                            O the bleeding drops of red,
                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
                         Here Captain! dear father!
                            The arm beneath your head!
                               It is some dream that on the deck,
                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
                            But I with mournful tread,
                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,
                                  Fallen cold and dead.

I cannot bare to write any personal reflection at present, Dear Reader. It is a sad day, and Robin Williams’ untimely death only exasperates the introspection I am dealing with, peeling open old wounds as it does.

Depression is an ugly beast, and hard to fight off once its claws are buried in your soul.