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What the German Pirate Party wins mean for copyright in Germany

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
19th May 2012


An analysis of voter choices correlated to social position suggested that the Pirates strongest constituencies are amongst workers and the unemployed, where they took 14% and 15% of the vote respectively. Interestingly the two parties most likely to lose votes to the PP were the Greens and the FDP (liberals), but the basic lesson of this research is the capacity of the PP so far to gather voters from across the ideological spectrum.

In Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW), with the German Pirate Party winning an estimated 7.8% of the vote, what does it mean for the copyright debate? An analysis by Alan Toner:

“In response to the electoral emergence of the PP the debate around copyright in Germany has restarted in earnest. On Thursday the weekly newspaper Die Zeit published a letter titled “We are the Creators” where they condemned the ‘profane theft’ of intellectual property – characterised as a ‘great achievement of bourgeois freedom against the dependency of feudalism’ – defended the role of the publishers and other intermediaries commercially exploiting copyrights, and decried those who would use the net as an excuse for ‘stinginess and malice’. The coordinator of the letter campaign is himself not a ‘creator’ but rather a literary agent, suggesting a simple, albeit cynical, explanation for the vehement justification of the publisher’s function. In any case more than 3000 ‘creators’ signed up to the cause.

How such generalised reprimand of the public will be digested amongst the hoi polloi remains to be seen. History may have created a class of authors and publishers with the coming of bourgeois society, but it might be that in the digital era the masses have decided that they themselves are creators, and that the time for a further alteration of property and power relations has arrived …

For the moment however the talk is not of a revolution in property rights, but rather copyright reform: ‘We are the Citizens‘. Likewise the PP’s current copyright policy is distinctly moderate:

shorten the term of protection from the (current) life of the author plus seventy years to life plus ten;

terminate all transfers to an intermediary for exploitation after 25 years, returning the rights to the author;

make any licensing assignment valid for those media known at the time

stop prosecuting/pursuit of filesharers on the basis that it is merely reflects the current industry’s incapacity to satisfy demand.

Henceforth the policies of all political parties as regards the internet and communications will be a matter of public scrutiny, and irrespective of how one may feel about the Pirates in a more general sense, for this at least we have them to thank. Effectively they have attached a cost to coziness between political parties and the vested interests who would seek to have the net regulated for their profit. Last autumn members of the CDU were still floating proposals for a local version of the Hadopi/3 Strikes regime, but in the light of the election results, and the scale of the protests against ACTA, such a proposal is now clearly toxic and can be excluded.

While the political strategies of the copyright lobby find themselves blocked, the situation in the courts remains a concern. In April, for example, the regional court in Hamburg found in favour of the German rightsholders organisation GEMA, imposed a form of secondary liability (Störerhaftung) on Google for works posted on Youtube without authorisation. The court required that they institute measures in addition their existing content-id system to keep works off the site, specifically a word filter which would block other versions of songs for which GEMA hold the rights, and that GEMA are not obliged to use content-id as a means of controlling infringing uses. The continuing failure of GEMA and Google to reach an agreement on royalties means that pop music available on the platform elsewhere in the world remains blocked on the German site. Other authorised services such as Hulu and Netflix are not available either.”

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