A Pirate's bargain

Der Spiegel wrote a gleeful article, how a member of the German Pirate party “Insists on Copyright”. I could pretend that I didn’t understand their point of view because insisting on copyright is not in contradiction with the party’s manifest. We do not want to abolish copyright. We want to shorten the length of its protection. The length varies depending on the specific Pirate Party, but they all agree on one thing: the continuously extending copyright must be decreased. In Finland, the Pirate party has made a stance at maximum of ten years from publication, in Germany, it’s less radical demand of one year after the death of an artist. But essentially, it’s really all about making it shorter than what it currently is.

Today copyright protection on art, such as books, extends in most western and latin American countries to 70 years or more after the death of an artist. The idea of the artists’ descendants getting inheritance that lasts to their children too, is a warming fable but far from reality. Everlasting copyright is mainly beneficial to the global content industry, and them only, a few rare exceptions aside.

So what did Julia Schramm excactly do then, to make headlines like “Pirate Politician chasing book pirates in Germany.”

Julia Schramm is not chasing anyone. Her publisher is doing that automatically by sending notices to owners of domains that are sharing her work illegally from their server. This is normal practice in the publishing industry in Germany and in many other Western countries today.

Secondly, Julia has negotiated with the publisher, in an exceptional agreement, that private entities’ sharing her work non-commercially, are not be charged to cover damages before they get a warning from the publisher. As far as I know, this kind of a contract clause is unheard of. Only repeated violations may be punishable. In addition, Julia has promised to share her work freely after the contract expires in ten years time. Again, it is very unusual in the publishing industry to give commercial rights back to the creator after such a short time. Maybe the Finnish Pirate Party’s demands are not that radical after all.

Thirdly, and perhaps the least worthwhile omission in most media coverage was that Julia Schramm was not an elected Pirate before publishing agreement – she was elected to the German Pirates’ national board when the book had already been written, and the contract had been made.

Although Julia Schramm’s pirate ethics can be seen hypocritical, let’s look at the real consequences of Julia’s deal instead:

Thanks to Julia’s publishing agreement, non-commercial distribution of the work can not be subject to liability without prior warning or DMCA notification. In other words, this contract makes it legal for everyone to share her work non-commercially until given notice from the publisher to cease sharing. This effectively takes the teeth out of copyright enforcement and it seems indeed that it is the same woman who calls these enforcers endearingly, “content-mafia”. It is also worth mentioning that the 26-year old author studies political sciences and she could have actually predicted what’s coming her way.

Here, have a copy of her book that I downloaded and uploaded myself. I am waiting for the removal request which I will obey, of course. I do not want any trouble with the authorities.

Julia has published a book with a major German book publisher, raking 100,000 € in advance, before any books had even been printed. How many of you know an author to have such a contract for their first book? I can not deny that I would also be tempted to make at least an illusion of betrayal. Especially if, at the same time I could show the whole world that artists should be demanding better conditions for their contracts.

Some sources say that the book itself is mediocre at best so I don’t think there was any other way for her to make that kind of money in the publishing business, at least not yet. After making headlines all around the world as a Pirate sell-out her circumstances are now a different matter entirely though.

I think Julia’s compromise is a shining example of the type of contracts that authors really should be making. At least, it is a significant improvement to conventional contracts in the publishing business. This is precisely what the Pirates so eagerly want to change and a big reason for their sheer existence.

18 Replies to “A Pirate's bargain”

  1. You’re missing the point. So does – I give you that – the (German) media by breaking down the (still unsettled) Pirate stance into unlimited free filesharing and the abolition of copyright. Media overstates the case, whereas you fall short. It’s all about a) the copyright length and b) weakening of enforcement? Is it? No, it’s not. The current Pirate stance is a realignment of the entire dated copyright concept – I recommend this insight: http://www.piratenpartei.de/2012/08/16/neue-geschaftsmodelle-fur-kunstler-im-digitalen-zeitalter/ (German). Overcome the current system, let’s try new models, somehow it will work, the creator gets his revenues, either by specific arrangements, flatrates or miracles … and as well traditional marketing channels – whatever floats your boat. What makes Julia a hypocrite is: vigorously attacking the traditional system but then choosing this very system for personal benefit, for her opulent royalty she would never have gotten otherwise through Pirate models. She talked her way out saying she probably should have pushed the publisher for alternative marketing. Pardon? She should have insisted (!) on Pirate-style models, what else?! She argues she wanted to reach a wider audience and had the guts to refer to statements of a publisher defending why eBooks should not be subject to filesharing. That’s the eBook lobby! Let’s overcome the copyright concept but please let’s exclude eBooks! The arguments given were exactly those of the mainstream content lobby, all of them. For a pirate obviously though, it’s tautological to say, yeah I gotta go the traditional way because first of all, who pays my royalty otherwise?! And that’s just what Julia did – contrary to her actual statements in the past when she wasn’t affected herself. She has proven a point: Pirate-style utopia models don’t work.

    1. I think you’re still missing my point.

      Julia has made a terrific publishing contract which is *effectively* letting people share her work until they get a takedown notice from the publisher. She has also promised to make her book freely available after 10 years. This is also in line with the Pirate agenda decreasing the extent of copy protection.

      To press on, although she had to enable her publisher to chase book pirates, she took the teeth out of legal enforcement, effectively making the sharing of her book possible without the fear for repercussions – until the takedown notice is served.

      She has truly made an exceptional contract and I think we should cherish it instead of calling her a sell-out.

  2. Julia got 100.000€ from a publisher that is part of the “Bertelsmann Konzern” which is one of the biggest media concerns worldwide (ranks on place 8)

    On the one hand this could be seen as a hidden donation (especially as the book is really bad) on the other hand it might have been a relative cheap manoeuvre of bertelsmann to severely damage the german pirates (which is actually – in my opinion – just happening).

    Congratulations to the “bad guys” – this 100.000€ might have saved them from a confrontation in the german parliament (Bundestag) with a political party that has a strong and critical copyright bias. “Priceless” for Bertelsmann…

  3. Raoul, no I disagree. It’s far from terrific, it’s far from the ideals of the Pirates. It’s a blatant shame. Her contract deals are a lousy complaisance. an irrelevant excuse for the harm she did to the Pirates. Seriously, we don’t need Pirates to shorten copyright length and weaken enforcement. That’s what’s happening already, without Pirates. Weakening enforcement, taken by itself, doesn’t make a difference to the existing copyright concept, it’s a ridiculous eyewash – to both sides, it’s not even a three-strikes law, it’s a two-strikes law, and whether you get punished by civil or criminal law, who cares. That’s not close to what people expect from the Pirates. I expect more from them and I’m far from ever voting Pirate Party.

    You know, Julia is a still a kid, typically full of leftist fantasies, fair enough. I don’t blame her for that and I don’t mean to nastily bash her, it may happen I do, shame on me. But her actions and her rhetorical turn-arounds which she refuses to acknowledge don’t meet her utopian standards anymore. It’s time for her to grow up. The way she handled the book deal suits any other person – not a Pirate. Basically she is pretty much satisfied with the traditional system, but uhhh the repression thing is a bit too harsh, this and that, and yeah it goes back to the capitalist system of course, down with it, down with the establishment … what can I do, umm the Pirates, sounds kind of cool, count me in. Funnily she explicitly was like ‘if you don’t like capitalism, don’t comply’. Don’t comply with the established copyright and marketing system then, Julia, you opposed it, remember. “Es gibt kein konsequentes Leben im falschen“ – that’s right, Julia, so stop living it.

  4. Raoul, what Julia has done is perfectly legal and might look great in the resume of any writer that is not a pirate politician.
    If you look however the decline of the pirates in Germany over the last months its no more o.k. The pirates were forecasted to end up in double figures for the next election, because the people could associate themselves with the ideas of privacy, data protection, protection of personal rights, a stop to surveillance etc.
    Where do they stand now? The new head is bureaucrat working for the ministry of defense. The treasurer has been in the media for taking welfare when he does not want to work and now has switched to a donation system. Other members of the leadership are associated with the “datenschutzkritischen Spackeria” who are in favor of accepting a life in a post privacy world.

    Now you add the outcome of the book publishing and you get a pretty clear picture what the pirates will look to the public: Bureaucratic, lazy parasites that require others to drink water and drink wine themselves.

    The book publishing and everything around is fully legal, but it could be the coffin nail for the next election and maybe for the whole party. The pirates have become a laughing stock due to their own incompetence and it gets worse whenever they open their mouths or they do anything. The nerds fighting for our future have been replace by actors and self-promoters with personal agendas.

    What is really bad is that they are also destroying the interest in the topics like privacy, data protection, personal rights etc. with their decline as well and this will haunt all of us who would like to keep a bit of privacy and freedom.

  5. Let me explain it:
    The german pirate party stands for 2 things among others in their program to copyright:
    – legalizing non-commercial filesharing
    – PROMOTION of free flow of cultural goods

    If an immaterial good is taken down and the uploader gets a warning, how filesharing treated as legal by that action ? Or even free flow of cultural goods promoted ?

    Not, at all. This action totally and undenyable contradicts our party program.

    By external constraints – ‘well, sadly that’s the way it goes on book market’ – this contradiction could have been justified…. if Julia Schramm hadn’t defended the action of her book publisher and appreciated it in an interview !

    How to deal with this mess ?
    The pirate way would have been to be honest, authentic, and openly try to sort things out without hesitating to take steps, like firing Julia Schramm out of the federal executive board, if that could rescue any credibility of the pirate party and minimize damage for us.
    But the federal executive board choose to go the way of the establishment:
    Whitewashing, hem and haw, distract, sit things out, ignoring facts – people hate this way of acting in germany; so much, that 40 % of the people in germany don’t go to elections anymore.
    Many pirates set great hopes in the pirate party, that they will act different, that they will be the ones carrying honests, authenticity and high ideals into politics.

    So this case brings 2 catastrophes:
    – massive credibility damage in public regarding the position of the pirate party to copyright
    – huge disappointment regarding the unique selling point of the pirate party germany: “Making things different, humanly and for objective progress instead of egocentric striving for power with ignorance for objective colateral damage”

    The first catastrophe is mainly at fault of the party base, which put Julia Schramm in the federal executive board, although it was very obvious that this catastrophe will happen and that aside of that Julia Schramm is an extremely bad choice, anyway – she lied in her candidate speech, that she knows the deal in copyright like almost no other in the party although the working group never saw her in 3 years, and in the past she proclaimed the end of data protection/privacy in the newspapers, which is a violation of another of our core positions (strenghening data protection/privacy), and she just coquettish with her speech – the rest fault is at Julia Schramm, of course.

    The last catastrophe is fully at fault of the federal executive board, which obviously weren’t prepared for this scenario although it was so obvious that it was coming.

    My thoughts are to the pirates on the street in Niedersachsen – that’s a state in Germany, which will have elections in just 4 months:
    They will be confronted with many disappointed voters saying ‘I thought you were different…’, and they will have a hard time justifiny them, because they feel the same and the federal executive board forsaken them…

    / aka Oliver

  6. Excellent blogging. Pirate parties are not radical, they are progressive and we do not fall to extremes but rather try to find a sensible balance between the private and the public as well as handling the issues when new technology challenge old norms and opinions.

  7. Oliver and Marc are right. I’m actually one of those voters – i feel betrayed by the german green-party which i voted for years and which was completly overtaken by the “normal” type of egomanic politicians in the last decades. I started to be interested in the german pirates because i think transparency is one of the most important political topics in future (and present) and what do i get: one of their “faces in the media” sold herself very obviously to the big-money (random house is – like i stated already above – not a tiny little alternative publisher). And worse of all….for this really creepy book that reads like a teenage diary and gave me insights in the feelings and thoughts of leading pirats that are – for me as a potential voter – nothing but alarming. I think i will stay with the green party – they are terrible but at least not naive and childish.

  8. Thank you Raoul for your point of view. I still think she messed up big time.

    Now, this Julia signed a book deal with a company she previously described as the equivalent of a notorious criminal organization. Than, she goes and accepts (or even seeks?) a leading position in a party, that’s whole message is seen as opposing companies like her publisher. She get’s paid a significant sum, and allows the publisher to send DMCA notices on her behalf. How can you not see trouble?

    As a politician for the German Pirates, she must have seen this coming. Also, when confronted and asked for comments, she did not bring up the points you did. She made things worse by being completely unprepared to explain herself. It doesn’t seem like she had any idea what she was doing. Even if she did, she would have still been gambling with the whole party’s credibility and even future. I don’t quite understand why you defend her and call this as part of an ‘exceptional agreement’.

    Its tempting to speculate the publisher made the deal with this controversy in mind. It would explain the unusually high advance payment. If the pirates were indeed closing in on the Bundestag, it makes even more sense. 100,000 euros to significantly reduce the odds of a change in the profitable copyright law. And publicly ridiculing your opponent in the process. Now that’s a good deal. Sounds to me she was exploited and played for her naivety, rather than striking a good deal. Either way, the tab is picked by the party, its cause and supporters.

    At least the ‘internet exhibitionist’ has a good stack of cash to play around with. If money is what she’s after, she would have probably made more as an MP, though.

  9. Raoul, a two strikes model that you hail here is the furthest it get from a pirate position in Germany and in no way a step into the future.
    It is usually an idea from the publishers, combined with IP retention and suing. There have been enough protests against this kind of ip storing/using ideas for any reason so that we dont need it served by a pirate leader as a new invention.

  10. I’m not entirely sure how the publishing deal is a victory for anyone. DMCA takedown notices are generally the first step in tackling IP protected materials, not a lawyer appearing at the door threatening to sue for damages (at least in the US; can’t say for Germany). At best the publishing deal could be seen to offer the safe harbour provision to all sites, but that’s not a particularly big step to have taken.

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