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.

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