We Talked to the Founder of the Swedish Pirate Party About America's Ongoing Infowar
Last week, I reported that The Pirate Bay's alleged power failure seemed to be caused by a much more complicated tangle of political happenings. It was only a matter of hours after my article was published that The Pirate Bay returned to the internet, sailing about, waving its skull and cross bone flag around like the F-U it really is, despite how temporary that F-U really may be. However, not all was saved. Its co-founder Gottfrid Svartholm still sits in custody, under an extended detention by Swedish authorities, which may or may not expire this Friday depending on if it is extended for a third time. Legal action was taken against several other sites, including a Swedish torrent site called Appbucket, which now greets any visitor with the same FBI Anti-Piracy seizure graphic you find if you go to Megaupload. Although, Appbucket's is much higher-res. What gives, FBI design department?
Interestingly enough, Appbucket is registered under the internet's public WHOIS system to Gottfrid Svartholm, the same dude dodging charges related to The Pirate Bay and in an unrelated case, the alleged hacking of a logistics firm called Logica. His name being in the WHOIS registration entry for Appbucket does not necessarily mean he was involved in the operations of the site. It's likely that his name got there because Appbucket was being hosted by PRQ, a company that Gottfrid co-founded. PRQ is the hosting company that the Swedes raided after what appears to be coercement from the FBI. Appbucket could have been using a privatising service offered by PRQ to keep Appbucket's real owner's name away from the public WHOIS registry. Since PRQ was co-founded by Gottfrid Svartholm, maybe he just placed his own name there for clients who purchased that service, instead of using general contact info for PRQ itself. Seems dumb, if that's the case.
If you look up the WHOIS for another site that would like to stay hidden, Nambla.net for example, which is also hosted by PRQ, you actually get the Toronto address of their domain registar Tucows, and the email address "firstname.lastname@example.org". Contactprivacy is an intermediary service for domain name owners who would like to be hard to contact. Seems like the man-boy lovers are slightly more cautious, in this particular instance.
We've seen through other cases that the FBI is not so careful when it comes to their anti-piracy raids. When I spoke to DJ Drama in a forthcoming interview for VICE, who was the target of a unwarranted seizure of his mixtape studio, he told me that the FBI went after him after seeing Michael Jackson and Beyonce breaks CDs on his website, that led them to presume he was running a full-scale, top 40, bootlegging business. Really, he was just selling loops and drum beats and the vast majority of his product was free, officially sanctioned mixtapes for underground rappers. It could be possible that the Gottfrid name on Appbucket gave the FBI a similar boner for justice.
Regardless, all of this storm around Sweden has kept Gottfrid in jail, taken down Appbucket and the Swedish file-sharing site Tankafetast which now redirects to the Pirate Party website, possibly led to the The Pirate Bay being down for a short time and damaged PRQ one of the major hosting companies keeping file-sharing alive in Europe. There are also some very clear parallels between the kafkaesque legal predicaments of Gottfrid Svartholm of The Pirate Bay, Julian Assange of Wikileaks and Kim Dotcom of Megaupload. Kim, who has more in common with P Diddy than poor ol' Julian, seems to be the dominant one in this unfortunate legal three-way by a longshot. New Zealand, where Kim resides and continues to evade US extradition, has had its own news media turn against its prime minister John Key on the issue. John had apparently taken a clandestine meeting in Hollywood before Kim's illegal raid that was fueled by illegal government spying went down. As of last night, Megaupload remains under American indictment but Kim has not been extradited.
From a Canadian's perspective, it appears that Sweden's idyllic image of fast internet and free piracy is under threat. However, when I spoke to Rick Falkvinge, the founder and now self-titled "political evangelist" of the Swedish Pirate Party, he tells me that image wasn't exactly accurate. Whoops. "Sweden was never particularly pirate-friendly from the eyes of its political administration. What sets Sweden apart is that we had a very early grassroots activism and political organisation that fought for freedom of speech through the digitalisation of society; this was through no action of – or even favourable with – the government."
It's true that Sweden has always been advanced as far as broadband penetration goes. They're 11th in the world for broadband penetration, way ahead of the UK who is 17th, Canada who is 19th, and the USA who is 23rd. Yet, they have also always appeared to be a beacon or even a safe-haven for pirates. It's where Rick founded the Pirate Party in 2006. We are now in a world where a pirate holds office with 60% of the popular vote, in a small Swiss village of 1,481, where he is now the mayor.
So it seems that the world-leading broadband penetration in Sweden has provided the tools necessary for independent voices to find the groundswell they need to become global movements, but it was never really indicative of national support for piracy. Rick agrees: "The grassroots organisations of pirates keep fighting through ups and downs, and we may be able to change the government's backwards attitude in these matters. But at present, it is only friendly towards obsolete industries and American interests."
When I asked about the FBI's influence in Sweden, which as far as anti-piracy goes seems to be quite notable given the PRQ raid and the shutdown of Appbucket, he told me: "The FBI doesn't have a lot of influence in Swedish domestic affairs (unlike the Dotcom fiasco in New Zealand recently). However, politically, the Swedish administration is more or less a lapdog to the political part of the United States. An FBI operative could not come here on duty without getting arrested for violating all sorts of laws, but it's a different matter when the political administration gets 'offers they can't refuse.' We have several examples of this – down to checklists to tick off on how the Swedish legislation should be changed to please American interests, regardless of whether doing so is in the Swedish interest."
It seems that we are watching through a confusing fog of often misleading reports, an infowar between America and whichever allies will do its bidding, versus the pirates. Demonoid and Megaupload are gone. The Pirate Bay is alive, but in questionable health. Plus, the Vietnamese MP3 site Zing, which hosted unlicensed copies of mainstream music, had its Samsung and Coca-Cola advertising dollars taken away within a few days of the PRQ raid. The question becomes: will America continue to play whack-a-mole with the everlasting fountain of file-sharing portals, or will a more drastic SOPA-esque legislation re-emerge in the coming months? I would bet that it's going to be a bit of both.