Netopia Ten Year Anniversary

They say time flies, but it also true that time is slow.

Netopia first started ten years ago. Since then much has happened. But much is the same.

Netopia launched February 16th 2010 in Swedish. With a bang! An op-ed in the #1 daily Dagens Nyheter described the mission. If democratic institutions and rule of law are not present online, that void will be filled by others. This basic premise guides Netopia still. The Manifesto remains.

Sweden in that time was like nothing else. It was the Sweden that brought The Pirate Bay, which in itself started as an experiment by the pirate think-tank Piratbyrån (“The Pirate Bureau”). It was the Sweden that elected The Pirate Party to European Parliament with 7,3% of the votes (but not to Swedish parliament the year after). “Polarized” may be a cliché, but it was polarized back then because there were only two positions available in the public conversation: pro or against “new technology”. Having worked in game development for many years, I did not feel at home in that dichotomy. I wanted to be pro-technology but also pro intellectual property rights. It felt wrong that the ruleset that connects creative work to the regular economy (=copyright) should be less important. Quite the opposite, I thought it should be more important since digital output is intangible. So I set out on this search for a third position. A few wrong turns later, it had occurred to me that the issue was much bigger than copyright. It was about power, competition, freedom, democracy and big words like that.

So I started Netopia, to be able to invite others to help figure it out. Turned out many were interested. I published work from historians, scientists, lawyers, creators, business people, policy-makers… and some pirates too. They looked at technology, law, China, human rights, history and many other topics, in different ways connected to the “digital society”. I was able to convince some organisations in the entertainment industry to bankroll this soul-searching. They didn’t always like the things I posted, but generously let me carry on. (Thank you, you know who you are!)

It was also controversial, almost an insult to some. The pirate movement took turns swinging at me. Responding to the comments on the launch op-ed took six(!) blogposts. It was fun and a bit overwhelming but the pushback in social media was quite different from what I met in other places: it turned out a lot of different people had shared my sense of unease with the polarized debate and welcomed the search for a third position. Tertium non datur is not very helpful.

It was frustrating too. Trying to take part in a global debate in a small language. The people I wanted to talk to (and argue with!) mostly wrote in English. I did read them but they could not read Netopia. Also, as a balance to the power of the internet monoliths, the Swedish democratic institutions were not much. The EU on the other hand, that could be something to put one’s trust in. So in 2013, Netopia switched language to English and moved to Brussels.

Since 2010 everything has changed and nothing has changed. There is a bigger understanding now of the problems with the lack of rule of law online. There is an appetite for regulation that did not exist in 2010 (no I’m not saying Netopia made it happen, only that it was part of the change in mindset). But to a large extent, the power battle is the same. If anything, the monoliths have become more monolithic.

Netopia is ten years. Who knew? Here’s to another ten. And to the hope that those ten will be plenty.


The Swedish edition of Netopia is still online here: