RIP Henrik Pontén

He was known to the public as the lawyer who put The Pirate Bay-operators behind bars. Henrik Pontén was Sweden’s most famous anti-pirate and around those years the target of many pirate pranks. I know, I was there.

Some of the pranks were cute. Like when the Pirate Party youth section gave Henrik Pontén ginger bread cookies for Christmas. In Sweden, the folklore is that ginger bread cookies makes one nicer.

Some of the pranks were funny but obnoxious. Like when somebody changed Henrik’s name in the Swedish tax registry, so that his legal name was Pirate Pontén. Took him some bouts with bureaucracy to change it back.

Some of the pranks were aggressive. Like the boxes in the mail nobody dared opened. The shattered glass window in the office door (they brought in a security guard to patrol the office, unheard of in Sweden). The flowers to his board members with the note “the first part of your funeral bunch”. The list goes on. The pressure took a toll on Henrik’s health, but he did not fold. He kept winning his cases.

In 2009, a couple of months after the first trial against The Pirate Bay and only weeks after the Pirate Party was elected to European parliament by 7,1% of the Swedish voters, Henrik Pontén and I were invited to do an onstage Q&A at a digital festival called Dreamhack. Dreamhack has more than 10,000 participants and is a beautiful example of digital grass roots culture. Back in those days, it was also a popular gathering for software pirates. We came by car and were advised to park it just outside the stage entrance, radiator facing out so we could make a speedy escape if necessary. The door opened and we were met by flashing news cameras, like in a movie scene. On stage, we were meant to give proper answers to questions asked online by the audience. Some questions were pranks, some were serious and interesting. But it was heard to make any sense in the noise. Somebody threw a tomato (and missed). Henrik thought that was hilarious. There are no tomatoes at Dreamhack. They had gone through the trouble of exiting the festival, finding a supermarket and buying tomatoes only so they could throw it at us. That episode captures Henrik Pontén’s personality. He always found humour in the most absurd situations.

Henrik Pontén was a national-team fencer, goat shepherd, horse-rider, motorcyclist, husband and father of three. He passed away this weekend, 54 years old. The gap he leaves is immense.