The Pirates’ Ideological Conundrum

The Pirates used to have the perfect opinion strategy. One message for the masses: free entertainment. And one message for the elites: internet privacy. (Plus a cool name.) How come they moved from a political future promise to insignificance? The main reason is that these messages have a built-in conflict.

The pirates love to paint the entertainment industry as a threat to the freedom online. Any attempt to protect copyright online will create a surveillance state and given the choice of culture or freedom the latter wins. The pirates used to be great supporters of (and supported by) the telcos and big technology, as their positions on anti-copyright and non-regulation online coincided. But since then, the debates on big data happened and Edward Snowden made his reveals and so it turns out that it was not the entertainment industry that brought the surveillance state after all, but the pirates’ tech company allies. And the lack of regulation online turned-out to spawn very powerful niche monopolists that have made an internet that is anything but free.

The built-in conflict is that privacy and information freedom are on opposite ends of the spectrum. In order for privacy to be real, some information must be kept secret (or, well… private). But information freedom fundamentalists say everything must be available to all because information wants to be free. These kinds of conflicts are very common in society and the balance is typically sought through democratic process, but if that option is not available (see non-regulation above) it’s more difficult. Some then say it’s a question of privacy for the citizen and transparency for the state, but that will still require regulation, unless of course the technology is set up to support such a distinction anyway. Of course that is not the case with today’s internet, where personal data is the most important resource for the big data businesses.

The pirates may have done a lot of damage to the online society over the years. The good news is that their ideology is consuming itself with these contradictions, opening for more balanced and interesting ideas. Not a day too soon.