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This is an English version of the latest interview with Peter Sunde where DN.se journalist Hanna Fahl talked with the Pirate Bay founder about being wanted by Interpol, standing in the European Elections, debt, and goldfish. The original is in Swedish, I just tried to smooth out the translation. Please let me know of any mistakes : ) . Thanks, Google (and Tobias Andersson.)
By Hanna Fahl
Peter Sunde owes Swedish and American film and record companies 83 million dollars, and now sits imprisoned. DN’s Hanna Fahl met Pirate Bay founder in prison.
[Peter:]There’s a cocaine smuggler here, he’s probably my best friend in here. In my department, there’s one guy who killed someone with 64 knife wounds to the stomach, he has a life sentence. He is may get home leave, but I may not.
We sit in a beige prison visiting room at Västervik North. Opposite a vinyl upholstered seat, a table, instant coffee. Peter Sunde has gray tracksuit and flip flops and does not want to be photographed.
I don’t really know how I look.
I say he looks a bit skinny. He nods.
- Everyone in here thinks it’s weird that I’m here. I have the shortest sentence. I’m an odd bird. It’s odd, I’ve probably got a bit of a new view on people, the good and the evil. Everyone has a good dose of both.
Peter Sunde has been in prison for four months. Five days ago, he buried his father. Peter had to fight to get to meet him at the hospital and to get to go to the funeral. Västervik North is a two-class institution, and most people here have committed serious crimes: violence, drugs. Peter is convicted of complicity in file sharing.
I ask him how it felt when he was arrested in May. It has been four years since the Court of Appeal’s judgment fell in the Pirate Bay trial – he never showed up at prison.
- I wanted to meet my father, it was serious with my dad. It was the only thing I was thinking then. It’s hard to explain how it felt. A little unfair. But also good to be finished with it, it might get a little easier afterwards. How would you have felt if it was you?
I could not manage waiting. I’d probably just serve the sentence immediately.
- I do not think it’s my job to help take a penalty that is not fair. Had I known that my father would pass away, it would have been different, but on the other hand, I had time to hang out a lot with my dad before. That was fucking shitty timing, but I probably would not have done things differently if I got back in time. I have retained my sense of self in this. It is also important.
The history of the Pirate Bay, the one that concludes in Peter Sunde now sitting in Västervik and moving listlessly a cup bleached coffee, began in 2003, when the file sharing service, that was to become the world’s largest and change millions of people’s attitude to music and movies online, was born.
Originally the Pirate Bay consisted of a few computers on a server at Godfrey Svartholm Warg’s job, but the service grew rapidly. Fredrik Neij got involved, and Peter Sunde began to help with the programming. Soon, he also became a spokesperson for The Pirate Bay. He was the most verbal of the three, the most politically interested.
The Pirate Bay was not the first file-sharing service, and not the first that ended up in legal disputes. A few years earlier, both Napster and Kazaa were sued by the American music industry and had to pay damages. But the Pirate Bay was different. From the outset, it’s teasing had both the Swedish Anti-Piracy Bureau and the American movie and music industry up in arms. When letters from Hollywood Lawyers came in, The Pirate Bay responded by posting them on the site, along with mocking response.
One reason that Sunde and the other ignored the lawsuit threat was that they actually had pretty good reason to believe that what they did was legal. Pirate Bay never had any copyrighted material on its servers. Some felt that the site was rather to be compared with a search engine like Google. In 2005, the public prosecutor examined if he could prosecute the Pirate Bay, and in November of that year he came to the conclusion that they are not guilty of crimes themselves and that it would also be difficult to hold them accountable for complicity in crime.
But that changed quickly. On 31 May 2006 the police executed a search warrant and seized the Pirate Bay’s servers. Sunde, Svartholm Warg and Neij were indicted along with Carl Lundström. Shortly after the raid a Report went out with information that the Swedish judicial system itself had not taken the initiative in the raid, but that the Justice Department was pushed to strike for the American government and film industry organizations.
It was a controversial and acclaimed trial. The District Court sentenced the four defendants to one year in prison each and damages of 30 million kronor. In the Court of Appeal, they were given shortened prison sentences, Peter got eight months. But the damages were increased to 46 million.
After the verdict, Peter Sunde sought appeal in the Supreme Court but was refused. In 2012, he applied for pardon with the government but was denied. Eventually, he was wanted by Interpol. The past four years he has not had a permanent home, but moved around: the Nordic countries, Germany, Poland.
But he has not been idle. He has launched new projects Flattr, a service for micro-donations to creators and other projects online. Hemlis is another, an encrypted app to send direct messages that no one can eavesdrop on. He has lectured and given interviews. He gives a confident, bordering on flippant, impression. He has been described as strong and unshakable, never sad.
Now, Peter Sunde is sad.. Or, not quite in a great mood at the moment, as he puts it in a letter in August. I have written to him in Västervik Northern and asked for an interview, and the answer that comes a week later is far. It was a little too frank, [the] letter here, I see! Though that’s the way I am.
He writes that his father is in the hospital in Skövde. The father is very ill, he has been diagnosed with lung cancer in his one remaining lung, and just been forced to amputate his leg after blood clot. Peter gets no parole, he has been told the first day at the prison. You get no parole, nor may you change institutions or get the sentence commuted to tagging [monitoring by electronic ankle bracelet]. They want to appear tough on me – they themselves say explicitly that it is about their fear of being seen as not tough enough, writes Peter.
It is a slow communication. Letters come on paper in gray print that testify to an ink cartridge about to end. The visit take time to arrange, up to six weeks.
A few months earlier, Peter Sunde wrote an opinion piece in the Times about Swedish prisons, from inside the prison. There, he describes how the inmates must wait for emergency dental treatment, how they do not have jobs, how he lost weight drastically because he does not get enough vegan food. “In the evening you get to pee in a plastic bottle. If we need to do number two, we must call a guard who unlocks us as time permits. The advice they give is to take an extra bag to the trash. “
During his first four months in prison Peter Sunde made five JO[justitieombudsman, Parliamentary Ombudsman?] complaints against Northern Västervik. If the letters are examined but that he will be notified if their diet, if they frequent urine tests, if he has not got to call his lawyer and police.
The father becomes ill during the late summer. Eventually, Peter is granted special permission for two visits to the hospital in Skövde where he gets two and a half hours with his father. In late August, his father dies.
It has been hard and it’s even harder because you’re stuck inside, can not support (or be supported by) the family that is left behind, writes Peter in early September. He applies for special leave again, and learns that he must choose: either say goodbye to his father at the hospital where he died, or go to the funeral. He chooses the funeral, but learns that he must have handcuffs and a stomach chain and will not be able to be with or carry his father’s coffin. The anger I have right now is so much nicer to have than just grief.
On the outside is Peter Sunde big brother, author Mats Kolmisoppi. They talk on the phone every day. Peter has actively avoided using his second surname Kolmisoppi so his brother will not have to be associated with him.
A few days before his father’s funeral, Mats speaks out and write a long text about Peter’s situation that he put out on Facebook. “The Prison may not issue further punishment than the one already imposed in the courtroom. But it is difficult to draw conclusions other than that Peter’s case involves pure punishment.“ Peter begins to cry when he gets the text read over the phone by Mats.
A week later, here we are, in the visiting room on vinyl chairs. The funeral went well in the end, says Peter. He did not have handcuffs. Perhaps partly because of the attention surrounding the situation; several newspapers have reported on Mats Facebook posts. The staff at the institution brings in lunch: spaghetti with peas.
- They suck up to you. Last time I had visits only three peas in spaghetti, said Peter, pointing to the plastic box.
It’s hard to understand why it took so long before he was arrested. In recent years, he has lectured, been on TV, riding through several police checkpoints.
- They probably have not made much of an effort. When I found out that I was wanted by Interpol, I was even a little sour. I do not think people who are criminals really should get away so easily, I was annoyed at how simple it was. It was a strange feeling.
Quite a few would say that you are a criminal for real.
- It’s probably not that many. Have you met many?
I’ll get e-mails from readers who are wondering why I am writing about a criminal. There is an Ubuntu thread about you and the prison, where it’s probably fifty-fifty.
- There it is just a bunch Sweden Democrats, who have liked what I have done, but then discovered that I am a socialist and hate me for it.
The trio behind the Pirate Bay was a sprawling gang. They had their private reasons for and objectives in the file-sharing service, which did not always overlapp. In 2007, the Pirate Bay gathered donations to buy micro nation, Sealand, and when the plan was thwarted, there was a split on what they would do with the money. Svartholm Warg wanted to buy equipment, Neij wanted them to take out of wages. Peter Sunde got tired of the quarrel, and one evening when he was drinking beer he bought rainforest on the computer for all the money.
In the documentary “TPB AFK”, recorded around the trials, two scenes are cross-cut: Fredrik Neij in a hangout, and Peter Sunde who is at an anti-racist demonstration in Sergel Square. Neij talking about Peter Sunde:
- Brokep is a fucking vegetarian left twisted bitch ass bastard. He does it because of some ideological pussy-inflicted instincts.
Peter Sunde counters:
- He is one alcoholic racist asshole.
Today Peter says to the other two have “vile opinions.” He has no contact with Fredrik Neij, but sometimes talks with Godfrey Svartholm Warg’s mother. Godfrey is currently detained in Denmark on suspicion of another crime.
- I want to support him even though I do not like what he stands for. He is also poorly treated. It’s like having a cousin you know you belong with but hate.
Did the internet make you into a socialist, or did you incorporate the internet in your politics?
- When I was little, I thought that all my brother did was boring: writing poetry, keeping up with politics … But the older I got, the more I began to see the patterns. Mom was a single parent with two children, many of the problems we had was that she was a woman and not visible in the community. She was treated unfairly. I saw the broken rules on social assistance. I saw many who suffered. In the end, I understood how it should be, and that there is a political vision. I did not put words to it until pretty late, at age 25.
This spring, Peter Sunde ran in European elections for the Finnish Pirate Party but was not elected.
- The file sharing issue got a lot of attention for its impact on people’s lives. But everyone who works with Internet freedom issues has understood the need for higher-up EU policy. And there, it is unfortunately really boring.
Was file sharing overshadowed by all other Internet policy issues?
- Attention was unnecessary, absolutely. But it still went over in FRA and ACTA debates. And the fundamental questions remain. We need a discussion about who should control the Internet. It should be obvious that it’s citizens, not companies.
But nobody cares after all. These questions were completely absent in the election campaign.
- I thought the Snowden revelations would get more attention, but everyone thinks “no, it does not affect me.” It’s too fuzzy, too far away. The Pirate Party goes over well in Germany because of their Stasi in recent memory, they know about surveillance. In other countries, it is difficult to get attention for the issue.
A week earlier, I called lawyer Peter Althin. He represented Peter Sunde during the Pirate Bay trial. Ideologically and privately, they are miles apart – Althin is over seventy years old, has been a Christian Democrat member of Parliament and has served on the party executive. Additionally, he has been a member of the Prison Service’s advisory council and staff welfare committee. When he undertook the mission to defend Peter, he had no knowledge of file sharing.
- But I learned quickly. He is a teacher, Peter, says Peter Althin.
Peter Althin and his legal counsel have been in close contact with Peter Sunde since he was arrested. Althin is audibly upset when he talks about Sunde’s time in Västervik Institution.
- He was treated in a manner that not even really proven thugs are treated in prison.
- Well, I have also thought about that. It may be that he is very persistent, demanding their rights and is perceived as bothersome, it can be they not with the institutions. It may also depend on the op-ed piece he wrote about the penitentiary in the spring, it may have angered them. A very good article, by the way, says Peter Althin.
Althin describes Peter Sunde as talented – perhaps too talented for his own good.
In the visiting room at Västervik North Peter Sunde points out through the barred window. A guard patrols along the fence. Out there, Peter and the other inmates have a one-hour outdoor stay per day, though in practice it is only fifty minutes, which violates the law. As a protest usually Peter stands and refuses to go in until the hour is over.
It is tempting to compare his situation with other file sharing pioneers. Swede Niklas Zennstrom, who founded Kazaa, went on to create Skype and then sell the company for 55 billion. He has been named one of the world’s most influential people by Time Magazine and received last year HM The King’s Medal. Sean Parker, who co-founded the file-sharing service Napster, became president of Facebook and is now a billionaire.
They were more strategically smart – or entrepreneurially presented, if you will – than the Pirate Bay crew. They left or sold their businesses in time, made up amicably when the music industry filed lawsuits, went further. The Pirate Bay refused to fold. And Peter Sunde is in prison instead of being rich.
- We had different purposes. Niklas Zennstrom founded Kazaa and Skype to make money. I wanted to achieve a political goal. Making money is a necessary evil for me. I would never pay a tension to the music industry. They do not deserve it. I had been feeling bad about it, says Peter Sunde.
- I get angry every time someone calls me an entrepreneur. I hate that word. Society is so focused on capital.
He puts his legs up on a chair in the visiting room, takes a bite of an apple and tells about how he once farted on a correctional employee during a particularly intimate and unnecessary search. He is difficult to grasp; half hyper intelligent idealist and half defiantly obstructionist. The JO notifications that Peter Sunde has made, point to real and serious problems within the prison, and the JO have gathered opinions from prison in at least one case. But he has also filed appeals for permission to exercise “Kopimism”, a satirical pirate religion whose dogma is copying and dissemination of information, and plans to ask people to send him money in the form of crown coins to create paperwork for office (“I call it an analog DDoS attack “).
- And then I run a process [request?] for a fellow prisoner that I usually play ping-pong with, that he will get to have a pet goldfish in the cell.
But you, now you’re just trolling the Prison.
- Haha, yes. But some intellectual stimulation I had to get.
There are so many times throughout this story which you [were better served?] not to be so tough. From the very beginning, with the Pirate Bay, until now.
- You know, the guy in the Monty Python film? They cut off the bone – he continues to be bothersome. They cut one arm, then the head, he just continues. I feel a bit like that. But there is a joy in being tough on people who deserve it. I do not care so much about what happens to me as long as I feel I have done right by myself and others.
There is a certain amount of rättshaverism [pejorative, obsession with rights] in what you do.
- I’d rather say arrogance. Idiocy, maybe. But you are not the first to use that word. And I do not always [think it's] a problem, either. It’s what you learn: You meet people in the same situation as the man himself, who was previously perceived as rättshaverister, and you will realize that they are right.
You seem so obrydd [unconcerned, untroubled]…
- I’m right obrydd. I, like many others, has had a rough upbringing. Things have been much worse than they are now. I’m here … maybe there’s something positive in the end. I have given a Correctional boot, maybe I can talk in the media about it. Everything is not dark all the time.
At the same time… you sounded quite depressed in the letters you typed.
- Much of it is not because of how I feel, but how others feel on the outside. It was really hard when my dad got sick and my brother had to take care of everything, taking care of the whole funeral. It is the powerlessness. But I have moved more and more to being pissed. It is a more natural state for me, says Peter Sunde.
Just over a decade after sharing the explosion, it is still hard to say exactly how it affected the film and music industry financially. Studies contradict each other. Last year, one report stated that illegal downloading leads to increased legal sales – and one that the pirates are downloading to avoid paying. The major labels crisis is at least over; streaming services like Spotify have turned the curve. As far as the film industry, it is also difficult to measure the economic losses. A study last year found that Hollywood, despite complaints over file-sharing, set sales records in 2012. On the other hand, this summer has been the worst in eight years.
Peter Sunde will be released from prison in early November. But the damages remain. It is imposed jointly between the four offenders, which means that the bailiff takes the money where it is. The 46 million kronor has grown with interest and fees, and now runs at 83,541,547 crowns.
Peter Althin maintains that the judgment was erroneous.
- There is no doubt that Peter Sunde was favorable to file sharing, but he did not meet the criteria of the indictment. I thought it was crazy that he would be sentenced to a large compensation.
Peter Sunde still has plenty of fans. He gets hundreds of letters a week in prison. On twitter, daily tweets are posted under the hashtag #freebrokep. Interview requests and invitations to lecture at conferences around the world continue to come in. Flattr and Hemlis have received much media attention – certainly in part due to his status as the Internet and file sharing rebel movement’s martyr.
But in some sense, his life is ruined. Whether any of the four doomed earned money on Pirate Bay is hard to determine – they claim that they barely broke even, but the prosecutor said that they had a turnover of 19.5 million a year. True, at least the bailiff only managed to recover a fraction of tort liability. From Peter Sunde have been meted total 87,385 crowns. Some 83 million has yet to be located, and probably never will be. In practice, this means that he can not earn or own more than subsistence level in Sweden.
- The bailiff visited when I had been arrested and revealed liabilities. One was at 740 crowns to the Crime Victim Fund. When I get out of here I’ll ask my mom about some money to pay just that said Peter Sunde.
I know you say you do not care about money. But the debt is still a life sentence.
- Purely ethically, I’m very against the damages. It’s a lot worse judgment than the prison sentence, given how society looks. But it is also so toothless! None of us who were sentenced resides in Sweden. I have a regular bank account in Germany, the bailiff can not collect damage debts abroad. And in a way, it prevents me from being too interested in making money. It’s a relief.
Does the debt bind you to your ideals?
- In some ways, it does. But I had not so much money before either. The difference between having 80 000 and 80 million in debt is quite minimal in everyday life, except that in the one case, you have the hope of being able to rip up [lose? pay back?] the money. In the second case, you have not. You can enjoy life.
Enforcement has measured out 87 000 SEK from you, including from pension funds.
- Have they taken the retirement money? So I will not get a pension? Exciting. I hope they underestimated them.
A knock comes on the door. We have sat in the visiting room for seven hours. Peter has seven weeks left. He asks me to send a couple of copies of the newspaper when the interview is published; the other inmates want to read.
Will you keep in touch with any of them?
- A couple. Others, I would be terrified if I met them outside.
I ask him how he thinks it will go with fellow prisoner’s goldfish.
- We’ll see. I think we’re up for seventeen submissions now. We will try with a different species of fish as well, to see if the fish is racist.