Update 9/1/12: He’s ALIVE! Sadly, he’s alive in a Cambodian jail with only the prospect of Swedish prison ahead of him, being that he was denied the right to defend himself…. But OMG – Alive!
Since we’re talking about libraries… (Or: No, this is not off topic!)
Is There a Prison for Dead People?
A founder of one of the most famous havens of cultural exchange online has been sentenced without his presence, without a defense, and without an appeal.
Earlier this week, the Swedish courts decided to uphold the 2009 guilty verdict of Pirate Bay co-founder, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, despite his inability to be present due to illness.
A quick recap, for the non-torrent-freaks out there: last year, Gottfrid skipped out on appeal #1, supposedly because he was stuck in a hospital in Cambodia. Last month, he missed appeal #2. Finally, the courts said enough is enough and the guilty verdict stands along with a 1 year prison sentence and just over $1 million in fines.
There are so many problems with this decision it’s hard to name them all.
Here’s what Peter Sunde, one of Mr. Svartholm’s cohorts, has to say about it:
I think it’s kind of strange putting a guy into jail because he’s too sick to appear in court. Also, nobody is in contact with him, for all we know he might be dead since no-one can reach him.
This is actually a really bizarre step from the Swedish court – he’s found guilty because he can’t defend himself. Way to go, democracy. It will be interesting to see how they will actually try to find him and put him into jail. If he’s not alive – will they put his gravestone into a jail cell for a year?
“Way To Go, Democracy,” Indeed
The court’s decision to forget the rest of the judicial process and jump ahead to the final-final-for-realz verdict is a fucking cop out. Sorry for the language. Can’t say it any other way. Fucking. Cop. Out.
Look, I’ll admit to some skepticism over the “sick” story. After one year, I have trouble imagining what could possibly be keeping him in the hospital that wouldn’t be better treated in Sweden. I don’t think the guys missing in the missing persons sense of missing. And I don’t think he’s dead. According to Torrent Freak, his mother planned to fly to Cambodia to support him. If she found her son dead or disappeared… would a mother really remain silent on that? Well, maybe she doesn’t want her baby to go to jail. Not the point. The point is, I have a hard time believing that he’s truly disappeared.
So maybe he’s on the run.
Maybe he is the greedy bastard the entertainment industries say he and his TPB buddies are. Maybe he’s the real money laundering mob boss behind it all and he’s got bigger things to run from then a little bit of copyright infringement. Maybe he’s just scared and running like a little girl.
There’s something wrong here.
Not legally wrong. I mean, hey, I’m not a lawyer, much less a Swedish lawyer, but apparently this kind of thing is just peachy according to Swedish law. It may not be legally wrong. It’s just… wrong. Like… democracy fail wrong.
In a civilized judicial system, people are innocent until proven guilty. And guilt cannot be proven without full due process, appeals and all. Even if somebody is on the run, the courts can’t just jump in and say “Oh, well they missed their chance for justice, lock ‘em up!” If Sweden wants to lock someone up, they should to do what any civilized judicial system should do when they want to lock someone up: find them, go through the appropriate legal processes to bring them in, and complete the judicial process. Sorry, but skipping to the end doesn’t work.
It’s called due process. Even murderers get it.
Murderers but not Technologists
Gottfrid Svartholm Warg is not being accused of murder. He’s being accused of helping people to share movies, games, music and other cultural material without permission. Oh, the horror of it.
Do you see how this is relevant now?
If stewards of art and knowledge are to be locked up, how bright is the future of art and knowledge looking? Sites like the Pirate Bay are some of the artists’ best tools. They have made an effective way for creators and fans to meet: promoting a way for artists to get their creations out to people. Especially for independent artists, getting creations out to people can be a problem. Sites like these make it easier for both fans and artists. They don’t ask for a credit card number, they don’t ask for an address, they don’t ask for ID.
They don’t even ask for permission. And that’s the whole point. Culture is culture because it is spread freely. Culture is something that happens organically. People–governments, loudmouthed individuals or groups, people with too much time or money on their hands–can try to bang it into a certain shape, but despite external force culture will spread. That’s what it does. That’s what makes it culture and not some thought, some thing, some doodle or some piece of crap or beauty that someone has all by themselves.
As an artist, you can create a product or you can create culture. And you don’t necessarily get to choose which one. That’s not up to you. Someone buys a book, that’s a product. Somebody shares a book, that’s culture. You can hope to create something more than a product, but you need others’ help to actually do that. You need readers or listeners or viewers or users. You need people. And you need some way to connect with them. That’s where most artists need a little help.
And now at least one of the people shepherding this flow of culture are to be locked up. Those who hope to sell products don’t need to be concerned. Those who hope to create culture should be very, very worried.
So how did this happen? That’s the best part:
The lawyer asked for the case to continue without his client present, but entertainment industry representatives demanded that the earlier District Court “guilty” verdict should be made final.
The entertainment industry gets to demand things of the Swedish courts? And their demands are met? We already knew that US interests exerted control over Swedish police investigations and politicians. Apparently, now they control the courts as well. So much for national sovereignty. Pretty soon I won’t even need a visa if I want to move to Sweden.
So in sum: Bowing to the demands of foreign industries, a court decides–arbitrarily and without due process–to lock up a person responsible for one of the most useful tools to people in said industries.
I can’t say it enough: There. Is. Something. Wrong. Here.
Defend the Havens
The Pirate Bay is not a library. It’s not one unified “catalogue”, but a system of exchange, varying according to the exchangers. Nevertheless, that system is one of the largest sources of cultural material freely available to the world. For artists, the internet has opened up havens where art can reach out, where it can grow and thrive. We need to defend these havens. We need to nurture these amazing, evolving, teeming nexus of culture like they have nurtured us.
One guy was not allowed to defend himself in a court of law. Can our havens of culture hope to defend themselves when those behind them can’t? So far, TPB has done well in the fight. Let’s hope others can follow.