Rick Falkvinge founded the first Pirate Party on January 1, 2006, and then rallied the masses in Sweden six months later in the wake of the first police raid against The Pirate Bay.
At the European Elections of 2009, Swedish Pirates won over 7% of the vote. Christian Engström went on to become the first Pirate Member of the European Parliament, with Amelia Andersdotter taking the second seat in 2011.
When Felix Reda of the German Pirate Party was elected vice-president of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament in 2014, and was given the job of copyright reform rapporteur, that was a moment for the archives. It wouldn’t be the last.
Czech Pirates and Czech Piracy
A string of notable events in the Czech Republic, including three Pirate Party politicians taking seats in the European Parliament, culminated in 2021 when Pirates won three ministerial positions in the country’s coalition government.
Set to a background of intense Pirate politics and the movement’s roots in file-sharing communities, news that a 60-year-old Czech Republic man is facing up to two years in prison for file-sharing feels a little out of place. Of all things that were never supposed to happen when Pirates got into power, this was one of them.
Czech police say the man had a collection of almost 1,000 commercial music albums stored on a server, which is quite a lot. The server wasn’t protected in any way, so passing internet users could download whatever they liked. Unfortunately, those passing by included unnamed rightsholders who filed a criminal copyright complaint with the police.
Authorities Take Matter Seriously
According to a statement released by police in the Moravian-Silesian region, criminal investigators in the city of Karvina responded to the complaint by launching “an extensive multi-month investigation.” After establishing that the albums had been available for download from October 2013 until November 2022, police charged the man with criminal copyright infringement offenses.
“The accused stated that he downloaded the music mainly for his own use, but also for other users to download,” the statement reads.
“He testified that he was aware that by uploading works without the permission of the copyright owners, he was violating some legal standards, but he did everything mainly because he liked music. It is his lifelong hobby.”
When the man was informed he’d been making copyrighted content available to the public, he began deleting the files. Police say that he has still been charged with copyright offenses under Section 270 of the Criminal Code:
Anyone who unlawfully interferes, not insignificantly, with the legally protected rights to an author’s work, artistic performance, sound or audio-visual recording, radio or television broadcast or database, will be punished by imprisonment for up to two years, a ban on activity or confiscation of property
A sentence of up to five years would’ve been available had the man generated any profit. Fortunately, he made nothing whatsoever, so that should run in his favor. Indeed, the record shows that making no profit helped other local pirates avoid convictions.
Pirates Cleared of Piracy Crimes
The operators of several piracy sites in the Czech Republic were prosecuted in 2016 after they deliberately linked to thousands of movies and TV shows. In 2017 they were cleared after a court determined they had made no money.
“Our goal is to change the copyright monopoly law so that people are not fined millions for sharing culture with their friends. However, until we achieve that, we will fight in courts over interpretation and enforcement of the law,” the operators said at the time.
The operators of movie download sites Tipnafilm.cz and Piratskefilmy.cz, and TV piracy site Sledujuserialy.cz, were the Czech Pirate Party. Unlike the man recently charged with music piracy offenses, these sites only linked to copyright-infringing material, rather than hosting it directly. For end users, these mechanics were mostly irrelevant.
That Was Then, This is Now
Given the history detailed above, it’s interesting that someone is facing prison in the Czech Republic for sharing files at a time when Pirate Party members are part of the government. In both cases, semantics over links or direct links still underpin the non-commercial use of copyrighted content. Or in Pirate Party parlance, “sharing of knowledge.”
Given the connections, the police statement prompted a few immediate thoughts. Do the Czech Pirates still approve of non-commerical piracy? As responsible politicians, do they now reject copyright infringement on any scale? Do they even have an opinion on the topic this far into government?
Since Pirate parties built their reputations standing up for non-commercial pirates, we asked the Czech Pirate Party if that’s still the case when a party finds itself in power.
We also asked whether the extremely capable, tech-focused Ivan Bartoš, Czech Pirate Party leader and current Deputy Prime Minister for Digitisation and Minister of Regional Development, has an opinion on the case.
Finally, we asked whether cracking down on non-commercial pirates is considered a priority for the Czech government. At the time of publishing, we were yet to receive a response.
Realities of Government Meet Ideology
Elevating questions such as these to members of a sitting government might seem trivial given the enormous challenges faced by every country in Europe today. But a general principle stands regardless of the topic.
Should a party that makes a particular stand be held to those promises years into the future, and if so, for how long? In this specific case, should someone who followed an example set by some of those now in power, be held to account in a way they were not?
These are just some of the quandries faced by every party operating in a democracy, and especially those in a minority coalition. It’s nobody’s fault, simply the cold reality of getting into power, struggling to stay there, and the realization that there are always much bigger issues competing for limited time.
As Rick Falvinge wrote here on TorrentFreak more than 12 years ago, there really is nothing new under the sun.