Sweden - an unexpected piracy haven

IIPA report brands Sweden a 'piracy safe haven' - but didn't the Viking era end a thousand years ago?

On Saturday, March 10, Swedish police ruined the 10th anniversary celebration of a local chapter of Hells Angels. Just as the party got going, 40 heavily armed police officers stormed in, looking for drugs. The cops got more than they bargained for: Inside the motorcycle gang's headquarters they found an antitank cannon, powerful enough to wreck an armored money truck.

Even though Hells Angels had no ammunition for the cannon -- yet -- sending 40 police officers doesn't seem like overkill.

But when Swedish police raided file-sharing hub Pirate Bay last year, 40 officers weren't enough. They sent 50.

Evidently, pulling the plug on some servers and picking up three men for questioning took more police power than a crackdown on Hells Angels.

One explanation could be that Swedish policemen understand Hells Angels better than they understand computers. They made up in numbers for what they lacked in computing skills.

But the real answer is that Hollywood, the Motion Picture Association of America, even the U.S. embassy in Stockholm, demanded action against Pirate Bay.

They got a show of force, nothing else. The three men weren't even arrested. Out again after questioning, they kick-started their backup servers. Pirate Bay was up and running overnight. Still is. Recently, it was featured in the magazine Vanity Fair. And yes, the trial is scheduled for this summer.

So what is it with Swedes and pirates? Didn't the Viking era end a thousand years ago?

Sweden is supposed to be a nation where those who don't buckle up in Volvos wear bicycle helmets. Swedes abide by the law. Serious crimes are few and far between. Yet now, Swedes are pirates. Their bicycle helmets sprout Viking horns.

Last month, a report from International Intellectual Property Alliance, IIPA, branded Sweden a "piracy safe haven." There is high acceptance of illegal file-sharing, the IIPA report complains, and lenient laws make it almost impossible to nail anyone.

Swedes may not download copyright stuff more than anyone else. There simply aren't enough Swedes around to make Pirate Bay the world's number-one file-sharing site. But Swedes run it. And there's more. IIPA estimates that 40 percent of Europe's "top sites" for file-sharing of copyright material are in Sweden. ("Top sites" are secret sites where pirated content, like bootlegs from movie screenings, first appear.)

Traditional Swedish exports are either serious engineering, like Volvo and Ericsson, or inexpensive mass-produced items sold by outlets like Ikea and H&M. Joining these two ideas in the form of file-sharing would have an obvious appeal to Swedish entrepreneurs.

Like Niklas Zennstrom, the Swedish entrepreneur known for Skype Internet telephony and Joost Internet television. Zennstrom's first venture was the file-sharing network Kazaa. Years ago, he and his business partner Janus Friis divested themselves of everything linked to Kazaa. Still, until recently Zennstrom avoided entering the United States, for fear that he'd be served a lawsuit for Kazaa-linked massive copyright infringements.

And in 2003, using BitTorrent file distribution technology, Gottfrid Svartholm and Fredrik Neij launched Pirate Bay in a Stockholm basement. It grew exponentially. It goes without saying that Pirate Bay does not carry any copyright songs or movies on its servers -- only links to whatever its users choose to make available. Like copyright songs and movies.

If the court eventually finds Neij and Svartholm guilty, they will get a slap on their wrists. Hells Angels, on the other hand, have some explanation to do.

Despite the cop count, illegal possession of artillery is seen as a worse crime than illegal distribution of Hollywood films.

And Swedes aren't as law-abiding as they appear to the casual visitor. What a Swede does in his home is nobody else's business, as long as he keeps his voice down. That's why, official liquor prices being high, making moonshine is a cottage industry.

No wonder the words for running a still and making DVDs with downloaded movies are the same in Swedish: home-burning.

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Anders Lotsson

Computer Sweden
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