Movements and civil disobedience

I was reading a lot about Nelson Mandela, his party and the movement. One of the ideas he talks about is how his party had “volunteers”, and by “volunteers” he meant “volunteers to go to gaol for civil disobedience”. They would flaunt the law on purpose and “volunteer” to suffer the consequences so that they could bring much needed attention to the issue of apartheid.

We also have a bunch of avenues for civil disobedience, but the most obvious one is: pirating things (der). However, a lot of people pirate things and then don’t talk about it, or otherwise don’t want to implicate themselves. If that’s the case, then you’re not really engaging in civil disobedience, rather just the regular breaking of the law. Many certainly do engage in piracy-as-civil-disobedience. They will be very vocal about the fact that they’ve pirated, why they’ve done it, and that they consider that it should be made legal.

This kind of infringement happens in many forms, from discussion forums to YouTube videos, etc. Should we, as a party, officially endorse that civil disobedience, and also, should we sort of create a guide for “piracy-as-civil-disobedience”, a kind “gold standard” for how to pirate things and be counted as a pirate “volunteer”.


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Let me get this straight … you’re proposing that we, as an organisation with a stated public goal of entering Parliament and changing laws which we would expect others to follow, should now actively promote breaking the law? I can’t think of a faster way to have the entire party permanently pilloried. No, this is a bad idea.

Now, highlighting some of the many stupid things which are against the law because we don’t have the same kind of constitutional protections as people in the United States or Europe, that’s another matter. On the copyright front my favourite is that if you’re listening to music while walking down the street and sing along you’ve just made an unlicensed public performance and could get hit with massive fines or even gaol.

There are also aspects of circumventing without breaking the law outright which can be pursued, but generally such things are not done under the party banner, they are organised separately from the party. You can expect to see something along these lines to help people avoid as much of the surveillance as it is possible to avoid when the inevitable happens. While some of that might even have a generic pirate motif, it won’t be party of Pirate Party Australia.

I think encouraging piracy is a bad approach for the reasons outlined by Ben. That said, we have engaged in civil disobedience as an organisation in the past and may have to do it again if the situation warrants it.

We hosted a mirror to the Wikileaks Iraq War logs when the Australian and US governments were claiming it was illegal to do so and threatening to close down Wikileaks. This however is completely different to advocating piracy. There clear moral argument for transparency in exposing the actual activities of the government which were hidden from our view, coupled with the questionable claims that sharing the information was illegal. IMO it was clearly and unambiguously the right thing to do in the circumstances.

Engaging in civil disobedience as an organisation risks all that we have built through either being discredited or outright banned. There are circumstances where it may be worth the risk in the future, but the need to act would have to be clear and unambiguous.

To explain, file-sharing does not have the same moral impetus as exposing government wrongdoing on a massive scale. If we were outlawed for mirroring the Iraq War logs, it would damage the perception of Australian democracy significantly (making it highly unlikely due to the political cost). If we were outlawed for publicly encouraging file-sharing, we were encouraging defiance of Australian law for a few videos or some music. It doesn’t have the same power and therefore banning us doesn’t come with the same political costs for the government.

It would be useful to have contact with people who are willing to talk about their experiences of file-sharing, but not for them to talk as members of the Pirate Party.

On the ‘how to avoid surveillance’ issue, using encryption is not (yet) illegal and wouldn’t come with the same risks. It isn’t something we should necessarily shy away from, I just think the work will be done by others so we won’t need to do it ourselves. It may be worth pointing out guides should/ when data retention get enacted.


You make a strong point Frew. However, as a creative person surely the sheer weight of the things you’re not allowed to do must be frustrating. These laws have sometimes been used as information management and control, and this has significantly greater impact on society.

Even for “regular file-sharing”, however, these laws form a sort of self-censorship cocoon of safety for governments and corporations. Corporations regularly flout copyright law because the copyright holder cannot take them to court, and will regularly assert copyright even when they do not have it in order to shut out someone without the resources to go to court.

You are absolutely right in the sense that there should be some impetus for action. Say, some granny is taken to court over filesharing, we might want to encourage civil disobedience in response.

Still, I can’t help but think that an issue as close to our heart as this would involve some guidelines for civil disobedience. It might even be for being creative, for example using someone’s copyrighted samples in your music.

Artists generally ignore the legalities whilst they are working on their art, and then make a judgement call when they complete a work as to whether anyone would be pissed off and if that would be a bad thing. Many would consider being sued a good thing as it provides serious opportunity for publicity.

The mashup scene is thriving and copyright holders seem pretty happy to let it go. I suspect most musicians and rights holders don’t enforce copyright because they like the mashup. People making them also generally happily promote the tracks they use. It is an example of where copyright law is broken all of the time, but it is of little consequence unless someone makes a Court case over it.

That said, it does happen, the Beastie Boys were sued the day after Adam Yauch’s death for sampling music in Paul’s Boutique. We can use these cases to highlight issues, but undertaking it as a form of protest has too little likelihood of actually getting you sued for it to be effective. The issues are well covered in RiP: A Remix Manifesto.

There isn’t much special to make a mashup, googling ‘how to make a mashup’ provides ample explainers by people with more experience that me.

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As a human being the sheer weight of things I am forbidden simply for being born in this country is frustrating. Little things like not actually having the right to freedom od speech, or freedom from warrantless searches by police … you know, the really nasty things which have the potential to get even nastier. Having been in that position quite recently, in fact, I think it is better to focus our attention on fighting those things which make being pursued for copyright violation something to look forward to.

But hey, that’s just me.

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