Peter Sunde, one of the co-founders of the BitTorrent clearinghouse the Pirate Bay, is no stranger to the law. In 2009, after he was sentenced to nearly a year in prison and fined almost a million dollars in Sweden, he held a press conference. "Even if I had any money," he said, "I would rather burn everything I own and not even give them the ashes." Money, he believes, should flow not to corporations but to the people who are producing culture, which is why he founded Flattr, an app that allows users to send money directly to artists, activists, and designers. And as with information and money, he believes that citizens should be able to better influence the laws that govern the politics of technology and the technology of politics—which is why he's decided to seek a seat in the European Union Parliament.
A Swede with Finnish roots, Sunde will run as an MEP candidate for Finland's growing Pirate Party in the 2014 election. His aim is not one of simply advocating online piracy, though, which is probably how governments and corporate interests will spin his candidacy. Sunde has bigger aspirations: If it were up to him, there would be a total overhaul in how the international community handles intellectual property and copyright law. He also hopes to instigate a much larger revolution in how we view democracy and other systems.
I spoke with Sunde by email about running for the European Union Parliament, the Pirate Party, his hatred of “faceless corporate lobbyists,” and why he wished Barack Obama would have lost the 2012 election.
Motherboard: You're running for a seat because you want to create an alternative perspective in the European Union Parliament (EUP). Can you describe your platform for those unfamiliar with the Pirate Party?
Peter Sunde: Well, even though I'm a candidate for the Pirate Party, I'm not actually a member. The PP platform is based on transferring those liberties we have in the analog world into the future, which is much more dependent upon the digital. The party and I are very in sync here, but I also have other strong beliefs that are not part of the Pirate Party political platform.
I am a lefty by European standards, in that I believe people should (through a government) own infrastructure jointly. I have strong opinions on how we treat animals, and I might be in favor of putting a higher tax on meat (or lowering the ones on veggies). I also believe we need to look at how we create power in the future, and lots of other things. I've been a member of the Swedish Green Party at the same time as the Swedish Socialist Party. Both are very progressive parties, though they're not always in sync with their other European counterparts.
If elected, what would be the first thing you'd do as an MEP?
I need to answer with something flamboyant or funny here, right? Honestly, I think it would be to send t-shirts to the Hollywood representatives with text like, "I bribed people all over the world to get my way in life, but all I got was this lousy t-shirt” or something like that. [Laughs]
If elected, how do you think a meeting with a corporate lobbyist might play out? These are the people who have led the charge against The Pirate Bay. Wouldn't it be a bit strange suddenly sitting across from them, trying to come to an agreement on patent and copyright laws?
I've met these people numerous times, but they're all faceless people you can't remember. They are lawyers and lobbyists that don't really care about the issue. They're only paid to do their work, and at 5 o'clock they go home and shop for a new car and some porn with their filthy paycheck. I would do as I've always done and tell them to go screw themselves. I think it might bite me in the ass to maintain my normal persona (not wearing a suit might be an issue in the EUP), but I won't change for anyone.
How are things going with Flattr?
Good! New features are popping up and we're seeing growth that we didn't expect. I'm happy about it, but always want more users to join.
Are people using Flattr as a means of donating to your EU Parliament campaign?
I haven't asked for any contributions, and I try to do things without using money—it feels more real and honest. And since I'm running for a democratic seat, I'd prefer getting it without the money pushing me to a winning position.
You and many others feel that patent law, intellectual property and copyright laws need to be reformed, both internationally and on various domestic fronts. Do you feel that there are people in the EU Parliament with whom you could work?
What I see is more of an age and cultural difference when it comes to these matters, rather than political background. Younger people (under 40ish) are usually quite understanding when it comes to these issues. The Green group and, to some extent, the Socialist group in the EU parliament are quite open to these ideas. The Swedish Pirate Party already have two elected politicians in the EU parliament. They joined the Green group and have been influencing them quite a lot. They've really done a great job, but more work needs to be done.
I think that with some education, and a bit of focus on these issues media-wise (as we had with ACTA, SOPA, PIPA, and so on), we could influence the majority and make them understand that we can't just listen to monied interests in discussions about our future foundations.
You told TorrentFreak that you also tried to recruit Kim Dotcom to run for for an EUP seat in Finland. I assume he's just too busy with Mega now, but did you get the sense that he might run in the future?
We've talked a bit about things, in general. I think he's in a bubble of fighting, and I know what that means—you can't really do anything besides be angry. To focus on things that are more than a few months in the future might be really hard or even unthinkable. Like others, my feelings about Kim are mixed, so I'm not sure how well he'd do for any political party. He's got a great sense for PR, but he's also quite hated (especially in Germany), which might be a problem for him.
Most people think that people hate me, but I haven't really met a lot of people that dislike me at all. Maybe 10 people during the past 10 years. But, people assign a value to what I represent rather than to who I am. I'm not sure that's the case with Kim. And he has a family that he needs to focus on. Being away on the other side of the world for five years might not be the best solution for his family.
I haven't asked for any contributions, and I try to do things without using money—it feels more real and honest.
The Pirate Party is quite clearly interested in growing in Europe. Given that US politicians, lobbyists and corporate interests really drive the international debate on copyright, patents, and piracy, does the Pirate Party have plans to recruit candidates in the US?
The Pirate Party is (from what I hear) growing in the US as well, but you have much bigger issues than just copyright over there. From an outside perspective, we Europeans can't really understand how you can call it a democracy with only two parties that are so close to each other on the issues. Yes, the problem for us outside the US is, of course, that you have so much influence over us. But, I don't think it's going to last, and I don't think it will be Europe that takes over after that. So, for me, it's more important to start influencing the Asians on how to deal with these issues.
I hope that's not too arrogant from me :) I know that some US people might have issues with us snotty Europeans having views on your country for instance.
I think a lot of Americans might agree with you—even if, on occasion, our system allows for progress (gay marriage, for instance). But the way things are, politicians still respond quickest when money is at stake. Do you see democracy as the least worst government?
Yes. But by allowing people to believe that democracy solves all problems, we're not looking for anything better than that system. When Obama got elected (and then re-elected), I was almost hoping he'd lose. For the simple reason that the crash would come sooner, and things would have to improve. People would have to do something if Sarah Palin started running your country. It would finally be a revolution.
I'm still waiting for the revolution against globalization in the rest of the world. The corruption that's eating away our systems; the false belief that democracy exists; and this idea of democracy actually being 'the solution' at all.