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The Register joins The Pirate Party

...in a mass debate

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It's the most controversial choice of guest for years - not the BNP on the BBC, but something that caused almost as much controversy.

The Pirate Party founder Rik Falkvinge made his first UK address at the In The City music festival convention and conference this weekend. And I took part in the panel that followed.

Yvette Livesey, who's run the Manchester event since she founded it along with her partner, the late Tony Wilson, in 1992, alluded to pressure from the music business to cancel his appearance. A call apparently went round for delegates to cancel, though we have no corroboration of this.

"I haven't been in trouble at all with some very important people in the music industry," Livesey joked. "They've been shouting at me for the past month. But I do believe in freedom of speech, it's very very important to have these debates. If we'd had them ten years ago we wouldn't be in the position we are now in, in the music industry."

Falkvinge's solo keynote address was changed to "a keynote discussion" - which is where I came in. The panel also included Patrick Roscow of composers' group BASCA, and technology entrepreneur Paul Sanders, who's on the Open Rights Group Advisory Board, as well as the BPI - a most unusual combination, although he did say the large record companies wanted him dead.

What we actually got, largely thanks to Sanders, was a deep discussion on P2P and where copyright could go. By the end, too, some of the veils had fallen away from Falkvinge's carefully tuned presentation - and there was some amazement as the Pirate's position was eventually made clear. One member of the audience, astonished that Falkvinge could advocate copyright expiry after just five years, vowed to burn him at the stake.

"Fuck you," was the conclusion of Dave Smith of Sparkle Street. More on that later.

What made the panel interesting was the composition - which defied media wisdom of a polarised debate that pits terminators against P2P-ers. A majority of the panellists, if not all of them (I can't speak for Roscow, and he doesn't answer his phone) were in favour of file sharing. Falkvinge wants legalised file sharing too, but differs from the others in insisting that the creator's rights must be compromised to permit it to happen legally. If this distinction wasn't clear at the start, it was by the end.

I'm not really into banning odious political speakers, and was delighted that ITC had booked a Pirate. The philosophy the Pirates express might not be very coherent (single issue groups struggle on anything other than their single issue) but it is reflected in big chunks of academia, the media (particularly at the BBC) and amongst some "think tanks" and policy makers. I heard this year, for example, that one part of Whitehall was mulling ending automatic registration of copyright. This gesture would not only have breached the Berne Convention but required all authors, songwriters, journalists, poets and software writers (to name but a few) to opt in.

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