Page last updated at 17:48 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 18:48 UK

Why the pirates are on the rise in Sweden

Watch Matt Prodger's full report on the rise of the Swedish Pirates

Newsnight's Matt Prodger visits Sweden's Peace and Love music festival in Borlange to investigate what it is about the Swedes that has put them at the heart of a raging debate about internet freedom.

For 24-hour party people a visit to the land of the midnight sun is a must. For one thing, the Swedes are serious when it comes to having fun - and at this time of year the sun never sets.

The Pirate Party doesn't want to be perceived as a bunch of computer hackers that just want to download the latest Angelina Jolie movie for free
Katrine Kielos, Aftonbladet columnist

And so it is that I find myself at the Peace and Love festival in Borlänge long after bedtime, negotiating a sea of tents which stretches far into the blood-red glow of a night-long dusk .

I am here to try to find out what it is about Swedes that has put them at the heart of a raging debate about internet freedom.

It is estimated - but nobody really knows - that at least one in 10 Swedes swap music illegally via BitTorrent file-sharing websites like Sweden's notorious Pirate Bay, and it is thought that in 2008, some 15m films were illegally downloaded here.

'Sharing is caring'

Sitting in the shelter of a waist-high pile of beer crates I find my target demographic - a group of music-loving festival-goers.

Out of the five of them, three voted for the Pirate Party in this year's European elections, helping to put a representative, Christian Engström, into the European Parliament.

Rick Falkvinge
Falkvinge's Pirate Party won seven percent of the vote in the EU elections

Twenty-year-old Erik Lennermo explains why he voted for the Pirate Party.

"Civil rights. Everybody has a right of privacy for their own e-mails, SMS messages and phone calls. File-sharing is just a small bit of the whole cake."

His friend Daniel Gustavsson's support for the Pirate Party is more straightforward: "I just care about the file-sharing," he says. "Sharing is caring."

Such views have propelled the country into what Swedish MP Camilla Lindberg describes as the biggest political debate for 20 years.

At its heart is a controversial law passed in parliament last year.

Known as the FRA Law, in honour of the Swedish electronic intelligence agency, equivalent to Britain's GCHQ, it permits the monitoring of international phone calls, e-mail and internet traffic.

Some of the world's most powerful computers will scan all cross-border e-traffic in real time for a quarter of a million trigger words and phrases that the security services believe warrant further investigation.

And it can be done without judicial oversight.

Anti-terror necessity

In the UK the Home Office recently put out to consultation proposals which would give GCHQ similar powers.

Erik Lennermo
Erik said he voted for the party because of its civil rights stance

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told Newsnight the law is directed not at file-sharers, but terrorists:

"I think we struck a clear balance between integrity… and security," he said.

"Take for instance a bomb blowing up in Stockholm or London - a lot of the electorate would ask me 'What did you do [to prevent it]?'

"For a long time we haven't seen such things in Sweden, and then it's very easy to say we don't need (the FRA Law). But I have to take a long-term responsibility."

Popular support

But that argument does not wash with Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge, who advocates reforming copyright laws to allow free file-sharing, downloading, and the right to copy everything from the latest Hollywood blockbuster to patented pharmaceuticals.

"The thing is you can't just monitor some internet traffic," he told me. "In order to find out what you want to see you need to see all of it. It's not about swapping music as such. It's about the Big Brother society that is being set up using the excuse of catching file-sharers.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt
The Swedish PM says the FRA law is designed to combat terrorism

"We know where this road ends, even though each step of the way can be justified, because so many societies have been down it before."

To make the point, activists deluged Swedish parliamentarians with copies of George Orwell's totalitarian satire 1984 ahead of last year's vote.

Yet among MPs in the ruling coalition, only Camilla Lindberg of the Liberal People's Party voted against the wiretapping law.

"Two weeks before the vote last year we had big demonstrations, 10,000 people here," she says, pointing at the parliament building in Stockholm.

"Each MP got thousands of emails… suddenly I realised I'm not the only one against this. It's people from the left and right, young and old feel the same thing."

But why Sweden? Part of it is, of course, the country's technological prowess.

While Finland has Nokia, Sweden gave us Ericsson. Swedes enjoy some of the highest - and fastest - rates of connectivity in the world, a development that has been spurred by necessity because of the country's sparsely populated geography.

Cultural differences

And then there is Sweden's liberal culture, part of which is the principle of Allemansratten.

"Allemansratten means everyone's right. It's an important part of Swedish culture and identity," Katrine Kielos, a columnist on Sweden's best-selling daily tabloid Aftonbladet, explained to me.

We are going to put the record industry out of business... we are very much looking forward to that
Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge

"It means that the law of trespass is very weak in Sweden, so you have the right to access somebody's property in a way that is not possible in other countries."

Ms Kielos' tutorial in Allemansratten came as we stood together on the roof of Sweden's historic parliament building.

This would be trespass pretty much anywhere else in the world. Here, the only restriction on my Stockholm rooftop tour is a safety harness.

"The Pirate Party doesn't want to be perceived as a bunch of computer hackers that just want to download the latest Angelina Jolie movie for free," she said.

"So they're trying to frame this issue in the way of Allemansratten because this is something that resonates a lot in Swedish culture."

Political kingmaker

According to political analyst Stig-Bjorn Ljunggren if, as expected, the Pirate Party wins seats in the Swedish parliament in elections next year, it could well find itself the kingmaker between the country's two established political blocs.

"You have two blocks in parliament: one green and red, and one blue. And if a third party comes into parliament they could choose which one of these two parties will form a government.

"They (the Pirate Party) will sell the post of prime minister to the party that gives most to them," he said.

On the roof of the parliament building
Talking 'Allemansratten' on the roof of Sweden's parliament building

And the prime minister has not ruled out doing a deal with the party.

Some musicians and artists, like Abba's Bjorn Ulvaeus, have spoken out against the Pirate Party, but few will go on the record because the debate is so explosive.

An exception is Alexandar Bard, a musician behind 100 Swedish top 40 hits, and latterly an academic specialising in the internet.

He says file-sharing is killing the Swedish music industry: "Six years ago Sweden was the third biggest producer of music in the world and last year we were only the ninth.

"So today in Sweden it's impossible to get a recording contract because there are no record companies around to sign with. It means you can't get paid for making music and you can't get a budget to make music.

"File-sharing is not a big issue politically, it's not like climate change or the environment. And the Pirate Party has turned it into a big issue to win votes."

But Pirate Party founder Mr Falkvinge is unrepentant.

"We are going to put the record industry out of business", he says. "And we are very much looking forward to that."

And like the Vikings of yore, the pirates' philosophy has spread far and wide. Independent pirate parties have sprung up in dozens of countries across the world. It is now a global battle.

Watch Matt Prodger's film in full on Newsnight on Wednesday 22 July 2009 at 10.30pm on BBC Two, then on the Newsnight website.

Swedish pirates capture EU seat
08 Jun 09 |  Technology
Court jails Pirate Bay founders
17 Apr 09 |  Technology
Q&A: Pirate Bay verdict
17 Apr 09 |  Business

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2018 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific