Swedish press: file sharing still ahead of the law

The law is still way behind filesharing technology, maintain several of Sweden's opinion columnists in the wake of the Pirate Bay verdict yesterday. Many of them see the court's sentencing as surprisingly harsh.

Skånska Dagbladet in Malmö called it “a strange kind of justice” and compared the prison sentence with that of two young offenders who received juvenile detention after they stabbed a homosexual man to death.

A conviction was appropriate, writes Värmlands Folkblad in Karlstad, but claims it is “without real effect”, it does not prevent file sharing and does not bring copyright law up to date with current technologies.

Also in Karlstad, Nya Wermlands-Tidningen calls for a dialogue and a resolution between the relevant copyright organizations and file sharers.

An important message, writes Dagens Nyheter in Stockholm. “It’s not okay to sponge off the work of artists and writers or make it easier for others to do so.” DN sees court decisions related to the EU Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive (IPRED) to be “far more important”.

“A low point was when a respected defense attorney claimed that the district court’s decision was the result of political pressure,” writes Östran in Kalmar.

The opinion writer for Arbetarbladet in Gävle wants to be renumerated for his writing.

“I’ll send any one who rips off my work to prison, if I can.” But at the same time, the writer feels that “no one under the age of 30 seems to listen” to such statements.

Västerbottens-Kuriren in Umeå finds it difficult to sympathize with the main parties involved in the case. “The basic principles of copyright law and the recognition of the fantastic opportunities offered by information technology (…) deserve a more humane representative.”

“A non-guilty verdict would have been more surprising than one handed down,” writes Göteborgs-Posten: the “surprisingly stiff” sentence is a “powerful warning to those who speak in favour of large-scale file sharing.” Expressen follows the same line of thinking and maintains that it was an “excessively severe sentence,” but that copyright law is intended to enable writers and artists to make a living.

Marx is laughing from heaven, writes Dala-Demokraten in Falun in a Marxist analysis of the situation – the productive forces are on their way to crush the relations of production.

The judgement “is just a footnote in a long process of destruction where there won’t be any winners,” writes Vestmanlands Läns Tidning in Västerås.

A controversial judgement, according to Blekinge Läns Tidning in Karlskrona. While many young people think that file sharing is natural and clearly not theft, its opponents believe the opposite to be true.

The victory for the prosecutors is almost certainty temporary, writes Upsala Nya Tidning. But the newspaper excludes the possibility that the decision is the result of political pressure, but says it is rather due to the law’s existing formulation.

Nerikes Allehanda in Örebro compared the judgement to moments in history when the introduction of audio made the silent film pianists redundant, record companies who prohibited their artists from radio broadcasts, and musicians who appealed to their fans not to record their music.

It’s not possible to prohibit the future, writes Aftonbladet, and challenges the major parties to end their affair with Hollywood.

After the battle between David and Goliath, Sundsvalls Tidning expects a legal deal between Goliath and Goliath – the entertainment industry and Google where copyrighted films and files can be removed at the touch of a button.

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ANALYSIS: The conservative Swedish news site that crashed and burned

How did a would-be "Swedish New York Times" rise and fall only months after its launch – and what lessons can the media world learn from the story of Bulletin, asks journalism professor Christian Christensen in this opinion piece.

ANALYSIS: The conservative Swedish news site that crashed and burned
Bulletin was marketed as a place where Swedes on the political right could feel at home. Photo: Helena Landstedt/TT

I imagine a Swedish newspaper inspired by the UK’s quality press or their American counterparts – such as the Times of London, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Which makes a distinction between news and views, between news and opinion, and which strives to make its readers more enlightened, rather than to pursue an agenda.

These words were published in late December 2020 by Paulina Neuding, editor-in-chief of the newly launched online newspaper, Bulletin. Four months later, Neuding and almost the entire editorial staff, had left Bulletin after a series of embarrassing mistakes, organisational shake-ups and a brutal public conflict with ownership. Taking over as the new editor? A former senior staffer from the New York Times who cannot read or speak Swedish, knows little about Sweden and who will edit the paper from his home in New Jersey.

How did we get here?

Marketing itself as a place where Swedes on the political right could feel at home, Bulletin was created, Neuding wrote last year, to provide “liberal conservative” opinion combined with “evidence-based and neutral” reporting. These comments were made within a very specific context: conservatives in Sweden consider mainstream Swedish media outlets to be predominantly leftist or centre-leftist in ideology. The national public service television (SVT) and radio (SR) channels are particular targets of the right, with steady accusations of leftist bias. Research, however, shows that claims of leftist bias in Swedish news media, including public service broadcasting, are without merit.

So, Bulletin was born. Investors put down around 8 million Swedish kronor (around €800,000); well-known media columnists and personalities signed on to give the site name recognition; and, Swedish media (mainstream and social) gave Bulletin a great deal of coverage and free advertising. If the hype was to be believed, Bulletin could be an interesting case of a new, “high quality” right-wing news outlet entering the Swedish media market.

Despite the PR and hype, however, Bulletin imploded in what can only be described as the most spectacular of fashions.

For all of the lofty talk of inspiration from highbrow Anglo-American publications, Bulletin was always more likely to resemble the anti-immigration Daily Mail Online, or a slightly more serious version of Fox News, than the New York Times or Wall Street Journal. Multiple commentators in Sweden noted that the purpose of Bulletin, rooted largely in the ideology of the primary financiers of the project, was to serve as a messenger for the anti-immigration conservative right.

The content during the early weeks of the publication only confirmed this. Heavy on re-hashed wire service stories and opinion pieces, and thin on actual journalism, Bulletin marked itself with stories and articles centering around immigrants and immigration, and particularly those related to crime and cultural clashes. Evidence of “evidence-based” reporting in the vein of the New York Times was almost non-existent.

But, as it would turn out, low-quality anti-immigrant content was the least of Bulletin’s problems. The outlet was marked from the outset by deep and fundamental structural problems, as well as the presence of owners who saw Bulletin as their own, personal messaging system.

Read more opinions about life in Sweden:

After just two months on the job, Paulina Neuding inexplicably stepped down as editor-in-chief, handing the reins to former columnist Ivar Arpi. As would be revealed later, after discovering that a Bulletin co-owner had published an article on the site without her knowledge, Neuding had the piece removed. The resulting conflict led to her stepping down.

Only a few weeks later, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published a piece showing that Bulletin had plagiarised over 20 news articles, with material taken verbatim from press releases, wire service articles and even other media outlets. Adding to the crisis, free speech expert Nils Funcke argued in a separate article that Bulletin did not have the proper legal structure in place to offer their sources protection and anonymity; and, in addition, the lack of proper legal structure made those who wrote the stories legally responsible for the content, rather than the publisher (the standard for Swedish news outlets). In short, Bulletin was nothing like an actual news outlet.

At the start of March, the wheels had come off, and open warfare broke out between Bulletin owners and editorial staff. Senior editors accused owners of undermining editorial integrity by using the platform to publish personal pieces without oversight. Owners, on the other hand, accused editors of being both dishonest and incompetent. Publicly. On Facebook. An audio recording was even leaked to the media trade newspaper Journalisten documenting a heated meeting between Bulletin staff and owners. The situation became untenable, and by the end of March editor-in-chief Arpi and several other senior staff announced their resignations.

What are the lessons of Bulletin?

First, the story exposed the fallacy of the idea that if you combine well-known media “personalities” with some money and hype, you can overcome an almost total absence of editorial experience and organisational structure. Bulletin put all of its eggs into the celebrity basket by recruiting famous conservative columnists who had little or no experience either editing a daily newspaper or starting a news organisation from the ground up. The results became immediately obvious to anyone who actually looked at the website.

Second, Bulletin is a classic case study of media owners who think that their investment gives them the automatic right to dictate the content of their outlets. This is nothing new, of course, and owners influencing content – either directly or indirectly – is a feature of many privately controlled outlets around the world. What is unusual in the case of Bulletin, however, is how explicit and how public was the exposure of that tension.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Bulletin is a particularly brutal case study in reaping what you sow. The investors, and many of the media personalities they recruited, made their names by attacking the ideological biases and political agendas of mainstream outlets in general, and public broadcasting in particular, as well as advocating for increased freedom (often in form of the free market) from what they see as an oppressive state apparatus. And what happened? The media personalities ended up working for an outlet that displayed the bluntest forms of corporate bias and owner interference. Those who resigned from Bulletin were not simply victims of aggressive owners. They were, first and foremost, early and willing participants in a media venture that reflected a worldview they had themselves pushed and defended.

That this conservative outlet, which published multiple opinion pieces lamenting the decline of Swedish culture, is now edited by someone sitting in a foreign country who is literally unable to read the stories he publishes is perhaps the perfect conclusion to a tale of media failure.

Christian Christensen is a professor of journalism at Stockholm University in Sweden.