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OPINION

FILE-SHARING

‘Sweden must act now to stop online piracy’

Internet providers make huge sums of money by not cracking down on piracy sites, argue researchers Karl Lallerstedt and Waldemar Ingdahl.

'Sweden must act now to stop online piracy'
Almost a third of Swedes watch movies illegally. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

According to the Swedish Patent and Registration Office, around 80 percent of the value of Swedish businesses is comprised of intangible assets. To Sweden's knowledge economy, these assets are becoming increasingly important for growth, export and tax revenue.

Meanwhile almost a third of Swedes admit that they commit intellectual property infringements by watching films via illicit online sites. Few are able to muster any sympathy for the billion dollar industry in Hollywood, which loses a few kronor every time someone watches a movie without paying. This is precisely the reason why very little has happened to stop the emergence of a huge illegal market.

It is David versus Goliath, where Goliath is the film industry and David is the little pirate. This is a view many have embraced, but presents a grossly misleading picture of reality.

First, the “pirates” providing copied films are no longer happy amateurs. According to calculations in our new report 'Illicit file sharing and streaming: An ecosystem perspective', leading piracy sites make more than an estimated 30 million kronor ($3.5 million) a year.

But the really important point is that the piracy sites actually earn very little compared to the value they destroy for the copyright holders, and above all, other players indirectly make considerably more on this illegal trade. It is estimated that almost a quarter of total online traffic is driven by piracy. Advertisers on piracy sites, search engines that drive internet users to the sites and payment solutions that charge for the transactions all earn more than the pirates themselves. However, the really big winners of the extensive traffic related to intellectual property infringement online are the internet operators. More traffic means increased demand for faster and more expensive internet access and greater demand for mobile data.

According to our calculations, such revenue for Swedish internet providers potentially exceeds two-and-a-half billion kronor a year, much more than the pirate sites earn. In addition, internet providers are uniquely placed to prevent copyright infringement; they have unique insight into their customers online activity and are able to block websites.

Sweden's “piracy debate” has the wrong focus. It should not be on the pirates. The basic problem is that the biggest players in the digital ecosystem enable extensive piracy and moreover earn huge sums on doing so.

Considering that internet providers earn an estimated two-and-a-half billion kronor and more on traffic generated by piracy, it is relevant that Sweden has a minister for culture who represents a party which rather than reducing this theft wants to legalize file sharing.

Perhaps it is not perceived as a particularly strategic issue if people copy a few movies, music and computer games. But the reality is that this is billions of kronor of revenue lost, and it does not affect “entertainment” alone. Map services, e-books and professional software are also very much affected.

The fact that almost a third of Swedes say they steal copyrighted material indicates that the digital market, which is a prerequisite for the emerging knowledge economy, is dysfunctional. The state has failed in its mission to maintain law and order and protect private property. In the process, the state apparatus has meanwhile lost important tax revenue. A similar theft rate in any other area would have caused an outcry.

As the knowledge economy grows, even bigger sums will be lost due to the ongoing mass theft of intangible assets. Eventually Culture Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke, of the Green Party, or her successor, will have to face the music and admit that “we have been too naive”. Let's hope this happens sooner rather than later.

Although it is politically inconvenient to act, theft of intellectual assets is too important to ignore. Mark Getty, co-founder of photo agency Getty Images, has said: “Intellectual property is the oil of the 21st century. Look at the richest men a hundred years ago: they all made their money extracting natural resources or moving them around. All today's richest men have made their money out of intellectual property.”

Sweden is ranked as the third most innovative country in the 2015 Global Innovation Index. Sweden's interest in defending intellectual property is crystal clear.

There are a number of important areas in which our elected officials have to do more. Some of the most critical are:

1. If market self-regulation does not work, the state has a responsibility to enforce responsible behaviour through legislation. Internet providers cannot be allowed to keep ignoring the theft they are both enabling and making money from.

2. The public should be informed that illegal streaming and file sharing exposes users to heightened risk of their computers being infected by malware and cyber crime. Cyber security is becoming increasingly important and targeted information campaigns could play an important role in minimizing risk behaviour.

3. The justice system needs more resources and opportunities to proactively combat intellectual property crime. Today's resources are totally inadequate in relation to the extent of the theft. The money used to protect intellectual property should not be seen as a cost, but rather as an investement which will contribute to increased economic growth and tax revenue.

This is a translation of an opinion piece first published by Dagens Nyheter. It is written by Karl Lallerstedt, co-founder of Black Market Watch, and science journalist Waldemar Ingdahl, who have co-authored the report 'Illicit file sharing and streaming: An ecosystem perspective'.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Chemical crayfish’: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

It's time for this year's "kräftskivor", Swedish crayfish-eating parties! A cause for celebration? Not if the Swedish media has its way.

'Chemical crayfish': Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

Sweden’s main newswire this week ran a story warning that an analysis of the eight brands of Swedish crayfish available in the country’s supermarkets contained elevated levels of PFAS, a persistent pollutant which can damage your liver and kidneys, disrupt your hormones, and even cause cancer. 

But don’t worry. If you weigh 70kg or more, you can still safely eat as many as six of the outsized prawn-like crustaceans a week without being in the risk zone. 

While I’m sure the news story, which was covered by pretty much every paper, is accurate, it is also part of a grand Swedish media tradition: running miserable, killjoy news stories whenever there’s a sign that people might be planning to have a bit of festive fun. 

The two public service broadcasters, Swedish Radio (SR) and Swedish Television (SVT) are by far the worst offenders, their reporters unusually skilled at finding a downbeat, depressing angle for every public celebration. 

To give readers a sense of the genre, we’ve spent half an hour or so searching through the archives. 

‘This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is’ (and other yuletide cheer)

Source: Screenshot/SR

Christmas is a time for good food, drinking a little too much, and cheery decorations to ward away the winter darkness. But have you considered the risks?

SR has.

In “This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is”, a local reporter in Kronoberg looked into the possibility that your tree might have been sprayed with pesticide, or if not, might be covered in pests you will then bring into your house. 

By far the most common recurring Christmas story reflects Sweden’s guilt-loaded relationship with alcohol. 

You might enjoy a few drinks at Christmas, but what about the trauma you are inflicting on your children?

In this typically festive report from SVT in Uppsala, a doctor asks, ‘why wait for the New Year to give up alcohol? Why not start before Christmas?’, while the reporter notes that according to the children’s rights charity BRIS, one in five children in Sweden has a parent with an alcohol problem, with many finding drunk adults both “alarming and unpleasant”. 

God Jul! 

The Swedish media finds ways to make you feel guilty about the food you eat at Christmas too. You might enjoy a slap-up Christmas dinner, but what about those who suffer from an eating disorder? SVT asked in this important, but less than cheery, story published in the run-up to the big day. “This is the worst time of the year,” Johanna Ahlsten, who suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, told the reporter. 

Don’t you just love a cosy Christmas fire? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. A seasonal favourite in Sweden’s media is to run warnings from the local fire services on the risk of Christmas house fires. Here’s some advice from SVT in Blekinge on how to avoid burning your house down. 
 
Those Christmas lights. So mysigt. But have you ever added up how much those decorations might be adding to your electricity bill? SVT has. Read about it all here
 
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that people in Sweden get the chance to go and visit their relatives and loved ones over Christmas.
 
Well, it’s wonderful if you’re a burglar! Here’s SVT Jämtland on the risk of house break-ins over the Christmas period. 
 
Eat cheese to protect your teeth! and other Easter advice 
 
 
“Eat cheese after soda”. Good advice from Swedish Radio. Photo: Screenshot/Richard Orange
 
For the Swedish media, Easter is a fantastic opportunity to roll out all the same stories about the risks of open fires and alcohol abuse, and that they do. But the Easter celebration has an additional thing to be worried about: excess consumption of chocolate and sweets. 
 
Here’s Swedish Radio, with a helpful piece of advice to protect your teeth from all that sugary ‘påskmust’, Sweden’s Easter soft drink. “Eat cheese!”. 
 
Yes, you and your children might enjoy eating all those pick-and-mix sweets packed into a decorated cardboard egg, but have you thought who else has had their grubby hands on them? SVT has. In this less than joyous Easter article  a reporter gives viewers the lowdown on “how hygienic are pick-and-mix sweets?” (According to the doctor they interview, sugar acts as an antibacterial agent, so they are in fact less dangerous than the newsroom probably hoped). 
 
Perhaps though, it’s better to avoid those unhealthy sweets altogether, and instead cram your mouth with healthy raw food alternatives, as SVT advises in this Easter report
 
Aren’t daffodils lovely? Well they’re not if you’re a dog. They’re deadly, according to this Easter report from Swedish Radio on all the “dangers lurking for pets over Easter“.
 
Glad Påsk!
 
Midsommar drowning  
 
Midsommar, again, has all the same possibilities for worried articles about excess drinking etc, but in the summer there’s the added risk of drowning. 
 
From Midsummer until the start of August, the temp reporters who take over Sweden’s newsrooms as everyone else goes on their summer holidays churn out a steady stream of drowning stories, all of them with a slightly censorious tone. After all, most of these accidents are really about excess drinking.
 
Here’s SVT Västmanland tallying up the Midsummer weekend’s death toll in a typical story of Midsommar misery. 
 
So, what is the reason for the Swedish media’s taste for removing as much mirth from festivities as possible?
 
It’s partly because Sweden’s media, unlike that of many other countries, sees its public information role as at least as important as entertaining or interesting readers, so an editor is likely to choose a potentially useful story over a heart-warming one. 
 
This is the aspect of the Swedish media beautifully captured by the singer Lou Reed when talking about how he’s more scared in Sweden than in New York in the film Blue in the Face
 
“You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York, no.” 
 
But it is also reflects the puritanical streak that runs straight through Swedish society, leading to a powerful temperance movement, which meant that by 1908, a staggering 85 percent of Socialist parliamentarians in Sweden were teetotallers.
Sweden is now a liberal country where you can get good food and drink, and enjoy a decent nightlife, but sometimes that old puritanism bubbles up.
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