Swedish Pirate Party Raises U.S. ISP Throttling Issues

Published May 31, 2016

Global intellectual property and net neutrality are emerging as important issues in the Swedish Parliament. The country’s Piratepartiet – the Pirate Party — announced it is running in this fall’s parliamentary elections so that it can escape prosecution for peer-to-peer sharing copies of music and video that may violate U.S. copyright restrictions.

Formed in 2006, The Piratepartiet is the world’s first Pirate party. Pirate parties are currently active in more than 40 countries. The Piratepartiet currently only polls 7 percent of Swedish voter share. If they are successful in the Sept. 19 parliamentary election,  they promise to host a peer-to-peer sharing site from within the Swedish Parliament. 

The ascendancy of the Piratepartiet has implications for the U.S. network neutrality debate as it could lead to music companies pressuring telecommunication companies to “throttle” the Internet connection of the Swedish Parliament, a potentially explosive international issue, according to Sascha Meinrath, a telecommunications analyst at the New America Foundation in Washington, DC.

Civil Disobedience
Meinrath says that the Piratepartiet is perhaps engaged in a form of civil disobedience because of an overly harsh U.S. copyright regime that is not conducive to promoting economic growth.
“The Swedish Pirate Party’s goal is to point out the more egregious facets of contemporary copyright law,” said Meinrath.  “Given that copyright exists ‘to promote the progress of science and useful arts’ and is supposed to last only for a limited time, the fact that it’s been expanded from 14 years to 95 years (and longer in many cases) completely undermines its purpose.

Within this context, the Pirate Party are engaged in acts of civil disobedience to raise awareness that our fair use rights are becoming ever-increasingly restricted.”
Meinrath does not think that it would legal for Internet providers to discriminate and “throttle” the Swedish Parliament if the Piratepartiet were to setup Pirate Bay within the legislature’s online service.  He believes it is smart legally for telecommunication companies to avoid this issue entirely because a policy of nonengagement will spare them from potential liability suits from music and movie companies.

Network Neutrality Issues
“As for ISPs, they should never be involved in the process of content identification and discrimination in the first place,” said Meinrath.  “We have laws on the books to deal with copyright infringement and legal processes for copyright holders to avail themselves to recourse.  In terms of the U.S. network neutrality debate, in much the same way that the builders of roads and electrical grids aren’t involved in deciding what content can be transported or generated with their services, ISPs should likewise stay out of copyright enforcement.  This not only protects end users, it’s the smart option for ensuring that ISPs are not held liable for the actions of their customers,” he said.

James Gattuso, a senior research fellow in regulatory studies at the Heritage Foundation, who has been closely following developments in the net neutrality debate, on the other hand, says that it would be legal for American telecommunication companies to throttle because of recent court rulings in America. He cited the April U.S. Court of Appeals victory of Comcast over the Federal Communications Commission in which Comcast’s legal right to throttle was affirmed.

“That was the core of the court’s decision — that Comcast could “throttle,” Gattuso said. “The Comcast position was that peer-to-peer networks take up a disproportionate capacity of their network and there is some evidence of that, it is not an unreasonable option, and they had at their disposal several options of maintaining the capacity of their network and they chose “throttling” but the Federal Communications Commission came in and said no, but the court said that was too much of a stretch of the Commission’s authority.”

Gattuso says, however, that telecommunication companies will be very reluctant to engage in throttling the Swedish Parliament. “The situation [in Sweden] is very speculative…. However, throttling is not the ISPs’ first choice, because if you are a company, you want people to use your network, you want people to use your service…. There is no incentive to drive people off.”

Thomas Cheplick ([email protected]) writes from Cambridge, Massachusetts.