I never intended to become a politician. I most certainly never intended to become a party leader. I did, however, have the desire to change the world for the better. I was never one for small ambitions. But being a self confessed literary snob, I expected to change the world with nothing less than literary finesse. The mere thought of picking up an unrefined and blunt tool like politics… The horror. The horror.
However, life rarely turns out the way you expect it to. Some years ago I became the head of the Swedish branch of a Nordic publishing house. We mainly published fiction. But the world of publishing is not all it is cracked up to be. I attended publishing meetings where publishing decisions were made based on the cup size of the author. Big cups meant a signed contract. Small cups meant no contract at all.
Literary finesse was not an asset that was appreciated. I once managed to sidestep the cup rule and convinced my boss that we should publish Jeanette Winterson because of her literary merit. Later, I realised that in his mind it was all about giving the publishing house an air of literary standard that we were otherwise painfully lacking. For me it had always been about helping Nordic readers to find this gem of a novelist. I had to fight so hard to honour the publishing house’s commitment to Winterson, that my boss came to think of me as a problem. Apparently I was wrong to think that a publishing contract should be honoured by both author and publisher, not only the author. But if literary prowess came in cup sizes, Winerson would have a triple F. I think Paulo Coelho has a small A, yet somehow we published him anyway.
Later, after I quit my job at the publishing house, I wrote a novel and got the opportunity to see the publishing business from an author’s perspective. I was one of the lucky few that got my novel published by three very well reputed publishing houses in Sweden, Norway and Finland. Yet, lucky as I was, I was not one of the lucky five percent that get ninety-five percent of the marketing money. I offered to pull my own weight and do a lot of the marketing myself, but, although I was, of course, not forbidden to do so, I was discouraged. I got a feeling that any attempts of my own, would interfere with how things were normally done and both the publishing house and my agent liked to stick to their routines. Routines are safe.
Around this time two things happened. In the world of publishing a new topic of conversation surfaced in the publishing world. Normally the publishing world sticks to two topics. Authors complain about publishers and publishers complain about authors. Everybody is so used to this tug of war that they do it almost subconsciously, but suddenly both teams scrambled over to one end of the rope and pulled together with all their might. A common enemy had entered the field. Pirates.
In the real world, outside of the publishing bubble, people started to discuss personal integrity. My right to my private life has always been important to me, so I followed the debate with a keen eye and was abhorred by the new new surveillance laws that were being proposed by the government of Sweden and by the EU in the wake of 9/11. However, I had no idea about what I could do about it all.
Regarding the pirate issue, I did not lack ideas about what to do. I united with my colleagues in the publishing world and this time no-one stopped me from pulling my weight. I wrote a pastiche of Marc Antony’s funeral speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that had a nice air of fire and brimstone to it. There is no need to go into all the gory details of all the poetic and dramatic flaws in my pastiche, I think it is quite sufficient to say that I was burying copyright and that the (not so) honourable men were pirates.
I had heard quite a bit about pirates, so I expected an army of angry pirates boarding my blog, but I was gravely disappointed. Instead, I got one friendly pirate ship after another that sailed up alongside me and waved and said: “Hello! You seem to be a nice girl, but you seem to have sailed aground. Can we help?” I was quite annoyed. Where were the angry and rude pirates that I had heard of? Was I going to miss out on an invigorating fight?
I am a well mannered girl who finds it hard to be rude to nice people that want to talk to me, so I started talking to the pirates. I took a couple of weeks off from work and spent all my time talking to pirates and anti pirates. I wanted to know all there was to know. Something was rotten on the Internet and I was not so sure it was the pirates any more.
After a week or so, I realised that when I talked to anti pirates, they did not give me any answers. They were all doom and gloom and talked about how good it used to be in the good old days. The pirates gave me answers, albeit not always the ones I wanted. I asked how I would be able to control my work, and they said: “You can’t. You never could.” I asked how I would make money in a world were my work was available free online, and they said: “You have to find new ways.” But they said other things as well. When they talked about the future they talked about wonderful possibilities. The anti pirates talked with grim voices, the pirates spoke with voices filled with hope and creativity.
Two of the first positive and hopeful pirates that contacted me were the Swedish Pirate Party’s then vice party leader and now EU parliamentarian, Christian Engström, and the party’s founder and then party leader, Rick Falkvinge. Christian wrote a long blog post answering all my questions from a pirate perspective and Rick took a step further. He suggested a cup of coffee.
By then, I had already come to the conclusion that pirates were not the root of all evil, but rather the only hope that culture has left in this world. After all, I had chosen to work with books because I love culture and I had seen enough of the publishing industry to know that the industry was more of a problem than a solution for both literature and writers. At least the pirates were in it for all the right reasons.
The pirates did not want to lock culture up in copyright and only let the highest bidder sneak a peak. They wanted to let it roam freely. They wanted it to belong to all of us. And, quite apart from popular, lobby sponsored understanding, they did not want artists to live in poverty in a shoebox on a motorway. They wanted to find ways for artists to earn money. They searched for new solutions to an old problem that had been there long before there even were any pirates.
I had also discovered a side of the pirates that I had not known was there. They cared as much about their private lives as I did about mine, and more importantly, they had an idea about how they were going to clog the machinery for Big Brother politicians with shady agendas. I was intrigued.
I do not remember what Rick and I talked about over that cup of coffee. I do remember that it felt a bit like a job interview. Today, I cannot help thinking that maybe it was. I do not know if it was desperation or a lack of a sixth sense for trouble, but the pirates took me in.
I say desperation, because I think the Pirate Party’s abundance of technically skilled people left them in dire need of someone from the cultural side of things. If nothing else for publicity reasons. It is harder to rebut an ex-publisher and author who talks about reforming copyright, than a person that has never had to rely on royalty for a living. I think, in a way, that the Pirate Party thought like my ex boss did when he said yes to publishing Jeanette Winterson: “It’s good publicity. It will give us credibility.” Well, I think it gave them more than that.
I say lack of a sixth sense for trouble, because I am not sure that everybody knew what they did when they brought in a person like me in to their technical midst. If they thought I would be a nice cultural alibi, they were wrong. There must be room for pirates who are not programmers and if there is no room, we will have to make room. How else will we be able to reach all the people that need to hear what we have to say?
As I mentioned in the beginning, I did not intend to become a politician. I did not intend to become a party leader. I think the same could be said about Rick, but he still ended up founding a party and leading it for five years. He did it because he believed that it is possible to change the world. I share his belief. We can make the world a better place. We must not let anybody stop us from pulling our weight and we must inspire others to do the same. There is too much at stake not to care.