Freedom Warrior

Rickard Falkvinge is in love with the Internet and will do anything he can to protect it. And we should be doing the same. Because “the Internet was built to connect people, and that creates the most beautiful opportunities.”

No other ship of war ever knew as ignoble an end as the Vasa, and yet she still takes pride of place. The three-master ship, decorated with hundreds of wildly ornate lions and warriors carved in wood, once offered berth to 64 cannons. That turned out to be too many: the ship was not seaworthy. But King Gustav II Adolph of Sweden had ordered it to be built for carrying a record number of cannons, and no one dared contradict him.

When the Vasa left the harbor of Stockholm in 1628, she sank before she’d made it one mile. It took only the slightest of breezes to capsize the top-heavy Vasa. Dozens of passengers drowned as she sank to the seabed. Much later, the three-master was fished out of her seaman’s grave, and today she is showcased in a beautiful museum. Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors come here to learn all about the glorious sea battles of the Swedes. Those tourists are probably unaware that the city has once again become a capital of ambitious seafarers, now that a 21st-century pirate has turned up in Stockholm. But today the battle has shifted to waves of streaming data. He has no ships under his command, but one thing is certain: he has already gone farther than the Vasa ever dreamed of sailing.

Laptop tucked under his arm, Rick Falkvinge is waiting on the doorstep of a hip coffee bar in Stockholm. Ever since he laid the foundation for the Swedish Pirate Party, 10 years ago, he has become one of the ideological leaders in the international fight for a free Internet. He has turned a small underground movement into a global political movement that now has parties in more than 60 countries.

Though he occasionally dons an eye patch, it must be said that Falkvinge doesn’t look the part of a pirate. He is a gallant, friendly man. His outfit—neat suit, fancy shirt, computer—would not look out of place on a businessman or a lawyer. But as soon as you engage in conversation with him, he surprises. He is sharp, original, unconventional, with a talent for well-timed dry humor.

People are staring at him in the coffee bar. Quite surreptitiously, but they are. Falkvinge is well-known to Swedes. He’s been noticeably present in the media. Ten years ago, he announced that he was going to run for national office. When a reporter would then ask him, “So you want to be a parliamentarian?” he would simply answer, “No.” After a short, uncomfortable silence, he would add that he had not the slightest inclination to sit through meetings all day reading documents, but that no one else seemed to be standing up for civil liberties—so he was doing it.

Falkvinge points toward the Riksdagshuset, not far from where he is now ordering himself a coffee with milk and hazelnut syrup. “I saw bad law after bad law coming out of parliament over there. In the summer of 2005, a new copyright law was coming up which would criminalize downloading from unauthorized sources.” He still shudders at the idea of penalizing people for this.

Compare this with radio, says Falkvinge: a listener can’t be fined if the radio station hasn’t paid for the right to play a certain record. “They didn’t know what they were doing,” he says of the politicians. “I was frustrated with the way legislators did not understand the Internet.”

Politicians still seem to believe that some kind of ownership of the Internet is possible, and Falkvinge thinks that lies at the root of the lack of comprehension. But there is no owner. Yes, Internet providers such as AT&T and Verizon have owners. And there are organizations that have some say about Internet protocols and domain names. But the fully open network belongs to no one—or, actually, to everyone. In that respect, networks are like public waterways, which countries also try to stake property claims on again and again.

All around the world, people are looking for ways to keep the Web open and free—for example, the Internet activists who are fighting for net neutrality in the arguments about whether providers are allowed to favor certain sorts of Internet traffic over others. Just as urgently, though, states and companies are trying to maintain control: The international trade agreement ACTA and various U.S. law proposals (the Stop Online Piracy Act, the Protect IP Act) were designed to fight piracy on the Internet. Policy makers like to talk of Internet governance, but Falkvinge objects strongly to that term (see box). In his opinion, the Internet cannot be governed, because it belongs to everybody.

The need for jurisdiction is not hard to grasp from the point of view of our governments. Edward Snowden has made it abundantly clear to the world what interests are at stake here. But the commercial interests of companies are also involved—companies that feel threatened by the possibilities of the Internet, which have been made manifest through websites such as Airbnb and Uber. According to Falkvinge, we are seeing “the industrial interests of the 20th century conflicting with the most important values of the Internet: transparency and freedom.”

Falkvinge speaks impeccable English, richly peppered with proverbs and sayings. When he studies something, such as the English language, he does so thoroughly. “I’ve always been a nerd,” he acknowledges. “Actually, on my way here, I read that oxygen can be toxic. Very interesting… Do you want to hear about it?”

The Gothenburg native today lives in Sollentuna, a suburb of Stockholm, close to the Arlanda airport. This has come in handy, as he has been traveling all over the world as a political evangelist, as he calls it, since he gave up his formal role in the Pirate Party. His message is: The world can be a place of unprecedented creativity and freedom if we are given the same rights online as we have in the analog world.

Think about it, says Falkvinge. In the analog world you can send a letter anonymously. “The letter is anonymous, untracked in transit, never opened in transit, and the mailman is not responsible for the content of the message. All these characteristics have been lost in e-mail.” He uses the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) protocol to send all his mail messages with a secret code to prevent anyone reading over his shoulder.

Another analog right Falkvinge says we are losing is the ability to discuss any topic of our choosing, wherever and whenever we want to. “Instead, you cannot discuss nudity on Facebook. In the analog world, it’s perfectly normal to discuss nudity. Pay attention: online, we’re gradually losing the ability to discuss certain topics.”

And the worst thing, says Falkvinge, who was born in 1972, is that most people don’t even realize that the civil rights won by past generations are not being passed on to the digital generation. “It is the biggest failure of our generation.” In the same way that socialists stood for solidarity and the greens stand for sustainability, he wants to make the concept of empowerment big again. In his vision, this means: “Individual people should be able to act without permission—to communicate, transact, trade and share permissionlessly.”

Ten years after founding the Pirate Party, the voice of Falkvinge and of his rising pirate movement has become inextricably interwoven with the debate on the information society—from piracy and file sharing to cryptocurrency. The U.S. magazine Foreign Policy once included him in its list of the world’s most important thinkers. In 2009, Falkvinge successfully got two Swedish Pirate Party members into the European Parliament (EP). Meanwhile, there are dozens of Pirate Parties worldwide, from Serbia to South Korea; they hold a few seats in national and local governments here and there, as well as a German seat in the EP. Falkvinge compares the rise of “his” party to the advent of the green parties in Western Europe in the 1970s and ’80s, which also needed time to grow and acquire influence.

But time is precisely what is running out. Because right now, when the establishment is doing everything it can to regulate and govern the Internet, a countermovement like the Pirate Party is needed more than ever, says Falkvinge. “The Internet was not built to be controlled, and it was not built to be owned. The Internet was built to connect people, and that brings beautiful possibilities.”

Back at the Espresso House, the second cup of coffee with milk and hazelnut syrup has made its way to our table. Behind Falkvinge, three men are deeply immersed in a meeting, their laptops open before them on the table. They are talking loudly, but Falkvinge is not distracted. He sees patterns in the resistance being brought to bear by the establishment against these digital developments. Whether the authorities are trying to regulate the new digital currency or to forbid the downloading of movies, again and again the same game is being played out.

Four arguments are bandied about with suspicious regularity, says Falkvinge. The weapons with which they parry are: the fight against terrorism, organized crime, child pornography and the violation of copyright. In reality, he thinks, the resistance springs from a much deeper source. To illustrate, he tells the story of the invention of the printing press.

In those times, the Church had a monopoly on reading, interpreting and copying the Bible, because only the clergy was able to read Latin. This gave them the role of gatekeepers of the truth, and they were able to dictate what was right and what was wrong. But the printing press made it possible to publish Bibles in local languages, and the opportunity was created for new interpretations and discussions. The gatekeepers weren’t pleased. “They wanted to punish everyone who was copying,” says Falkvinge. “You could get the death penalty by hanging for using the printing press.”

The printing press unleashed a war, says Falkvinge, “because the gatekeeper position over the world’s knowledge and culture was changing.” The advent of the Internet is eliciting exactly the same reflexive response in the current establishment, he says. Governments, banks, the media and the multinationals—who for decades have held the power to dictate the “truth”—are losing that power. “An old self-selected elite that is used to having the power of narrative no longer holds it. They have not realized it yet,” says Falkvinge, “but a new generation is no longer listening to them.”

He looks around and then says softly, as if it is a secret: “There is something very interesting happening online, don’t you see it? The most important news editor today is the manager of the Facebook timeline. But he doesn’t own a newspaper. Uber is the largest taxi company in the world, but doesn’t own a car. Airbnb is the largest hosting company, and it doesn’t own one single property.”

Falkvinge goes quiet to let the meaning of this sink in, and then erupts: “People are directly connected! The previous gatekeepers are losing out, and there is significant value in connecting people, rather than being the middleman.”

In the autumn of 2014, Rick Falkvinge was in Rotterdam briefly for the Geld voor de Toekomst (“Money for the Future”) conference. He gave a talk about virtual currencies, such as bitcoin, and about the lessons that developers can learn from the global conflicts surrounding copyright. He also delivered a scathing reply to a statement by an employee of a large Dutch bank, who had said: “I find it very logical that strict regulation is being prepared for bitcoin; after all, it lends itself very well to illegal activity.” Whereupon Falkvinge answered with a fine sense of irony: “I would have to agree with you that bitcoin is sometimes used for illegal activities.” Then, after a pregnant pause: “Unlike the U.S. dollar…”

Falkvinge sees bitcoin as one of the most important innovations made possible by the Internet. It is an example of what can happen when people can connect directly, without any middleman, such as a bank. “The people have learned how to talk directly to each other, to create and share money together.”

The first time he used bitcoin, “I felt like I was teleported 50 years into the future. In 2011, I sent the value of a cup of coffee to a friend in India, on a Sunday. My friend had the money instantly. I didn’t pay a fee. Nobody was able to see that I sent this. No bank was consulted.” But he was also alarmed by the consequences. Because if people can get together and create money with algorithms, banks won’t be necessary anymore, and Falkvinge thinks this will lead to an enormous power struggle. “Bitcoin is going to do to the banks what e-mail did to the postal services.” (See our coverstory as well.)

In Falkvinge’s assessment, private parties, as well as companies, will simply have no use for banks in the near future. At this moment, banks are charging 4 to 5 percent on nearly every transaction a company carries out, he explains. “Just for the service of processing the transaction. Corporations will gradually realize that they can maximize profits more efficiently if they don’t use banks.” For private clients, too, he believes, the use of a bank will in the end be less efficient and more expensive than the use of cryptocurrency. “People will realize that we are circumventing the old power structures with bitcoin.”

Falkvinge acknowledges that bitcoin is an unstable currency and that a lot of work still has to be done to make the system useful to as many people as possible. But he also says: “I think it’s only going to be our kids and grandkids who understand bitcoin. Most inventions are not understood by the generation making them. This is going to be one of them.”

The sun is shining in Medbor-garplatsen, one of the largest squares in Stockholm. Terraces are crowded with late-afternoon arrivals. Medborgarplatsen means “Citizen Square.” It was here, on the island of Södermalm, that Falkvinge held his first big speech, back in June 2006. He held forth that forbidding the online sharing of files is, in his eyes, an attack on knowl-edge and on culture.

“If you allow free sharing,” he said, “humanity will have 24/7 access to all of the world’s knowledge and culture, a situation where the culture and the information flow organically between millions of different people.” In one week’s time, the membership of his fledgling party tripled. The timing was perfect. This was shortly after the first police action against the Pirate Bay, a torrent website that makes it possible to upload and download data, including movies, books and music, in a free network. The Pirate Bay is a formidable roadblock in the fight against such “piracy,” as this type of website enables the violation of copyright law. In recent years, the three founders of the Pirate Bay have been arrested, sentenced to jail time and fined millions of dollars. The website has been taken offline multiple times when police seized the servers, but every time the site returns again, with its pirate flag still waving on the URL.

Falkvinge continues his work as an impassioned proponent of a free digital information stream. In his view, artists, actors, musicians and other creative spirits could all earn their income in other ways if their work became freely available. People are prepared to reward makers of beautiful things—he’s convinced of it. The only thing that is required is the development of a way to remove the middleman from the sales chain.

Falkvinge points out that at the moment, file sharing already takes place worldwide and that the income generated by music and the movie industry has been steadily increasing. Tickets for live performances, personal merchandise, online streaming of concerts—these are significant sources of income for artists, he says, which balance out the loss of income from CD sales. He also cites a Harvard University study that concluded that “since the advent of file sharing, both the number of music albums and films released per year have increased.”

Falkvinge also continues to devote himself to his mission to change the world. An important discovery he made when he was the leader of the Pirate Party was that he is capable of mobilizing tens of thousands of party members and volunteers in a matter of a few months. He calls it “swarm politics.” He wrote a book about it, Swarmwise: The Tactical Manual to Changing the World, which is available, naturally, for free on his website. He is convinced that other organizations can also deploy this tactic to create a large and positive impact and is busy making software that these groups can use all over the world, which also incorporates an option to use bitcoins as the method of payment. “I’m putting this tool into people’s hands to catalyze change.”

Falkvinge enthusiastically shows me what his new software looks like. And how he, after noticing interest from the Arab world, made sure the website can also be read from right to left. “I told you I’m a nerd,” he says, laughing.

And a nerd he remains: a computer freak, void of mainstream viewpoints and slightly unworldly. But he is also a person who lives on the crucial intersection of the analog and digital worlds. A connector of worlds, in the same way that the Vasa magically brings to life the miscalculations of 400 years ago—teaching us to stay awake, not to blindly follow our rulers. It’s our own responsibility to build a seaworthy future, Falkvinge believes. “Who controls the Internet?” he asks. “I want it to be us. Citizens.” 

Sidebar: Who is Rick Falkvinge?

His birth name was Dick Greger Augustsson, but in 2004 he decided to change it to Rickard Falkvinge. “I always wanted a unique name,” he says. Falkvinge means “falcon wing,” and he says it stands for vision and freedom.

As a child, he was always taking appliances apart and putting them back together—sometimes with success. He fell in love with computers at an early age.

His entrepreneurial streak became evident when he was 16. He made software for local companies. After high school, he started studying chemistry, but business suited him better. He decided to keep working, first for himself and later for a company that after several years was taken over by Microsoft.

In 2005, he got the idea to start the Pirate Party, inspired in part by popular Swedish think tank Piratbyrån (the Pirate Bureau). He did it as a protest against the growing strength of the anti-piracy stakeholders. One year later, the Pirate Party took part in the Swedish national elections for the first time.

In 2009, the party also entered the European elections and won two Swedish seats in the European Parliament. In that election, the Pirate Party became the most popular party among voters younger than 30. All over Europe, Pirate Parties were formed after the example of the Swedish Piratpartiet. The German Pirate Party won an additional seat in 2014.

On January 1, 2011, Falkvinge stepped down as leader of the party.

In 2012, Time nominated him as one of the 100 most influential thinkers. British paper The Guardian called him one of the world’s 20 most prominent Internet freedom fighters.

He has written two books: The Case for Copyright Reform (with Christian Engström, 2012) and Swarmwise: The Tactical Manual to Changing the World (2013).

Today he is traveling the world as a “political evangelist” and dedicating himself to a free Internet, freedom of speech, privacy protection and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

Sidebar2: A better Internet

Fragments from the speech Rick Falkvinge gave last year at the founding of the European Pirate Party.

“You see a lot of conferences called ‘Internet Governance’ these days. The problem is, it’s a total contradiction in terms. This term ‘Internet governance’ is not an Internet term. Nobody on the Internet would talk about Internet governance. This is a governmental term, this is a corporate term. And there are reasons for that.

The Internet is not a corporation. The Internet is not a department. The Internet is not a legal entity. It’s something much larger than that. Here’s where this misunderstanding comes into play. Governments define themselves by what they regulate. Corporations define themselves by what they own. So they want to regulate and own the Internet, because it’s beautiful and useful. But it doesn’t work that way. The Internet was not built to be governed, controlled and owned. It was built to connect people, and that brings beautiful possibilities.

We’re talking about freeing up knowledge for the six and a half billion people who don’t have access to it. About making medicine possible for the six and a half billion who don’t have any, who cannot afford it because somebody realized it made a greater profit to let millions of people die and look good in the next quarterly report. Imagine letting billions of people manufacture in ways they couldn’t before, with 3-D printing, spreading means of production to corners of the world where it’s never been before. When I see our brothers and sisters around the world being shut out of the opportunity to learn and to contribute to humanity, I think what a sad waste and tragedy that is.

We can build a better humanity. We can make higher education available for all seven billion people on the planet, and allow them to contribute their brilliance to what we are building on a daily basis.

This is not just about changing the laws of Europe. This is about making it possible to communicate love between billions of people on the planet, about making wars impossible to wage, because people can see through lies. This is about making sure that we can feel like the good brothers and sisters that we are on this planet.”

Solution News Source

Freedom Warrior

Rickard Falkvinge is in love with the Internet and will do anything he can to protect it. And we should be doing the same. Because “the Internet was built to connect people, and that creates the most beautiful opportunities.”

No other ship of war ever knew as ignoble an end as the Vasa, and yet she still takes pride of place. The three-master ship, decorated with hundreds of wildly ornate lions and warriors carved in wood, once offered berth to 64 cannons. That turned out to be too many: the ship was not seaworthy. But King Gustav II Adolph of Sweden had ordered it to be built for carrying a record number of cannons, and no one dared contradict him.

When the Vasa left the harbor of Stockholm in 1628, she sank before she’d made it one mile. It took only the slightest of breezes to capsize the top-heavy Vasa. Dozens of passengers drowned as she sank to the seabed. Much later, the three-master was fished out of her seaman’s grave, and today she is showcased in a beautiful museum. Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors come here to learn all about the glorious sea battles of the Swedes. Those tourists are probably unaware that the city has once again become a capital of ambitious seafarers, now that a 21st-century pirate has turned up in Stockholm. But today the battle has shifted to waves of streaming data. He has no ships under his command, but one thing is certain: he has already gone farther than the Vasa ever dreamed of sailing.

Laptop tucked under his arm, Rick Falkvinge is waiting on the doorstep of a hip coffee bar in Stockholm. Ever since he laid the foundation for the Swedish Pirate Party, 10 years ago, he has become one of the ideological leaders in the international fight for a free Internet. He has turned a small underground movement into a global political movement that now has parties in more than 60 countries.

Though he occasionally dons an eye patch, it must be said that Falkvinge doesn’t look the part of a pirate. He is a gallant, friendly man. His outfit—neat suit, fancy shirt, computer—would not look out of place on a businessman or a lawyer. But as soon as you engage in conversation with him, he surprises. He is sharp, original, unconventional, with a talent for well-timed dry humor.

People are staring at him in the coffee bar. Quite surreptitiously, but they are. Falkvinge is well-known to Swedes. He’s been noticeably present in the media. Ten years ago, he announced that he was going to run for national office. When a reporter would then ask him, “So you want to be a parliamentarian?” he would simply answer, “No.” After a short, uncomfortable silence, he would add that he had not the slightest inclination to sit through meetings all day reading documents, but that no one else seemed to be standing up for civil liberties—so he was doing it.

Falkvinge points toward the Riksdagshuset, not far from where he is now ordering himself a coffee with milk and hazelnut syrup. “I saw bad law after bad law coming out of parliament over there. In the summer of 2005, a new copyright law was coming up which would criminalize downloading from unauthorized sources.” He still shudders at the idea of penalizing people for this.

Compare this with radio, says Falkvinge: a listener can’t be fined if the radio station hasn’t paid for the right to play a certain record. “They didn’t know what they were doing,” he says of the politicians. “I was frustrated with the way legislators did not understand the Internet.”

Politicians still seem to believe that some kind of ownership of the Internet is possible, and Falkvinge thinks that lies at the root of the lack of comprehension. But there is no owner. Yes, Internet providers such as AT&T and Verizon have owners. And there are organizations that have some say about Internet protocols and domain names. But the fully open network belongs to no one—or, actually, to everyone. In that respect, networks are like public waterways, which countries also try to stake property claims on again and again.

All around the world, people are looking for ways to keep the Web open and free—for example, the Internet activists who are fighting for net neutrality in the arguments about whether providers are allowed to favor certain sorts of Internet traffic over others. Just as urgently, though, states and companies are trying to maintain control: The international trade agreement ACTA and various U.S. law proposals (the Stop Online Piracy Act, the Protect IP Act) were designed to fight piracy on the Internet. Policy makers like to talk of Internet governance, but Falkvinge objects strongly to that term (see box). In his opinion, the Internet cannot be governed, because it belongs to everybody.

The need for jurisdiction is not hard to grasp from the point of view of our governments. Edward Snowden has made it abundantly clear to the world what interests are at stake here. But the commercial interests of companies are also involved—companies that feel threatened by the possibilities of the Internet, which have been made manifest through websites such as Airbnb and Uber. According to Falkvinge, we are seeing “the industrial interests of the 20th century conflicting with the most important values of the Internet: transparency and freedom.”

Falkvinge speaks impeccable English, richly peppered with proverbs and sayings. When he studies something, such as the English language, he does so thoroughly. “I’ve always been a nerd,” he acknowledges. “Actually, on my way here, I read that oxygen can be toxic. Very interesting… Do you want to hear about it?”

The Gothenburg native today lives in Sollentuna, a suburb of Stockholm, close to the Arlanda airport. This has come in handy, as he has been traveling all over the world as a political evangelist, as he calls it, since he gave up his formal role in the Pirate Party. His message is: The world can be a place of unprecedented creativity and freedom if we are given the same rights online as we have in the analog world.

Think about it, says Falkvinge. In the analog world you can send a letter anonymously. “The letter is anonymous, untracked in transit, never opened in transit, and the mailman is not responsible for the content of the message. All these characteristics have been lost in e-mail.” He uses the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) protocol to send all his mail messages with a secret code to prevent anyone reading over his shoulder.

Another analog right Falkvinge says we are losing is the ability to discuss any topic of our choosing, wherever and whenever we want to. “Instead, you cannot discuss nudity on Facebook. In the analog world, it’s perfectly normal to discuss nudity. Pay attention: online, we’re gradually losing the ability to discuss certain topics.”

And the worst thing, says Falkvinge, who was born in 1972, is that most people don’t even realize that the civil rights won by past generations are not being passed on to the digital generation. “It is the biggest failure of our generation.” In the same way that socialists stood for solidarity and the greens stand for sustainability, he wants to make the concept of empowerment big again. In his vision, this means: “Individual people should be able to act without permission—to communicate, transact, trade and share permissionlessly.”

Ten years after founding the Pirate Party, the voice of Falkvinge and of his rising pirate movement has become inextricably interwoven with the debate on the information society—from piracy and file sharing to cryptocurrency. The U.S. magazine Foreign Policy once included him in its list of the world’s most important thinkers. In 2009, Falkvinge successfully got two Swedish Pirate Party members into the European Parliament (EP). Meanwhile, there are dozens of Pirate Parties worldwide, from Serbia to South Korea; they hold a few seats in national and local governments here and there, as well as a German seat in the EP. Falkvinge compares the rise of “his” party to the advent of the green parties in Western Europe in the 1970s and ’80s, which also needed time to grow and acquire influence.

But time is precisely what is running out. Because right now, when the establishment is doing everything it can to regulate and govern the Internet, a countermovement like the Pirate Party is needed more than ever, says Falkvinge. “The Internet was not built to be controlled, and it was not built to be owned. The Internet was built to connect people, and that brings beautiful possibilities.”

Back at the Espresso House, the second cup of coffee with milk and hazelnut syrup has made its way to our table. Behind Falkvinge, three men are deeply immersed in a meeting, their laptops open before them on the table. They are talking loudly, but Falkvinge is not distracted. He sees patterns in the resistance being brought to bear by the establishment against these digital developments. Whether the authorities are trying to regulate the new digital currency or to forbid the downloading of movies, again and again the same game is being played out.

Four arguments are bandied about with suspicious regularity, says Falkvinge. The weapons with which they parry are: the fight against terrorism, organized crime, child pornography and the violation of copyright. In reality, he thinks, the resistance springs from a much deeper source. To illustrate, he tells the story of the invention of the printing press.

In those times, the Church had a monopoly on reading, interpreting and copying the Bible, because only the clergy was able to read Latin. This gave them the role of gatekeepers of the truth, and they were able to dictate what was right and what was wrong. But the printing press made it possible to publish Bibles in local languages, and the opportunity was created for new interpretations and discussions. The gatekeepers weren’t pleased. “They wanted to punish everyone who was copying,” says Falkvinge. “You could get the death penalty by hanging for using the printing press.”

The printing press unleashed a war, says Falkvinge, “because the gatekeeper position over the world’s knowledge and culture was changing.” The advent of the Internet is eliciting exactly the same reflexive response in the current establishment, he says. Governments, banks, the media and the multinationals—who for decades have held the power to dictate the “truth”—are losing that power. “An old self-selected elite that is used to having the power of narrative no longer holds it. They have not realized it yet,” says Falkvinge, “but a new generation is no longer listening to them.”

He looks around and then says softly, as if it is a secret: “There is something very interesting happening online, don’t you see it? The most important news editor today is the manager of the Facebook timeline. But he doesn’t own a newspaper. Uber is the largest taxi company in the world, but doesn’t own a car. Airbnb is the largest hosting company, and it doesn’t own one single property.”

Falkvinge goes quiet to let the meaning of this sink in, and then erupts: “People are directly connected! The previous gatekeepers are losing out, and there is significant value in connecting people, rather than being the middleman.”

In the autumn of 2014, Rick Falkvinge was in Rotterdam briefly for the Geld voor de Toekomst (“Money for the Future”) conference. He gave a talk about virtual currencies, such as bitcoin, and about the lessons that developers can learn from the global conflicts surrounding copyright. He also delivered a scathing reply to a statement by an employee of a large Dutch bank, who had said: “I find it very logical that strict regulation is being prepared for bitcoin; after all, it lends itself very well to illegal activity.” Whereupon Falkvinge answered with a fine sense of irony: “I would have to agree with you that bitcoin is sometimes used for illegal activities.” Then, after a pregnant pause: “Unlike the U.S. dollar…”

Falkvinge sees bitcoin as one of the most important innovations made possible by the Internet. It is an example of what can happen when people can connect directly, without any middleman, such as a bank. “The people have learned how to talk directly to each other, to create and share money together.”

The first time he used bitcoin, “I felt like I was teleported 50 years into the future. In 2011, I sent the value of a cup of coffee to a friend in India, on a Sunday. My friend had the money instantly. I didn’t pay a fee. Nobody was able to see that I sent this. No bank was consulted.” But he was also alarmed by the consequences. Because if people can get together and create money with algorithms, banks won’t be necessary anymore, and Falkvinge thinks this will lead to an enormous power struggle. “Bitcoin is going to do to the banks what e-mail did to the postal services.” (See our coverstory as well.)

In Falkvinge’s assessment, private parties, as well as companies, will simply have no use for banks in the near future. At this moment, banks are charging 4 to 5 percent on nearly every transaction a company carries out, he explains. “Just for the service of processing the transaction. Corporations will gradually realize that they can maximize profits more efficiently if they don’t use banks.” For private clients, too, he believes, the use of a bank will in the end be less efficient and more expensive than the use of cryptocurrency. “People will realize that we are circumventing the old power structures with bitcoin.”

Falkvinge acknowledges that bitcoin is an unstable currency and that a lot of work still has to be done to make the system useful to as many people as possible. But he also says: “I think it’s only going to be our kids and grandkids who understand bitcoin. Most inventions are not understood by the generation making them. This is going to be one of them.”

The sun is shining in Medbor-garplatsen, one of the largest squares in Stockholm. Terraces are crowded with late-afternoon arrivals. Medborgarplatsen means “Citizen Square.” It was here, on the island of Södermalm, that Falkvinge held his first big speech, back in June 2006. He held forth that forbidding the online sharing of files is, in his eyes, an attack on knowl-edge and on culture.

“If you allow free sharing,” he said, “humanity will have 24/7 access to all of the world’s knowledge and culture, a situation where the culture and the information flow organically between millions of different people.” In one week’s time, the membership of his fledgling party tripled. The timing was perfect. This was shortly after the first police action against the Pirate Bay, a torrent website that makes it possible to upload and download data, including movies, books and music, in a free network. The Pirate Bay is a formidable roadblock in the fight against such “piracy,” as this type of website enables the violation of copyright law. In recent years, the three founders of the Pirate Bay have been arrested, sentenced to jail time and fined millions of dollars. The website has been taken offline multiple times when police seized the servers, but every time the site returns again, with its pirate flag still waving on the URL.

Falkvinge continues his work as an impassioned proponent of a free digital information stream. In his view, artists, actors, musicians and other creative spirits could all earn their income in other ways if their work became freely available. People are prepared to reward makers of beautiful things—he’s convinced of it. The only thing that is required is the development of a way to remove the middleman from the sales chain.

Falkvinge points out that at the moment, file sharing already takes place worldwide and that the income generated by music and the movie industry has been steadily increasing. Tickets for live performances, personal merchandise, online streaming of concerts—these are significant sources of income for artists, he says, which balance out the loss of income from CD sales. He also cites a Harvard University study that concluded that “since the advent of file sharing, both the number of music albums and films released per year have increased.”

Falkvinge also continues to devote himself to his mission to change the world. An important discovery he made when he was the leader of the Pirate Party was that he is capable of mobilizing tens of thousands of party members and volunteers in a matter of a few months. He calls it “swarm politics.” He wrote a book about it, Swarmwise: The Tactical Manual to Changing the World, which is available, naturally, for free on his website. He is convinced that other organizations can also deploy this tactic to create a large and positive impact and is busy making software that these groups can use all over the world, which also incorporates an option to use bitcoins as the method of payment. “I’m putting this tool into people’s hands to catalyze change.”

Falkvinge enthusiastically shows me what his new software looks like. And how he, after noticing interest from the Arab world, made sure the website can also be read from right to left. “I told you I’m a nerd,” he says, laughing.

And a nerd he remains: a computer freak, void of mainstream viewpoints and slightly unworldly. But he is also a person who lives on the crucial intersection of the analog and digital worlds. A connector of worlds, in the same way that the Vasa magically brings to life the miscalculations of 400 years ago—teaching us to stay awake, not to blindly follow our rulers. It’s our own responsibility to build a seaworthy future, Falkvinge believes. “Who controls the Internet?” he asks. “I want it to be us. Citizens.” 

Sidebar: Who is Rick Falkvinge?

His birth name was Dick Greger Augustsson, but in 2004 he decided to change it to Rickard Falkvinge. “I always wanted a unique name,” he says. Falkvinge means “falcon wing,” and he says it stands for vision and freedom.

As a child, he was always taking appliances apart and putting them back together—sometimes with success. He fell in love with computers at an early age.

His entrepreneurial streak became evident when he was 16. He made software for local companies. After high school, he started studying chemistry, but business suited him better. He decided to keep working, first for himself and later for a company that after several years was taken over by Microsoft.

In 2005, he got the idea to start the Pirate Party, inspired in part by popular Swedish think tank Piratbyrån (the Pirate Bureau). He did it as a protest against the growing strength of the anti-piracy stakeholders. One year later, the Pirate Party took part in the Swedish national elections for the first time.

In 2009, the party also entered the European elections and won two Swedish seats in the European Parliament. In that election, the Pirate Party became the most popular party among voters younger than 30. All over Europe, Pirate Parties were formed after the example of the Swedish Piratpartiet. The German Pirate Party won an additional seat in 2014.

On January 1, 2011, Falkvinge stepped down as leader of the party.

In 2012, Time nominated him as one of the 100 most influential thinkers. British paper The Guardian called him one of the world’s 20 most prominent Internet freedom fighters.

He has written two books: The Case for Copyright Reform (with Christian Engström, 2012) and Swarmwise: The Tactical Manual to Changing the World (2013).

Today he is traveling the world as a “political evangelist” and dedicating himself to a free Internet, freedom of speech, privacy protection and cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

Sidebar2: A better Internet

Fragments from the speech Rick Falkvinge gave last year at the founding of the European Pirate Party.

“You see a lot of conferences called ‘Internet Governance’ these days. The problem is, it’s a total contradiction in terms. This term ‘Internet governance’ is not an Internet term. Nobody on the Internet would talk about Internet governance. This is a governmental term, this is a corporate term. And there are reasons for that.

The Internet is not a corporation. The Internet is not a department. The Internet is not a legal entity. It’s something much larger than that. Here’s where this misunderstanding comes into play. Governments define themselves by what they regulate. Corporations define themselves by what they own. So they want to regulate and own the Internet, because it’s beautiful and useful. But it doesn’t work that way. The Internet was not built to be governed, controlled and owned. It was built to connect people, and that brings beautiful possibilities.

We’re talking about freeing up knowledge for the six and a half billion people who don’t have access to it. About making medicine possible for the six and a half billion who don’t have any, who cannot afford it because somebody realized it made a greater profit to let millions of people die and look good in the next quarterly report. Imagine letting billions of people manufacture in ways they couldn’t before, with 3-D printing, spreading means of production to corners of the world where it’s never been before. When I see our brothers and sisters around the world being shut out of the opportunity to learn and to contribute to humanity, I think what a sad waste and tragedy that is.

We can build a better humanity. We can make higher education available for all seven billion people on the planet, and allow them to contribute their brilliance to what we are building on a daily basis.

This is not just about changing the laws of Europe. This is about making it possible to communicate love between billions of people on the planet, about making wars impossible to wage, because people can see through lies. This is about making sure that we can feel like the good brothers and sisters that we are on this planet.”

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