Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Pirate Party

In the United States we pretty much have 2.5 political parties--the Republicans, their nearly identical twins the Democrats, and the non-Democrats or Republicans who usually can't manage to get more than 2 or 3% of the vote despite being the only people who are really trying to change the status quo.

In Europe they have lots of political parties, and even though many countries are also dominated by a few big ones and "coalition" governments of like minded parties, they have much more variety in the political options than Americans. Sweden, for example, has 7 parties represented in their parliament, and 4 more large parties represented in other ares of government (11 political parties!).

According to recent polls the Pirate Party is now the third largest party in Sweden, and they even won 2 seats (out of 736) in the recent European Parliament elections. The US probably has a Pirate Party too, and they have other humorously named political parties like the Marijuana Party or the Blue Enigma Party (humorously named in that a party with such a name could never get mainstream support in the US), but the Pirate Party is a for real party in Sweden, and gaining popularity in other parts of Europe as well.

Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about European politics, and the above (probably incorrect) summary was just an introduction into the rant below.

The Pirate Party is all about copyright and intellectual property law reform, and they used to run a website to help people "share" movies and music on the internet. I have never thought much about piracy, except when trying to finish the PC versions of our games at work and the publisher makes us include some horrible copyright protection software. I get my books and movies from the library and buy my CDs and games. I'm pretty thrifty in general, so I don't buy enough to be put off by the prices, and besides I generally think the entertainment these products provide are worth the cost.

And then I moved to France.

Games, movies and CDs in France are nearly twice as much as they are in the US. They also usually come out--games and movies at least--much later in France than they do in the US, if they come out here at all. And when they do come out here, they come out with this horrible little piece of technology called a Region Lock!

Games and movies sold in Europe only work on game consoles and movie players sold in Europe! I moved to France with my US bought computer and my US version Xbox 360. Both of these pieces of hardware work perfectly fine in France as long as you play US bought movies and games on them. If you want to play a french movie or game you must buy the appropriate french hardware.

I paid over $300 for my Xbox! Why should moving to France effectively disable it? I would really like to buy some new games, which by the way cost near twice as much here as they do in the US, but I cannot!

Movies are no different. Luckily my laptop does enable me to change the Region so that it can play french movies, but it cannot play US movies at the same time, and the computer software will only let you change the region 5 times, after which it locks! My xbox, which is already connected to my tv, is a very good DVD player, but it simply outputs a blue screen with an error message if I try to play a french movie.

Even internet websites are "region locked" these days. In the US you can go to comedy central's website anytime you want and watch the last couple weeks of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Or go to and watch that version of Lost that you missed. In France you may go to these websites too and watch a "Sorry this content is not available in your region" error message. Sure you can watch Lost on French TV too, and it might even have an English language option if you are lucky (CSI and Heroes do, Desperate Housewives and House do not), but you'll have to wait until 2010 for this year's season.

I'm not pirating my movies and games yet, but I do totally understand the Pirate Party's growth. The world is getting smaller and smaller everyday, and artificial barriers setup to "break" products used outside their place of purchase is just ridiculous! And of course the internet provides ways to get around these artificial barriers, and if companies keep making it harder to get the products that people want, people will just get them for free off the internet.

Okay, rant over. Maybe I'll go read a book or something. Companies haven't figured out how to region lock those yet.

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