In making ‘TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay—Away from Keyboard,’ Simon Klose spent several years following Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm—founders of torrent site The Pirate Bay—when they were being put on trial in Sweden at the behest of the entertainment industry for “promoting other people’s infringements of copyright laws.” Simon tells us more…
What’s your own filmmaking background? How did that affect your approach to the material, both in terms of technical storytelling and in terms of attitude?
I never studied filmmaking—I went to law school. I was more interested in culture in general. I’ve always collected films and music; I grew up copying cassette tapes and VHS tapes, and when the internet came, I copied files. My interest in the topic comes from being brought up in the ‘80s and ‘90s—and also from being interested in power relations in society. So my filmmaking background is sorta DIY-ish, I learned by failing—a lot.
What did you learn in making the film?
Five years ago, I didn’t own a smartphone, didn’t have Facebook or Twitter, didn’t know about crowdfunding. So, in making a film about changes in the digital landscape, I’ve learned a lot. The internet can be an amazing place to connect with your audiences. I’ve also learned that big corporations will crucify young innovators to keep old business models in place.
A NEW MODEL
The film had an “internet premiere” and has more than 2.1 million views on YouTube, but you’ve also been bringing it to festivals all summer. What would you say is still important and irreplaceable about entering the film into public spaces in this way? From this can we draw any larger conclusions about the private/online mode of arts consumership?
I never think that watching a downloaded .mpeg4 is a substitute for going to a cinema with a friend and experiencing the big sound and huge image with a room full of strangers. My film was certainly made for the big screen in terms of sound mastering and colour grading. And it’s important to travel around the world and talk about your film. Even though we knew that, because of putting the film on YouTube under a Creative Commons license, a lot of festivals, and definitely theatrical distributors, wouldn’t touch us, we still thought it was symbolically important, to talk about the positives of file-sharing. I want to be a positive example for file-sharing. The film has been sold to six TV channels; it’s been seen by four million people. It’s a platform I wouldn’t have had if not for presenting the film for free.
And speaking of access. The film’s website allows viewers to download a torrent of the film, to buy a digital copy for $10 or pre-order a DVD, with additional footage for $23. This is not dissimilar to Peter Sunde’s Flattr, which allows people on the internet to make voluntary donations to artists they’d like to support. And of course your film was initially funded through Kickstarter. So, will a decentralised funding model ever fully replace the corporate/institutional model of the arts? Should it?
I don’t think it will replace that model. I think they’ll merge and become something new. We shouldn’t look for one solution for film funding. With my own film, for instance, Kickstarter financing was less than ten percent of the budget. But then again other films can be made with totally decentralised means, depending on the budget. Every film needs its own strategy. Now is a good time to experiment with funding and with audience relationships. The discussion should be about how we can create new tools that actually help filmmakers. So I used Kickstarter, I used Flattr, and I sell the film for download through VHX, which gives me a larger cut.
The film focuses a lot on the drama of the trial and the lives of the three Pirate Bay founders. Obviously we hear what they think about the ethics of file-sharing and copyright, but we also hear from prosecutors… To what extent do you see the film as making a sustained argument for file-sharing and copyright? Or to what extent is it neutral? Do you find that the film is changing people’s minds?
I hate films that pretend to be neutral. A lot of people have perceived this film as objective and neutral, but I don’t think it’s neutral at all. I tried to make it as subjective as possible by showing how their lives are ruined, economically ruined.
In what ways would you say you differ, politically, from the Pirate Bay founders? You said in another interview that you didn’t yourself vote for the Pirate Party in the last election…
The three of them are very politically different, almost opposites—Peter’s on the Left, Fredrik’s on the Right, and Gottfrid’s somewhere in the middle… I tried to vote for a party that’s a little bit broader in its platform, even though I think they’re doing a great thing in bringing up all these issues. In Sweden a few of the other parties have copied the Pirate Party’s positions.
Is there any element of the film that you’re especially interested in sharing with an Icelandic audience?
Very much indeed. Iceland is the first nation on Earth that has a Pirate Party in parliament; I’m a big fan of Birgitta Jónsdóttir and her work. The role that Iceland had in inviting WikiLeaks was very exciting. I’m obviously still following the Icelandic experiment in digital freedom, so it’s going to be very interesting.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on this startup, linklib, which is a way for filmmakers to annotate their films and send it to audiences, on their phone. They can add comments, add links—they look like tweets—so you don’t have to open up another window to start Googling all the references. I haven’t decided on my next film yet; I’m still developing a couple ideas for my next documentary.