Recently the private organization ‘Rättighetsalliansen’ (a Swedish group fighting to increase copyright) decided to send a legal threat to the Swedish Pirate Party (PPSE) for hosting The Pirate Bay (TPB). Claiming that the website of TPB is illegal they accuse PPSE of “assisting illegal activity”. Basically they use chilling effects to silence free speech because of commercial interests.
“A chilling effect is the inhibition or discouragement of the legitimate exercise of a constitutional right by the threat of legal sanction” – Wikipedia
Rättighetsalliansen is a pro-copyright company lobbying and threatening their way to an extended copyright protection. Through legal threats they hope to scare people to comply with their demands even though the current service has not been declared illegal. PPSE is providing bandwidth to TPB and thereby acting in a simal manner as any ISP is doing when selling their services.
Considering that the people behind TPB where charged for assistance to copyright crimes this would technically be assistance to assistance to copyright crimes. Instead of going after who you consider to be the real criminals you try to break the infrastructure. Going after a smaller entity that can’t risk the consequences that might occur if they were proven guilty in a trial.
An off-line comparison to this would be to demand that the post-office delivering mails, that might contain illegal objects, should be shut down instead of trying to prove the illegal activity taking place elsewhere. The method used here is to threaten the mail-carrier working at the post office with legal actions against them (that they can’t afford losing) unless they stop delivering mails to the address that was considered “illegal”. Going after the weak link in the chain might stop the service temporarily (until the chain is mended again) but won’t affect the real “illegal problem”.
The copyright mafia has been keen on using chilling effects to protect their commercial interests instead of working at the real problem. The pirate movement is often the target since they are fighting for free speech against the copyright mafia trying to increase copyright and setting their own rules. In the UK the pirate party (PPUK) were personally threatened with legal effects for hosting a proxy to TPB. Since the chilling effects used were in the form of personal legal threats the PPUK decided to take down the proxy because of lack of resources and fear of consequences. In Netherlands the copyright mafia is currently in court with PPNL who decided to take a defensive stand-point despite lacking sufficient resources for all the costs that a trial implies.
When commercial interests have the possibility of silencing competition with the help of chilling effects the society is going the wrong way. Not being able to utilize free speech because you might rub a big company the wrong way is a dangerous precedence to set.
Other, mostly Swedish, sources on this: Pirate Times (English), Anton Nordenfur, Fredrik Holmbom, Christian Engström, Marit Deldén, Upphovsreträtt, Frekar, Magnihasa (also writing about chilling effects), Hax, Falkvinge, Mina Moderata Karameller, Free Thinking, Sugbloggen, Erkstam. Sundsvalls Tidning, Norrköpings Tidning, Gefle Dagblad, Norrländska Socialdemokraten, Göteborgsposten, Helsingborgs Dagblad, Norran