Geo-blocking is more than just an annoyance. Which is why Julia Reda, the sole member of the Pirate Party serving as a member in the European Parliament, is working to get rid of it.
Although receiving a notice that a website has been blocked because it is not available in your country is really annoying, it also limits freedom online, enforces copyright protectionism, restricts artists to local audiences, stops businesses from expanding globally and hinders media diversity.
The problem is less noticeable in the United States, due to the high volume of available online content. But in Europe, where 28 different countries in close geographic proximity have 28 different sets of copyright regulations, the damaging effects of geo-blocking are more significant.
The above video is characteristic of Reda’s style. Take a bold stance against geo-blocking, use new media to expose the problem playfully and work for substantive reform. Not every member of the European Parliament would send a tweet asking the Twitterverse where she can buy Finnish bread in Germany. Reda’s Finnish bread serves a very serious purpose: as one of the MPs on the copyright reform bill, she is looking to eliminate geo-blocking and copyright protectionism as part of major EU copyright reform.
European Commission Vice President Anders Ansip has also come out publicly, calling for the abolishment of geo-blocking. It is a piece of a major reform agenda to create a single digital market in Europe.
In person, Reda is not exactly the antagonistic computer geek cyberpunk that one might imagine populates the Pirate Party ranks. Young, earnest and self-assured, Reda is happy to discourse fluently about her positions on a wide range of issues, most of which center on technology-driven legal quagmires that inspired the birth of the Pirate Party, such as copyright and data protection.
As a newcomer from a fringe political party elected last May among a wave of candidates that were seen as anti-establishment, Reda describes the other MEPs as being relatively approachable and interested in hearing her opinion. Some have even expressed interest in adopting her lobbyist transparency visualizations.
As one Pirate out of 750 Members of Parliament, Reda recognizes the necessity of compromise, focusing most of her time working on common-sense solutions that work from both a social and a market angle. For example, she is working to reform copyright to make it possible for libraries to lend e-books, citing studies that show that far from threatening the publishing market, borrowing e-books actually encourages people to buy books.
The Pirate Party is a political party born of the digital age. Its core issues relate to the elimination of copyright restrictions, freedom of expression on the Internet, open access to information and increased government and corporate transparency. Many in the United States see the Pirates as a fringe party whose members advocate or engage in activities that skirt the limits of legality. Former Pirate Bay spokesman Peter Sunde recently wrote a post for TorrentFreak that was deeply critical of the possibility of translating “pirate movement” causes into a working political party with a full ideological platform, citing the effort as a failure.
But despite criticism from either side, members such as Reda continue to take their reformist zeal and digital know-how to the established law-making bodies of power and provide a new perspective.
One week after Reda ruefully explained that “pretty good privacy” encryption does not work on the European Parliament’s email server, leaving MP communications unencrypted and insecure, a hacker claiming to be acting in the name of Anonymous hacked the personal website of the European Parliament President. It may be time for people who have the technical understanding to guard against digital threats without limiting freedom of expression to play a larger role in lawmaking.