Björn Ulvaeus comments on illegal file sharers

Ulvaeus on Tuesday slammed supporters of ThePirate Bay who "speak with trembling voices about their ‘freedom’ on the internet."

Writing for Swedish opinion website Newsmill, Ulvaeus said the file sharing site’s fans were fighting for "the ‘freedom’ to be lazy and stingy". 

The co-producer of the smash hit Mamma Mia movie also lambasted file sharers of copyrighted material for portraying a David and Goliath scenario, in which greedy movie and record industry bosses engage in the wanton exploitation of defenceless consumers.

"But anything they steal was once one person’s idea, a single little person. They don’t want to talk about that," he writes. 

Ulvaeus also wondered why it was "so damn hard to understand" that an idea would only see the light of day if copyright holders and their financiers knew they stood a chance of getting paid for their work. 

Ulvaeus, who is a regular contributor to the opinion pages of Sweden’s newspapers, concluded by asking readers to set aside legal wranglings for a moment to ask themselves the question:

"Is it really so damn difficult to pay your way?"

Thanks to Ian Cole for news of the article.



  • Anyone who works for pay should understand the artist’s plight, but they choose not to, feeling that pirating music, movies, artwork is acceptable. It isn’t. The people who look for free downloads seem to forget that the work that they’re stealing is something that someone has worked hard for… would these people who want these free downloads not want to be paid for the work that they do? It’s the same thing! And the argument that wealthy people shouldn’t mind is crap… if these other people suddenly were rich, would they be happy if their things were stolen? I doubt it. It’s just one-side selfishness.

  • I agree with Björn.

    15 years ago everyone was happy to pay for their music, movies, TV shows. Then these file sharing websites came along, and suddenly people en mass got the bug that they could get everything for free.

    Sure many people at one time or another has taped music off the radio or a friend’s record. The arguement on adding a royalty to the cost of blank cassettes raged since the late ’70s. But that was never on the scale of what goes on today.

    If you can’t afford an expensive meal, you don’t eat in a five star restaurant. If you can’t afford a mansion, you live in a house that’s affordable. If you can’t afford a car, you catch the bus. You don’t steal these things just because you can’t afford them.

    Ironically the people who want their music and movies for free are the same people who will pay thousands on their big screen plasma TVs, hi-spec DVD or Blu-ray player, PlayStation, X Box, Wii, Nintendo, surround sound, iPod, mobile phone, and every other fancy gadget on the market.

    Artists create for the love of their craft. But professional artists also create to make a living. If no one pays for their creations, the artist doesn’t earn any money and can’t afford to continue their craft.

    It’s often reported that legal music sales are falling and the record companies will all soon fail. What’s less often reported but more true is that legal sales are indeed falling for the main target market – teenagers, but growing in every other demographic. And think about it – if the music companies fold, then all the music they own will disappear. Aside from copies out in the marketplace, ABBA and all your other favourite artists will never be available again.

    If we continue down the path of expecting everything for free, eventually all art will stop and we’ll be left with Paris Hilton and other celebrities famous for being famous and a whole lot of internet chatter.

    It’s not about free speech or about the freedom of the internet. It’s about theft.

  • Well put Ian.

    As illegal downloads will never end in the current social construct, and new technologies keep being designed to make it easier to do so, perhaps all music, art, literature and movie companies should band together towards organising an international law where makers of computers (and other recordable media) have to charge some sort of international royalties tax on each new machine, so musicians, artists, writers (etc) will not loose out as much as they are now. Naturally such a tax would not be popular, but it could work, and it’s only fair that artists at all levels get compensated for their hard work. A legal system could be worked out. Australian writers of literature can get some sort of reimbursement if their books are available in public libraries within Australia, so they don’t lose out on royalties. And while that system works differently through governemnt funding, it still shows that rather than the artists losing out, something was organised to reimburse the writers, so surely, something –anything– could be organised on an international level, and most probably the aforementioned tax. And while it may be difficult to organise something like that on a world-wide scale, it could be done.

    Some people may argue that they shouldn’t have to pay for such a tax, especially if they say that they don’t download things illegally. That’s Ok… with today’s technology, perhaps downloading from a legal website could instead see these people reimbursed somehow for their honesty, buy being paid back some of the tax per item that they download.

    That’s only a suggestion, as I am not a tech-head or marketing-expert, so others can work out a specific system. Nevertheless, something could be worked out to be fair for everyone: the buyers and the producers. And as illegal-downloaders like everything for free, then they would probably be the first to make sure that they used such a system to get all their money back.

    It’s sad that artists today, of all kinds, feel that they have to give away slabs of free downloads to tempt sales… it’s like they must feel defeated, so they now choose to go with the flow of accepting that illegal downloads are here to stay.

    Music, book publishers, movie producers, artists all… there is no need to be a victim. Get together and sort this out… don’t let the stealers get their way, or, as Ian mentions, if the music companies [and other publishing companies] fold, then all the music [, art, literature, movies, etc] will disappear.

    The greedy will then only have ourselves to blame. And the rest of us will be very pissed off.

  • Fixing up the last sentence (I thought I’d finished my editing before posting… sorry):

    The greedy will then only have -themselves- to blame. And the rest of us will be very pissed off.

  • One analogy I forgot to mention: as a worker, would you expect for whatever hours you work without any payment? It’s the same thing – free downloads means that the artists who provide the downloads don’t get paid. How would you feel if someone was stealing your work and time and you had no recompense?

  • I agree that file sharing and other methods of downloading "free" music equates to theft.

    However, I do actually do a little bit of it myself for rare material such as 12" mixes etc that record companies simply will not make available legally.

    If you take ABBA, I have about 15 (shop bought)editions / variations of Gold on CD and DVD so I’m not avoiding paying. But things that I want to buy (such as Agnetha & Frida’s fabulous 1980s remixes)are not there for me.

    I’ve noticed that more obscure and out-of-print titles (not ABBA) material are now starting to appear on Amazon MP3 and iTunes. So hopefully the whole download craze will produce positive record company action as well.

  • Yes, Bjorn Ulvaeus it is really so damn difficult to pay for some people.

  • You know, there was a time when those who couldn’t afford didn’t buy. And, for goodness sakes, it’s not like food, water, and air. It’s not a necessity of life.

  • A year or so file sharing became an actionable
    question of intellectual property rights and piracy
    three friends were going to visit me in New York City.
    They wished to see "Mamma Mia". It was December of
    1992. I had of course, known "Mamma Mia" was a smash
    but had not heard the music.

    I down loaded two or three songs and said that it sounded
    like fun. Based on my opinion they purchased four tickets
    for a total of $410. They also bought souvenir programs
    at $20.00 a pop (total: $60.00) and three cast recordings
    for another $60.00. Thus, from those three songs, $530
    in revenues were generated, although only $60.00 for the
    C.D.’s would be considered in industry sales records.

    As someone who studied law, it never occurred to me file
    sharing would be considered piracy.

    Consider a library that owns a copy of "Jonathan
    Livingston Seagull". The retail price is about $10.00.
    Any patron, however can skip the photos and trim its 100
    pages to 40 and walk away with the text for about $2.00.

    Why should libraries be exempt from providing the means
    to "share" photocopies of protected material?.

    It’s not a question of their non-profit status.

    The ruling of the courts in this matter was a
    complete travesty. ONLY the revenues considered
    lost (and, in fact, file sharing increased revenues)
    were construed as the legal issue. No secondary
    or tertiary revenues generated from other revenue
    streams–concerts, etc;–that are routinely generated
    as a result of someone being introduced to an artist by
    file sharing.

    Finally, there is the established fact that filesharing permits
    the public to serendipitously discovering music they otherwise
    would not have. Before complying with the court’s ruling I had
    downloaded about 600 pieces of music. Almost 200 were items
    from artists I never knew existed or "covers" that would have
    searched for or found.

  • Sadly, Bjorn Ulvaeus proves himself a dinosaur when it comes to understanding the changes in media. Now that the consumer has the power to share files, the reality of "stealing" copyright material is here to stay. No one really knows how this will turn out, but it’s presently evolving to a pay-as-you-go model, where artists release material online and earn a living through touring and promotion; Madonna is the case in point. Of course it will be difficult for many, but there’s nothing to be gained from demonising people taking advantage of a system that has historically exploited them. For my part, I have downloaded material and then happily paid for a higher-quality physical product. It’s called "try before you buy".

  • In regards to the concept of copying from library copies of books… I don’t know about the library system in the USA, but books written/illustrated by Australians that are available in Australian public libraries will gain some form of royalty for the Oz writer/illustrator that is funded by the government, thus, said Oz writer/illustrator is still compensated, at least to some extent :o)
    Also, the ‘try-before-you-buy’ method has always been around… it’s called listening to a sample, either in a store (as in the ‘olde-days’ ;o), or just listening on-line as per today… either way, one still does not need to steal before they buy copies. The ‘modern’ excuse of ‘try-before-you-buy’ with music (ie: not paying… ‘yet’) wouldn’t work in other areas of commerce. If it did, then that would mean we could go into a restaurant, eat (‘trying-before-buying’), then just go home without paying the bill. However, as it can be seen, this would be seen as stealing.
    Thankfully, there are people who still buy.
    Thus, Bjorn is not a dinosaur, he just like to be paid like we all do. And just because he is rich does not mean that he’s not entitled to more money… anyone who does work, unless it’s for charity or a gift, expects to be paid… and that is the issue that is ignored.

  • Just because file sharing his "here to stay" doesn’t make it legal or morally right.

  • I downloaded Du ir min man and liked it so much I bought the BAO cd, so I have to agree with the
    try before you buy theory. And I’ve spent a lot of what began as my pocket money on Abba records, tapes, then CDs, so if I download one or two of my favourites (which I’ve already bought in the different formats)in Mp3 I don’t think Bjorn can complain too much. I do however agree that new bands may suffer from file sharing. But not Abba.

  • I see the sense in a kind of shareware for music. Like pamcel above, I’ve downloaded and then bought what I downloaded. Consequently, I have ‘most everything legally that ABBA put out. The problem is, shareware doesn’t usually work very well. Too many people seem to think it means "freeware."

    BTW, who says bands ought to be able to make a living only if they put on live concerts? And I sure don’t begrudge Bjorn a single dime, or whatever, he’s earned. Him being rich doesn’t hurt me in the slightest.

  • I think it’s a bit daft when people have the excuse of: "Well, I’ve paid before for umpteen copies of ABBA Gold", making it sound like they’re entitled to steal from other sources to balance their expendage. However, buying so many copies is still not a licence to steal other things. Furthermore, it is a choice to buy umpteen copies of ‘ABBA Gold’, and more-over, no one has ever been forced to buy any copies at all. So no one should feel that they need to be compensated for buying what they chose to buy in the first instance (unless the goods were faulty). Also, it’s like buying a train ticket, not using it because you got a lift in a car instead, then at a future time avoiding buying a ticket for travel just because you didn’t use the paid fare last time. Try to get that excuse past the train guard. See… this is stealing too. What was wanted has been obtained (travel-to-destination / music).
    Isn’t it amazing how the issue of due-recompense to the artists keeps being ignored… I’ve yet to hear or read of any one person who says that they would also be happy to not be paid for the work that they do, just like they expect artists to not be paid for the work that they do. Stealing is stealing, there is really not other word for it. It’s also amazing how people have evolved in to thinking that they are entitle to steal. It’s not even stealing to survive (eg food), but stealing to supplement greed and selfishness.

  • Stealing is wrong and copying music or books ( I am an author) is stealing. I write educational books, I have spent 30 year studying and now teach people through my books, why should I put up with my work being stolen? The former Abba members have rights on their music and there is no justification for stealing it. How would you feel if you went to work and on the way home were mugged and your pay taken? It is the same for creative people, if you steal our work we feel violated and that is NOT too strong a word. I found an organisation in the UK had stolen one of my books and we came very close to going to court until they paid compensation in thousands of pounds. The argument that technology permits copying so it is therefore ok is vacuous, technology permits cars to travel at over 200 mph, it doesn’t make it right. Everyone reading this should encourage creative writers and artists everywhere, we add to culture and that way everyone benefits.

  • Theft is theft and Bjorn is right in what he says (the technology isn’t the isue but how people use it – if someone were to invent an invisible cloak, would we just accept it as okay for them to use it to shop-lift?). That he has made money from music doesn’t mean that he’s advocating self-interest but fighting for the rights of other artists who don’t have the same headlining capacity as him.

  • basically, Björn is right. It is a question of principle and ethics. If you live in a society that is based on exchanging money for goods it is justified to ask for people to pay for your product. We pay for food and water so why not for art? it cannot be devalued like that. So what we should do is give the artist the chance to decide. Do you want your art to be spreaded freely in the internet or not? If not, then nobody should be allowed to share the files of your music. But don’t attack the downloaders who may not even know what they are downloading. Maybe the downloaders think it’s in public domain.

    The way i see it, things should actually be the other way around – food,water and shelter for everyone should be free, and art should be paid for – because it is not a necessity. Basically, some sort of a system where people have their basic needs met even without working. I don’t think all humans have to work and most of the work that we do is useless anyway. I believe there is enough food, water and shelter for everyone, even despite all the problems like "overpopulation" or "global warming".

    If the society would be structured in a more rational way, then the people would work only about 3-4 hours a day in contrast to 8(!) hours these days. Nowadays many jobs are about totally useless things, and we are even trying to get more jobs for people all the time… I personally don’t think life is about working, but maybe I am wrong :)… Do what you like to do, and make that your "work", ( unless of course, it is file sharing, illegal downloading or … tax evasion) .

Please leave a comment...