Dutch Copyright Wars: 4 Updates from the Frontline

It’s one of the big shadow economies this side of the century: Intellectual property. You can own a film. You can own a song. You can own a scientific formula and you can own an idea. Owning it means you can decide who and how much you sell it for. It also means no one can use it unless they pay the right price.

It’s a hot button issue. It’s leading to heated debates, lawsuits and tragic assisted suicides. Lines are becoming blurred on what is illegal and what is legal. There are many feuds concerning copyright(Think Apple vs. Samsung). It has all sorts of multinationals, governments, law firms, institutes and rebels involved. When zooming out to full-scale these feuds make up a war: a war between the copy-right and the copy-left.

Screenshot from RIP: A Remix Manifesto

Holland appears to be in the midst of this shrouded war. So time to clear the smoke and share some news from the Dutch frontline.

Update #1: Brein in offence, might Kamikaze

When in Holland try to visit Piratebay.org. But wait… What just happened? Exactly! You can’t, because the website is blocked. This is the work of Brein (Brain). Brein is the government organization that protects artists, publishers, films and music from the evils of unrightfull use of their work. They are also connected to some of those hilarious commercials in the heyday’s of DVD that state you are a dangerous criminal when you download illegally (which obviously made it all the more fun and exciting).

download (1)

Brein was suing small timer offenders for some time. It however dawned on them  it wasn’t making them all that popular. It was kind harsh and rather futile. To make the illegal file sharing stop they had to go upstream. They locked eyes with Piratebay and saw the huge amounts of illegal uploads (downloading itself isn’t illegal) they were responsible for. Ever since it’s been love at first sight. They sued Piratebay over and over again. But Brein was unable to subpoena the owners. Who were even considered the owners? The server? The provider? The makers? The advertisers? Piratebay also decided to countersue Brein. So although lots of paperwork and verdicts were flying around it was all kind of meaningless.

But Brein is inventive. They started handing out court orders to internet providers for harboring criminals and providing a platform for their criminal activity. Block access to those sites! The court ruled in favor of Brein and BAM! the Dutch Pirate bay got obliterated. Considering this as a victory was slightly premature since apparently all the other international versions were still online and so Dutch big time criminals (AKA: you, me and everyone we know) switched to other versions of Piratebay or one of the other 100 websites for torrents or streaming.

The University of Amsterdam researched if the blockade has been effective. I’m not even going to share the results because even a toddler with down-syndrome can figure out the answer to this one.

Aside from that Brein has sued 3 minors for their reverse proxy service in 2012. This reverse proxy server service means as much as trying to get Piratebay back in through the Dutch back door. They were convicted. It’s the digital equivalent of suing the neighbor’s kids after one of ‘em shattered your window with their football.

Strangely enough Brein is now slowly losing public support in their war against illegal downloading. They been supposedly attacked with DDoS attacks and been declared the enemy by Anonymous.

Yes this is tech support your government is doing what have you tried turning it off and back on again

It appears Brein is fighting a losing battle because of the popular alternatives. Research shows that illegal downloading does not necessarily negatively influence a consumers behavior. Sometimes it might even do the opposite. It also appears institutions like Brein are extremely unwilling to back innovative alternatives because they obviously make less money in the end.

For more intel on the Piratebay case abroad you should definitely give this documentary a try.


Update #2: Buma/Stemra in the Defence

Brein is not the only one finding it difficult to recruit soldiers for their war on copy-left. Buma/Stemra has had to deal with quite a few deserters. Buma/Stemra is the Dutch copyrighting agency for music and musicians of all sorts. If you want your shit protected or use a Dutch artist’s shit you’ve got to go through them. But apparently Buma/Stemra has a few skeletons in their closets. Enter GeenStijl.

GeenStijl(translates to No Style) is the website that helped to introduce Holland to a new form of Journalism: Bash-ism. They mix news and opinion and bash all sorts of public figures, events and things who, according to them, deserve it. They are amongst the responsible for discrediting politicians and ruining reputations. They are brutally honest, harsh, nasty and pretty damn popular. So when they started talking about Buma/Stemra on their site pointing out some pretty interesting developments at Buma/Stemra opinions started shifting.

Guess the logo!

Apparently Buma/Stemra does not have the cleanest slate. According to Huub Stapel they are keeping a tight monopoly within the industry, they made a ridonculous embed deal with youtube demanding websites to pay for embedding their content which they are still backpeddling from. They appear to be sending random companies payment notifications to increase their income. They used material for their own anti-piracy campaigns without paying the actual artist (which is such an hilarious paradox) and appear to be making a lot of money and having no problem putting it on display. There were even ‘kamervragen’ brought up by D66 questioning the integrity of Buma/Stemra.

Now Buma/Stemra is being slowly forced into defense mode. All their moves are being followed closely and whenever they fuck up Geen Stijl and it’s followers will plaster it all over the web. And to be honest one could wonder about their ethics and methods and rightfully ask if we really need such a big and expensive agency in this day and age where everyone puts covers and parodies on youtube. Is that so awful? Are these criminals that need to pay up?


Update #3: Neelie Kroes has gone native

neelie_kroesNeelie Kroes is our very own Dutch Iron Lady. She is of Dutch descent and made strides in her political career going from regional politics in Rotterdam to National politics for the VVD (the liberals) being responsible for the privatization of several industries. After taking a break from politics she entered the European arena working through an appointment as European commissioner for competition regulations. This is the woman responsible for fining Microsoft for millions for not offering alternatives for Internet Explorer (You remember? It’s that browser your great-great-grandmother used back in the day).

Neelie has been a conflicted public figure because she was on a lot of the boards she was supposed to critically analyze and fine. When she became too controversial she switched and became commissioner of the digital agenda.


And although she is probably still on a lot of boards that can cause a conflict of interest with her current position she appears to have gone native. She is a big supporter of opening up copyright for artistic and commercial expression. She is a fan of open source as anyone with a functioning brain is. Basically she is hauling over Europe into the digital age. And keeping in mind where she came from I applaud her. It’s not an easy thing being at the center of a lot of lobby, political heat and controversy and still formulate the opinions she does.

It’s that, or she is a double agent with an amazing pokerface.

Update #4: The truce of Netflix

Neelie Kroes is not the only one bringing us into the digital era. Netflix has been a fixture for Americans for some time. But now, after what must have been an exhausting pile of legal deals being made, Netflix finally arrived in Holland this very week. This is a truce in the battle for Copyright. Why? It’s a new way of paying for content and not having to pay full price for separate products. It’s the final nail in the coffin that is your dvd-collection. That’s why the film industry is terrified and extremely desperate to stop Netflix right in it’s tracks. It devalues audiovisual productions, as it should be doing, since content is exploding. And they are not only available in Holland these days. They are going global.

Kevin Spacey who produced the sexy new show House of Cards for Netflix makes a very solid case stating that Netflix is the lesson the film industry must learn to not go down the same path as the music industry (Basically not pulling a Buma/Stemra).

And he is right. The pilot television system is outdated and great products will still be made even if the executives and midlevel management make a couple of millions less.

Now we’ll have to wait and see if Netflix becomes the next powerhouse that will sue anyone using their material blind or if they will embrace the copyleft and further solidify the inevitable future. What do you think?


Copyright as I am presenting it appears to be mainly an entertainment industry issue affecting the music and film industry alone. I would like to emphasize however that this is a serious issue. It affects the price of medication because theories necessary for making them are considered property. It creates criminals whenever someone sings happy birthday to a friend. Hardware developers fight over it when creating their phones and it can delay great scientific findings and progress. For a nice ‘subjective’ introduction to the subject watch this great documentary ‘RIP: A remix manifesto’.

We are all in the midst of this copyright war. We can affect the outcome of the battles that are fought. We pick a side when we decide to watch a Netflix film at home instead of going to the movies or using Spotify instead of buying an album. We influence our way of thinking when we remix something or post or share a simple meme, gif or vine using material that’s not ours. We effect our lives and those of others when we have a brilliant idea and decide to share it or own it.

So pick a side, take up arms and fight. What side are you on?

Martijn Van Veen
Martijn Van Veen
Martijn is a filmmaker and curious mind fascinated with the ever changing world around him. He loves to overshare and to mingle in debates surrounding feminism, LGBT rights, ethnicity, immigration, copyright, new media and the war on drugs.


  1. Quite a read, good article. I do miss some counterarguments though: intellectual property is of course an important way to economize the process of creation. It allows companies to invest many years in a product without their ideas being stolen directly after production.

    • Completely agree. I am extremely subjective. There is always a balance. But the balance is shifting because the products are becoming devaluated. Film and music are becoming so easy to make and so prevalent. We don’t really need the multimillionaire musicians and executives anymore. They are becoming obsolete.

      And I consider Brazil and especially China to be economically thriving after giving (American) copyright the finger. I do admit that this raises quite a few ethical questions, but not necessarily economic ones.

      It’s just pretty dangerous business.. creating ideas as property. When you see opensource projects. They are the future. It doesn’t have to do with property and who gets rich, it has to do with working for what you believe in and sharing the success.

  2. Great article, good effort on reporting the ridiculous behaviour of Brein and such. But even for ‘fair’ companies like Netflix and Spotify it’s hard to compete with regular downloading, just hard to beat free/no price at all.

  3. BREIN is not a government agency but an independent foundation (stichting) and in practice a sock puppet of Big Media.


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