Some fifteen years later, Fairlight and other pirate groups were seen as such a threat to the software industry that FBI was asked to put an end to them. Operation Fastlink, as the initiative was called, was one of the most massive attacks on organized piracy ever. More than 120 persons from ten countries were arrested and charged, several of them from Fairlight. According to John Ashcroft, then Attorney General of the USA, law enforcement had shut down a ”well-organized criminal network.”
Still, Fairlight survived and prevails – althought most members are now middle-aged and have left the scene far behind. The anniversary meeting in Stockholm is the first one so far, says Pontus Berg. The agenda includes mingle, demos, buffet and beer.
Pontus Berg, now 43, has been a Fairlight member since 1988. For several years, he was the leader of the group. For this interview, he brings Magnus ”Pantaloon” Sjöberg, 38, still the leader of the Fairlight demo section. Pontus has worked in the telecom business for some years. Magnus is the lead software engineer at computer game company Digital Illusions. Pontus giggles as he tells me how Fairlight in 1992 cracked and distributed the Digital Illusions breakthrough game Pinball Dreams.
Other founding members of Fairlight include Fredrik ”Gollum” Kahl, now a professor of mathematics at Lund University, and Per ”Zike” Carlbring, now a professor of clinical psychology at Umeå University. And, of course, ”Strider”. The story of Tony Krvaric's life is probably one of the most absurd ones in Swedish IT history (see sidebar).
Pontus and Magnus were both attracted to the scene in school. ”What nerds had instead of soccer,” they say. None of them says they're active in the pirate world today, they mainly work with demo programming. These days it's mainly about keeping up with old acquantainces.
”For me, it's like meeting the old soccer team, even if there are younger talents playing today. We may all be ancient, but we're still the elite. Fairlight shaped my adolescence and is an important factor in my becoming who I am,” says Pontus Berg.
Both the creation of demos and cracking games is about challenge, they believe. To show what you know and be acknowledged and get appreciation from others ”on the scene.” It might be argued that current phenomena such as The Pirate Bay goes back to scene groups like Fairlight. However, both Pontus and Magnus take a negative view of the current pirate culture. What was a technically demanding hobby for enthusiasts has become a mindless culture of freeloading, they say.
”I can appreciate the technical challenge of cracking a game. But what's happening today, I find it hard to justify. Any idiot could rip a movie and upload it to Pirate Bay, and they're even making money from it. That's nothing but commercial murder of those who actually make those items,” says Pontus Berg.
What they like to talk about is the positive effects of the demo and warez scene. There's a straight line from the demo and warez groups of the 1980's to today's flourishing Scandinavian computer games industry, they say. Sweden's Digital Illusions and Starbreeze, Finland's Remedy have annual turnovers of hundreds of millions of Swedish Kronor. They were all started by persons with a background on the scene.
”We could be accused of having acted in a legal grey zone. But for national finances, I believe it was a giant plus. The availability of demos and cracked games was very important in the beginning for
the sales of home computers,” says Pontus Berg.
”Also, we learned a lot. When I had just turned 20, I was in charge of business on four continents. What managment class would have given me that opportunity?”
Translated by Anders Lotsson.
In the 1980's, Tony ”Strider” Krvaric insisted on signing his Fairlight releases with the words ”kill a commie for your mommie”. That was a hint on where life would take him. In 1992, the infamous gaming pirate left Fairlight and emigrated to the USA. After becoming an American citizen, he entered politics and made a fast career in the Republican party. Today, Tony Krvaric is the chairman of the San Diego Republicans.
”After personally having experienced the disastrous effects of socialism in Sweden and Europe, he was determined to stand up for the traditional, conservative values that made America so successful,” is how the party web page summarizes his political standpoint.
In 2008, the news site The Raw Story revealed Krvaric's background in Fairlight under the headline ”San Diego GOP chairman founded international piracy ring”. Four years earlier, several members of the group he founded were arrested by the FBI during Operation Fastlink.
Today Tony Krvaric is unwilling to speak openly about his background, and he does not wish to be associated with it. The Fairlight anniversary celebration will be the first time in many years that he meets other members of the group, according to Pontus Berg.
We are new (C64)
Legoland 3 (C64)
Only one wish (PC)