“Culture and knowledge are good things, that increase in value the more they are shared. The Internet could become the greatest pubic library ever created.”
So says the Swedish “Piratpartiet”, (the Pirate Party) a political party formed in 2006 to reform Swedish copyright law and the patent system and to alert people to the dangers of a “surveillance” society where practically everyone is watched.
Within two days of being set up in January 2006 by founder Rick Falkvinge, the Party’s website received three million hits and its first 1,000 members. It now has 6,000 Swedish members.
Born digital and focused on the possibilities for an information society which is both open and diverse, the Pirate Party epitomises all of the characteristics of digital culture. It is Internet based with policies and principles developed collaboratively through discussion and debate on its website. Information can be uploaded, downloaded, edited and shared via the website; meetings take place online (there are no offices or “headquarters”) and its several well-attended public rallies have been arranged through the website, mobile phones and “social networking”.
The movement now has chapters either registered (Spain, Austria, Germany) or being formed in 27 countries, including fledgling but not yet active groups in Australia and New Zealand.
The Pirate Party aspires to gain enough seats in the Swedish parliament, Riksdagen, to hold the balance of power. In the 2006 Swedish elections, which were held just nine months after it was formed, the Party captured almost 35,000 votes. At 0.63 per cent of overall votes, this fell short of the 4 per cent required to qualify for a seat in the parliament but the Party did achieve the tenth highest vote overall and was placed as number four among youth voters.
The Party’s organisers note that in the parallel “mock” elections traditionally held in Swedish high schools, they easily gained 4.5 per cent of the vote - even without prepared Pirate Party ballot forms. No doubt Swedish youth were attracted by the Party’s policy that downloading non-commercial materials from the Internet should not be a criminal offence.
In much of Sweden, where broadband access and file-sharing were common well before the entertainment industry started to cry “Pirate” and to push for a tightening of intellectual property laws, digital natives were appalled when the laws were changed and they were suddenly portrayed as evil pirates rather than early adapters to digital technology.
A poll conducted by a Swedish newspaper in May 2006 found that those aged 18-20 were more likely to view file-sharing as a cultural phenomenon than a criminal activity. And it would not be surprising if they and other young people were also attracted by the Party’s policies on patents and privacy - both of which advocate reform for the benefit of citizens rather than the vested interests of big pharmaceutical companies and an increasingly invasive surveillance state.
Rick Falkvinge (FalconWing) has been traveling and speaking to gather support for the 100,000 votes that will be needed for the Pirate Party to be represented in the European Parliament in the 2009 elections.
Speaking at a forum at Google last year, he claimed that garnering 100,000 votes in Europe was not unrealistic. He also noted that the issue of file-sharing has brought copyright and intellectual property policy to the fore. Not only are the media now interested in the copyfights between the big media companies and those who object to their near monopoly power, politicians are starting to understand that this is an issue that might have some votes in it, particularly among younger voters.
The Norwegian conservative party, for instance, recently adopted the Pirate Party’s policies on copyright reform. “They just translated it and adopted it” said Falkvinge in an interview. He added that it was somewhat ironic that such an action itself might technically constitute a breach of copyright.
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