Are the Pirates in the Vanguard of a New Politics?


News that the Swedish Pirate Party has secured a seat in the European Parliament was not totally unexpected, but the fact that the party also gained 7.1% of the Swedish vote, is. It suggests that there is something deeper going on here than a few bored voters choosing a joke party.

The Pirate Party has just three basic policy areas:

The Pirate Party wants to fundamentally reform copyright law, get rid of the patent system, and ensure that citizens' rights to privacy are respected. With this agenda, and only this, we are making a bid for representation in the European and Swedish parliaments.

Although it may be best known for its espousal of file-sharing, this is only a small part of a more detailed copyright vision:

The official aim of the copyright system has always been to find a balance in order to promote culture being created and spread. Today that balance has been completely lost, to a point where the copyright laws severely restrict the very thing they are supposed to promote. The Pirate Party wants to restore the balance in the copyright legislation.

All non-commercial copying and use should be completely free. File sharing and p2p networking should be encouraged rather than criminalized. Culture and knowledge are good things, that increase in value the more they are shared. The Internet could become the greatest public library ever created.

The monopoly for the copyright holder to exploit an aesthetic work commercially should be limited to five years after publication. Today's copyright terms are simply absurd. Nobody needs to make money seventy years after he is dead. No film studio or record company bases its investment decisions on the off-chance that the product would be of interest to anyone a hundred years in the future.

The commercial life of cultural works is staggeringly short in today's world. If you haven't made your money back in the first one or two years, you never will. A five years copyright term for commercial use is more than enough. Non-commercial use should be free from day one.

We also want a complete ban on DRM technologies, and on contract clauses that aim to restrict the consumers' legal rights in this area. There is no point in restoring balance and reason to the legislation, if at the same time we continue to allow the big media companies to both write and enforce their own arbitrary laws.

Those are all ideas that probably find plenty of resonance with young people, brought up on a culture of sharing music and videos, with little regard for the old niceties of a copyright law originally framed for ink placed on crushed trees. The Pirate Party's position on patents, by contrast, is probably less immediately relevant to them:

Pharmaceutical patents kill people in third world countries every day. They hamper possibly life saving research by forcing scientists to lock up their findings pending patent application, instead of sharing them with the rest of the scientific community. The latest example of this is the bird flu virus, where not even the threat of a global pandemic can make research institutions forgo their chance to make a killing on patents.

The Pirate Party has a constructive and reasoned proposal for an alternative to pharmaceutical patents. It would not only solve these problems, but also give more money to pharmaceutical research, while still cutting public spending on medicines in half. This is something we would like to discuss on a European level.

Patents in other areas range from the morally repulsive (like patents on living organisms) through the seriously harmful (patents on software and business methods) to the merely pointless (patents in the mature manufacturing industries).