Commentary

Pirate Party Manifesto: Reform Intellectual Property Laws to Protect Freedoms

The Pirates are the kind of party our old guard could take pointers from: new image, in-touch and bluntly honest.

By Chris Erl
Published August 31, 2009

From the balcony, the Returning Officer announces in a loud voice:

Allan Jones (Sensible Party) - 9,112
Kevin Philips-Bong (Slightly Silly) - Naught
Tarquin Fim-Tim-Lim-Bim-Win-Bim-Lim-Busstop-FitangFitang-Olé-BiscuitBarrel (Silly Party) - 12,441

-- Monty Python's 'Election Night Special' Sketch

This past June, elections for Members of the European Parliament were held. If you didn't know until now, it's completely understandable; when we're exerting significant energy in scrutinizing/ignoring our own three levels of government, the last thing we need is another system to follow/disregard.

Yet, in this massive election, where representatives were sent to Brussels to create pan-European laws and regulations, a new force rose to prominence in Sweden that may pique your interest.

Currently the third largest party in the social democratic paradise of Sweden, the Pirate Party has sailed across Europe and is currently well on its way to becoming a registered political party on our own shores. Arrgggh, indeed.

I was recently given the opportunity to look through the Pirate Party's Declaration of Principles (Version 3.2). Accustomed to the brutally bureaucratic and exuberantly extensive, albeit viciously vague party manifestos I've leafed through in the past, the very readable five pages of simply-stated and straightforward policies the Pirates assembled was refreshing. It's not hard to understand their appeal to youth and the traditionally disenfranchised, yet the nature of their goals raises questions about their involvement in the Canadian system.

Three Core Issues

The Pirates have stated that they are only interested in three core issues: protecting citizen's rights, freeing our culture from the grips of unfair copyright laws and, ultimately, enacting massive reforms to the existing copyright and patent system.

All other issues, important as they may be, are for the other parties to concern themselves with. If and when they insert themselves into a coalition government, their membership will tow the line of the dominant member party.

This makes them incredibly versatile, especially since the party is nominally 'un-aligned' when it comes to the traditional political spectrum. Whereas their beliefs on copyright are relentlessly leftwing, the Canadian chapter has recently called for the abolition of the CRTC, a policy many grassroots Conservatives have been demanding for years.

Regardless, it's their unique and progressive views on the nature of the internet that makes them so unique. The name itself may be laughable to those who exclusively know pirates as swashbuckling ocean bound criminals of the late 17th and early 18th century, but the loosely defined term for the action engaged in when downloading copyrighted music, files or movies is called "Piracy".

Online Privacy Rights

On the issue of privacy, the party believes all people should have the same privacy rights online as they do in the tangible world. Just as mail cannot be opened by a third party, except in extraordinary situations, they would have the same laws apply to email.

Any surveillance of instant messaging conversations, text messages, emails, or any other form of online communication of a person-to-person nature (as opposed to posting in public like on RTH's comments section) would require a court order, just as phone-tapping or physical surveillance does.

Intellectual Property Reform

Their views on copyright are obvious. The Pirate Party calls for an end to the illegality of simple file sharing for non-profit uses. When it comes to commercial copyright, the retention time would be lowered to five years after creation and all non-commercial sharing sites would be encouraged to help stimulate culture.

Poetically, they call for this to happen quickly, "...before time withers away the celluloid of the old movie reels." (Page 3, under 'Free Our Culture')

Few words are reserved for patents, as the Pirates chose to simply state they must be slowly abolished and private monopolies must be combated due to their unequivocally relentless drive for profit over humanity.

Youth- and Mainstream Appeal

And the kids are eating this stuff up! Today's youth are growing increasingly apathetic and feeling helplessly disconnected from the affairs of the world. So when a party came along that has a stated goal of not stating any goals, save ones that deal with the internet, those who inhabit my age bracket went wild.

The Pirates currently have the highest youth membership in Sweden and have taken scores of other European youth into their fold. In the June Elections, an 18 year old student was on the party list for the Pirates, a climax of sorts in the youthful, enthusiastic fervor over the party that speaks to their technologically oriented lives.

Of course, with every modern youth-dominated technological movement, the parents have to get involved. Except, unlike Facebook, now that more mature people are getting involved, the movement is gaining further legitimacy instead of simply becoming unpopular.

The general public, fed up with old school politics that has made government lethargic with inaction, has flocked to the Pirates. Membership numbers from Sweden on 22 August 2008 stood at about 5,963. Exactly one year later, the party had a membership of 50,107.

They are the kind of party our old guard could take pointers from: new image, in-touch and bluntly honest. For example, in their concluding statements, they declared:

The Pirate Party does not strive to be part of an administration. Our goal is to use a tie breaker position in parliament as leverage, and support an administration that drives the issues in our platform in a satisfactory manner. (Page 5, under 'Closing Words')

A perfectly satisfactory goal, if I do say so myself. In Canada, we have parties that have a similar mindset, though this is where a major question arises.

Proportional Representation

Swedish elections are a complicated affair, with a series of mathematical equations and double counts to determine the outcome of a poll. The central pillar of their democracy is their unwavering faith in proportional representation, so, when a party receives 4+ percent of the vote, they are guaranteed a seat in the Rikstag.

Governments are formed through coalitions made up of parties of a similar mindset because proportional representation rarely awards any party a majority and because, unlike in Canada, they have set election days that they actually observe.

The current government is, by Swedish standards, rather conservative, but includes four parties, each with a similar bend who will work together until the next election in 2010.

First Past the Post

In Canada, the situation is completely different, thanks to our adherence to the first-past-the-post system. Here, a party can easily attain 4, 14 or 24 percent of the vote and still be shut out of Parliament, or, can take power without winning the popular vote (i.e. Clark's PC's in 1979).

The adverse political situation here may hamper the efforts of the Pirates. Imagine having a Pirate, Green, New Democratic, Canadian Action, Marxist-Leninist, Communist and Animal Alliance Environment Voter's Party Candidate stand for election in a riding home to a university and large proportion of students (the Pirate's strongest base). Splitting the progressive vote seven ways would almost completely ensure a Conservative or Liberal victory.

The Pirates could take a page from the playbook of Québec Solidaire, la belle provance's new leftwing opposition, and focus all their efforts on a few winnable ridings to ensure success, as opposed to fighting a broad campaign over the entire county. Yet without significant advances in the area of electoral reform, the Pirates' chances in Canada may be slimmer than in more hospitable waters.

Their vision for the future is progressive and daring, their enthusiasm is driven by youth and unity and their message is loud, clear, simple. Their pitfall stands ominously in the form of our electoral system. Canada's already deeply fractured left may see their arrival on the scene as simply another nail in the coffin of progressive politics here.

Regardless of the challenges, the Pirates seem to be an unstoppable force full of energy and optimism. That is something our parties lack and desperately need to get back, lest they cede power to those who know the value in idealism, in progress and in hope.

Chris Erl, a born and raised Hamiltonian, has wanted to change the world ever since becoming the Westwood Elementary School Chief Returning Officer in Grade 5. After receiving both a B.A. (Honours) and M.A. from McMaster, Chris decided to purse his passion and study urban planning.

In addition to serving on the City of Hamilton’s LGBTQ Advisory Committee, Chris is also a registered candidate for Public School Board trustee in Wards 1 & 2.

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By Rick Falkvinge (PP) (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 16:16:50

Hi Chris,

interesting reading!

I'm kind of curious as to why you consider the Pirate Party's stance on copyrights and patents left-wing, though. Myself, I have practically a libertarian background, and oppose the current copyrights and patents for four reasons:

1) (copyrights only) they meddle with civil liberties, which should take precedence over any commercial monopoly;

2) ideological: they are commercial monopolies: government sanctioned private commercial monopolies, that have no place in a free market

3) capitalistic: if government should choose anyway to award the commercial monopoly, despite the harm to innovation and creativity resulting from forbidding everybody but the monopoly holder to use a certain mechanism or piece, they should at least charge a good market price for that commercial advantage, and not hand monopolies out like candy.

4) practical: they do not fulfill their stated purpose of being creativity and innovation boosters, but are relentless creativity and innovation inhibitors.

No matter how you angle it, I can't see this being "relentlessly leftwing".

Other pirates have their own reasons, and that's what makes us strong. Our points can be defended from many viewpoints. These are mine.

Cheers,
Rick

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By JonC (registered) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 16:35:00

I read it as in the practical sense of left wing. The more right wing parties in Canada have aligned themselves more closely with business interests than the other end (although there is lots of corporate love to go around in politics).

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By Postman (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 16:35:03

Leftwing? Wingnuts I say.

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By Anders (registered) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 16:44:25

@Rick - It doesn't sound like you're against copyright or patents entirely, but in their current form, so help me out - how would you protect the rights of intellectual property owners? What's the incentive to create something if you don't get to own the idea?

I've always thought of piracy as nouveau Marxism, a way to smash capital without having to read Capital. As well as a way to justify theft. But you sound like you would support the idea of private ownership and not theft.

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By jc021286 (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2009 at 18:27:27

Interesting read,

Myself I fall into the apathetic arena and wish to not engage in what I only see as 4 poor decisions. So I take solace in the 5th decision.

There is a big difference between sharing and stealing, borrowing and theft, though there is also the concern of artificial monopolies, corruption, protected industries, complexity. My argument is this, if I wished to work on a strand of cancer DNA in order to test a theory, I cannot without paying someone millions. We cannot do anything and time horizons of 15+ years is far too much. While people need to be paid and reimbursed for their works, they must also not create artificial monopolies that would permit extortion.

I agree that email and other forms of data need to have a higher extent of security on them, to bring them more in parallel with traditional. Though I would argue that the system for legitimate access by authorities needs to be stream lined. So police can access the information if needed whereas more protection is then available to prevent identity theft.

The incentive to create would need to be incorporated where it could easily take the form of a subsidy that is granted by any profit seekers, so that it is a forced royalty-subsidy for only 5 years, though anyone is free to use/innovate/create off of the original patent.

My main point is that there will still be protection for entrepreneurs, though also for consumers. Product lifecycles and innovation will speed up. We are in the 21st century, we have effectively cut down the time for huge advancements in technology from being centuries at a time to taking only several months to a few years. Think of it like this, since pirating became popular with the internet, the time from when the movie is no longer shown in theaters and comes out on its respective media has been cut drastically. Now I can own it sooner, whereas I would be waiting for an excessive amount of time until I got to see/own it. There is no point in having patents and copyrights that last some 30+ years when technology makes things obsolete in a matter of months or years.

The system is flawed, the people are unimpressive, the medium is confusing, cumbersome, faulty, wasteful and simplified with the adjective Microsoft-like. A revamp is required though I would be unsure if a tie-breaker party would hold enough sway to get the changes that are needed.

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By C. Erl (registered) - website | Posted August 31, 2009 at 22:48:27

@ Rick Falkvinge

Hi Rick!

Those are some amazing arguments and do provoke quite a bit of thought. You actually fall into the same camp as one of my very close relatives, who passionately argues points similar to yours, calling for a major reform of the copyright system, but also less government involvement in his life.

Your arguments are very valid and do make sense from the stance you take, but the very left leaning crowd I associate make similar calls for copyright reform, but on different grounds.

Our position is that copyright simply benefits massive corporations instead of individual artists and the general public. Patents only enrich big pharma and keep the cost of life saving drugs too high for most people to afford. Essentially, people over profit does not work into copyright's guidelines.

I will admit you make a strong case for the libertarian aspect of the issue and I thank you for enlightening me further on the issue!

I haven't heard too much from specific Pirates, referring just to the Declaration and news coverage of their win in Sweden. Most of the opinions I heard were from left-leaning members.

Thanks again for the input!

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By alrathbone (registered) | Posted September 02, 2009 at 01:11:08

While I certainly support defending the "fair use" rights of users, I find it hard to suggest that copyrights and patents should either not exist, or quickly expire.

There would no longer be professional artists, if anyone could use their work for profit after only five years. That said, copyright should die with the maker, or perhaps the surving spouse, and not linger on like it does now.

Patents are a whole other issue entirely. Drug companies only make money, because they can charge huge amounts on drugs, because of the huge cost (and risk) in drug development. Essentially, why invest in new drugs, if other companies could just free ride on your development.

Now I wouldn't be opposed to a trade off: Government subsidies for promising and necessary drugs, in return for a proportional reduction of the length of a patent funded by a tax on generic drugs.

As for other industrial patents where the matter is not so much life and death, I do not see the point in stepping in, because the only true problem seems to be in prescription medication.

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By LL (registered) - website | Posted September 04, 2009 at 19:03:26

Once again, I'm proposing that people on this site qualify their use of "libertarian" with either "left" or "right." There are two axes on the political spectrum, not one.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Europe...

Having gotten that out of the way, I'd like point people to some of the "left-libertarian" currents surrounding this issue. One of the most intriguing schools of thought to tackle the issue of value and its distribution in the "information age" is the autonomist-marxist tradition. Hardt & Negri's widely read "Empire" deals with it. If you can get past the difficult language. Another book that I've heard is good, but havent read, is "Cyber Marx" by Nick Dyer-Witheford. Of course, it's available free online:)

http://www.fims.uwo.ca/people/faculty/dy...

Then there's the Italian thinker/activist Bifo, who was in Hamilton recently.

http://www.generation-online.org/p/pbifo...

When you read this autonomist stuff, you quickly realize that the labour theory of value is far from refuted (however morphed it is temporally and spatially). From there, it doesn't take too long to realize that the ones who've been "stealing" all along is the ruling class.

Another classic text is Murray Bookchin's "Post Scarcity Anarchism", which was arguing way back in the early seventies that the sheer productive capacity of cybernetics and other new technologies had created the "potentiality" of making scarcity - and along with it property and markets - superfluous. Kind of prophetic, I think, when you see the difficulty of enforcing the "commodity form" on many informational goods.

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By LL (registered) - website | Posted September 05, 2009 at 03:51:29

Sorry.

I started in on the political spectrum. Then I started pointing people to literature on "this issue". I should clarify, "this issue" is the free dissemination of informational goods.

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By C. Erl (registered) - website | Posted September 05, 2009 at 23:08:16

@ LL

Terribly sorry! I have a nasty habit of doing that, sorry. The predominance of American neo-conservative libertarians often overshadow the extremely fascinating ideologies of left-libertarians.

Interesting posts too! Thanks!

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