Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The pirate parties in Europe and struggle over intellectual property regime - Marko Ulvila

Recently an electoral political movement has emerged in Europe challenging specifically the century long trend of tightening intellectual property regime. This 'pirate' movement has its roots in youth culture where sharing of digital content over the Internet is considered a natural right that the entertainment industry tries illegitimately to curtail though copyright laws and litigations. At present the pirate parties have got representatives in the European Parliament and local councils of five countries in the continental Europe where proportional electoral system make it fairly easy for new parties to enter the arena.

The movement has taken its identity and name 'pirates' from a famous Swedish Internet web site the Pirate Bay that facilitates peer-to-peer sharing of digital content using bit torrent protocol. The group that runs the popular web site and operators that host the service have been taken several times to court by multinational entertainment industry for copyright violations. The court cases have became media events and the fact that the site is up and running despite several rulings against it have made the organisers almost mythical heros.

Against this background of popular struggle with the copyright regime in Sweden, the first Pirate Party was established there in 2006. Its aim was to reform laws regarding copyright and patents so that their realm in society would be limited in individual freedoms enhanced. The agenda also included support for a strengthening of the right to privacy and the transparency of state administration

In the national parliamentary elections in 2006 the Swedish Pierate Party got 0,63 % of the popular vote with no representation. However, the movement started growing fast. Joining the party was made easy over the Internet and membership has grown fast the traditional parties so that today it has third largest membership.

The Swedish Pirate Party got a surprising electoral success in the 2009 European Parliament elections when it got 7 % of the vote and 2 representatives. This can be explained by addressing a real political issue and creative mobilisation over the Internet. Also the fact that most Swedes disprove the European Union and tend to vote in the European Parliament elections outside traditional party loyalties is a factor.

The electoral success in Sweden in 2009 has inspired groups in most European countries to set up similar parties or movement groups under the same pirate title. In the past years the pirate parties have win seats in local councils in Gemarny, Spain, Switzerland and Czech Republic.

The pirate party movement has chosen to limit its agenda to a narrow set of issues important in the information society. Also it has chosen not to take a clear position on the traditional left-right continuum.

In my mind the narrow agenda of the pirate parties will limit their impact, since copyright and patent regimes can hardly be democratised unless there is overall societal democratisation. Just as the creation of the current exploitative intellectual property regime has been an initiative of the powerful elites, a just regime can be established only through democratic change in power relations.

Historically, making knowledge a realm of private property through copyright and patent legislation has been an important element of the capitalist world system. The Berne copyright convention from 1886 and Paris patent convention from 1883 were essential instruments in consolidating European power internationally. The infamous Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement from 1994 is the latest big leap in creating enclosures in the knowledge commons by the powerful.

Altering this trend requires noting short of revolution where the power of the capital would be replaced by the power of the people (democracy). The articulation of the private parties about the injustices in the intellectual property regime and new control technologies is very useful in understanding the challenges created by the digitalised technology. However, it is not enough to deal with the problems specific to the information era and leave aside the standing problems of the feudal and industrial eras that has origins in the same sources.

Marko Ulvila

The author is writer and democracy activist based in Tampere, Finland and an active member in the Green Party

More information about the pirate movement

The Swedish Pirate Party http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirate_Party_%28Sweden%29

Pirate Parties International http://pp-international.net/

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