2006-06-12

A presentation of the Pirate Party

Piracy in Sweden
Sweden has always been in the forfront of most technology since the start of computers, and here, fast and cheap broadband connections, effectient computers and wireless technology is widely available. The open source society has quite a bit to thank Sweden for, for example. Linus Torvalds, the creater of Linux, belongs to the Swedish minority in Finland. All of this is often attributed to a combination of factors, a strong tradition of technology, far-reaching consent about the equality of all people, belonging to Western Europe, but still being scarcely populated for such a large country, an effective - and free-of-charge - educational system, and major investments in high-tech are some of the factors.

Thus, it's not surprising that Sweden also is a country where the contested boundaries of piracy has been pushed far and early in Sweden. When Napster were sold out to the anti-piracy legislature and lawsuits in 2000, many alternatives were tested in a short amount of time. One of the more popular examples were Kazaa, developed by Swedes. Now the Kazaa system has a bad reputation among file-sharers, but before its commercialisation integrated alot of malware into it, Kazaa was very popular.

In the latest generation of file sharing, the flag-ship system is called BitTorrent. Compared to previous and alternative systems it has a name of being effecient, safe (in terms of escaping prosecution for piracy), powerful (with abilities to download a season of a TV series at a time, for example) and user-friendly. Most of the traffic is made possible by so-called "tracker sites", that might best be described as databases, keeping track of roughly what is where and thus keeping the system rolling.

The largest tracker site is called the Pirate Bay. The tracker site is by far the largest spreader of cultural material in the world, and through the help of the tracking done by the Pirate Bay, BitTorrent circles data amounts equal to fifty DVD-r discs around every second, every day.

Linked with this website, but not official the same thing, is the website Piratbyrån (meaning "The Pirate Group" or "The Pirate Agency"). Piratbyrån works as a think-tank and a lobby group, providing information about technology, sharing of culture, and the on-going pirate war among other things, and lobbying about their views on said questions. Among the more influental people from Piratbyrån is a guy called Rasmus Fleischer, who is a journalist who's blog Copyriot is an influental one in the movement. And as of January 1 1996, there is also the Pirate Party (Piratpartiet), which this article is based around. This is the main actors in what some people call the Swedish "Pirate movement".

What is the Pirate Party?
The Pirate Party is a political party that was formed by IT entrepeneur Richard Falkvinge on January 1, 1996.

The Pirate Party are running three main questions, that can be divided into several others:

  1. Strengthening of rights and freedoms, particularily concerning personal integrity of the individual.
  2. The freedom of cultural materials of all sorts.
  3. The principle that patents and private monopolys are harmfull to society.
The party does not run any other questions, especially not questions on wealth distribution and organisation of society as a whole, or the general economical policies of Sweden. Thus, it cannot be fitted into a left-right political scale.

Aims and strategy
The Pirate Party aims to get into the Swedish parliament in the general elections that are taking place in September 2006. The hopes is that the elections will be even, so that none of the two major fractions in Swedish politics (the left-wing fraction and the right-wing fraction) can easily form a government. If so, the Pirate Party will support any government agreeing to run "their" questions, and thereby tipping the balance of power. The Pirate Party will then run their questions aggressively, but support the government unconditionally in every other question as long as the cooperation holds.

Even if the Pirate Party does not achieve this important role of maintaining the balance of power, it claims to be able to do a lot of important work in the parliament committees. Much of the legislation that the party disagrees with, is there much because the established parties does not know or does not care enough about the internet and new technology. The established parties, the Pirate Party claims, have not thought through the concequences of building up a tightly monitored society to maintain old structures instead of using the possibilities of the future. Often they blindly trust claims by media market lobby groups and civil servants, since they are not interested enough in these questions to form an educated opinion of their own.

The Pirate Party hopes to be able to change this, simply by being there insisting that these are important issues. None of the major parties in practice does not actually want to make it harder for small businesses to develop software, and they doesn't really want to criminalize the majority of everyone under the age of 30. The Pirate Party hopes to be the ones that can run these questions, by their own words: "We run only three questions, but on the other hand, we are the ones that knows these three questions better than anyone."

Patents and monopolies
Perhaps the most ideological question of the Pirate Party is the principle that patents and private monopolies are harmful to society and must therefor be worked against. This concerns fundamental principles on how to run a society and is also the question I'm most interested in.

Patents have many effects that are dangerous to society. Patents on medications is the reason why people are dying in diseases they would would have been able to afford treatment of, if the patents didn't exist. It is also the reason why the priorities in research is being twisted out of line, and why medication is getting more and more expensive in the rich parts of the world.

Patents on life and genes, such as patented seeds, leads to unreasonable and harmful effects. Software patents cripples the technological development in the IT sector, and poses a serious threat to the small and medium-sized IT businesses in Sweden, Europe and the World.

Patents are claimed to promote innovation by protecting those who invents and invests in new inventions and manifactural methods. But more and more often, patents are used primarily by large companies to prevent smaller competitors to compete on equal terms. Instead of promoting innovation, companies are now using their "patent batteries" in a warfare against other actors to get rid of the competition, and these are often patents that the owner have no intention of developing themselves.

The Pirate Party belives that patents have played out its role and that they are instead actively preventing innovation and the establishment of new knowledge. One can also see on all areas of products and innovation where patents can not be applied, that patents are not necessary to create innovation. Inventors should compete with innovation, the good of the customer, price and quality, instead of being given a monopoly on knowledge, financed by the state. If a company no longer have to pay salaries to armies of copyright legal experts and lawyers, they can instead free these resources, that can be used to create real innovation and better the products at a quicker pace, which will benifit everyone in the end.

The Pirate Party wants to gradually abolish the patent system.

Also in other ways than through patents, large companies are trying to gain monopoly positions by other means. By keeping formats of computer storage secret and in other ways make intercompability more difficult or impossible, they create an effective of imprisonment, that limits the possibilities for competitors and puts the free market out of order. This leads to raised prices and a slower pace of development. When the public sector buys up or produces information it has to be done in a way that actively works against the preservence and establishments of private monopolies on information, knowledge, ideas or concepts.

Private monopolies must be fought against.

Rights and freedoms
Protection of the privacy of the individual is established in the Swedish constitution. From this basic right evolves several other important human rights, such as freedom of speech and opinion, freedom of information, rights to culture and rights to personal development. All attempts from official sources of power that would limit these rights must be questioned and met with powerful resistance.

All means of power, systems or methods that the state can use aganst its citizens must be under constant reconcideration and monitoring by elected representatives. Whe the state monitors citizens that are not suspected of crime it is a violation of privacy for the individual by a fundamentally unacceptable way. Each citizens must be guaranteed the anonymity that are today provided and expected by the constitution and the rights of the individual to decide about the handling of their own personal data must be strengthened.

The secrecy of persnoal mail must be evolved to a general "secrecy of communication". It should also be forbidden to monitor other people's phone calls, read other people's e-mails, SMS'es or other messages in the same way that it is today forbidden to read other people's letters, regardless of the technology used and where you get it from. All exceptions from this rule must be just that, exceptions, in every single case. Employers should only be able to get permission to get a hold of the employees messages, only when it is necessary to secure technical functionality or in direct connection with the employees work tasks. The authorities should only be able to secure evidence or monitore its inhabitants in concrete suspicions of crime. In all other cases, the state should concider their citizens innocent and leave them alone. This secrecy of communication must be given a strong protection, because the state has on numerous occasions proved incapable of handling the information it has access to in a responsible manner.

The Pirate Party wants to abolish the so called directive of data storage and instead strengthen the general protection of privacy for individuals.

Culture must be freed
When the rights of originators were originally established, they regulated only the rights of an originator to be recognized as creator of a work. Later, they were expanded to also encompass commercial copying of works and now it also regulates the rights of individuals and non-profit groups. The Pirate Party claims that this slide is a development that is unacceptable from a society's viewpoint. Today the economical and technological evolution has made copyright completely imbalanced and instead it has become a system of unfair advantages for a few large actors of the market, on the expense of the consumers and society in general. Millions of classical works, songs, movies and artpieces are held hostages in the vaults of media companies, not enough sought after by their focus groups to be profitable to release, but potentially to lucrative to be released. The Pirate Party wants to make all these works free and available to everyone, before the celluloids of the movies are destroyed by deterioration over time.

Immaterial rights is a way to legislate about material qualities for immaterial values.

Ideas, knowledge and information is by nature non-exclusive, their common value lies in the fact that they can be shared and spread.

The Pirate Party believes that these laws needs to be returned to their origins. The legislation should be chanced so that it is completely clear that it only regulates use and copying in commercial context. To share copies, or spread or use other's works in any other way, should never be forbidden as long as it is done on an non-profitable basis.

The commercial part of these laws should remain, but it also needs to be fundamentally changed. The thought behind these laws have always been to find a balance between various conflicting interests on the commercial scene. Today this balance has been completely lost, and needs to be restored.

The Pirate Party wants the protection time, which is to say the exclusive rights to make copies for commercial use, is reduced drastically to be active during for example five years from the first publishment of the work. The commercial grasp of protection shold be regulated so that in principle, it is permitted to create a new work based on an old one without regulations. In cases where it is necessary or desirable to make exceptions to this, for exmaple direct translations of books or the use of new music in commercial movies, these exceptions should be clearly stated and accounted for by law.

The Pirate Party wants to create a reasonable and balance legislation on immaterial property rights.

All non-commercial obtraining, using, refining and spreading of culture should be clearly promoted. Technology aimed to limit the legal rights of the consumers to freely copy or use information and culture, so called DRM technology, should be forbidden. In cases where this is not possible, or where a ban would mean great difficulties for the consumer, the product including DRM technology should in any case be provided with a warning label.

All clauses of agreement that aims to limit this kind of legal spread of information should be concidered as nullified and without legal value. Non commercial spreading of published culture, information or knowledge - with the exception fo private information - are not to be limited or punished. A natural effect of this is that the Pirate Party wants to abolish taxes on private copying.

The Pirate Party want to create a right of common access for culture.

Note that large sections of this text is my own translation from the party's Declaration of Principles, available from the party's website.

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