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What the Pirate Party has already done for Europe

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
23rd October 2012


Excerpted from Rick Falkvinge:

“In short: Without them, there would now be a “three-strikes” scheme in Europe, and ACTA would most likely have been in global effect. Instead, the political support for copyright monopoly reform has grown by orders of magnitude, and finally, there are subtle but very important changes in the language used by Parliament.

Let’s take them in detail, one by one:

1. The Pirate MEPs were necessary to stop ACTA.

Without the Pirate MEPs, ACTA would be a global treaty today well on its way to coming into force, with all what that means.

Take careful note that I don’t say here that the Pirate MEPs were sufficient for victory on their own, which they certainly weren’t, but I am saying they were necessary for victory. Our first MEP, Christian Engström, had been relentlessly grinding the issue since 2009, when everybody else considered it a done deal. But through unwavering activist pressure from the outside, combined with MEPs on the inside who could explain in the legislative corridors what all the protests were about, the European Parliament turned and ACTA died globally.

Of course, you’ll hear many politicians taking credit for this victory, after having changed their minds following the large-scale street protests in 2012. But there is a very large political difference in having an opinion when asked, and actually spending your working day pushing an issue. To illustrate:

There is a difference between having an opinion on football, and actually playing football.

(Everybody who voted the right way should have proper credit, of course, but this particular article is about what use we’ve had for the Pirate MEPs in Brussels so far.)

It wasn’t just the soft issues and working on the inside, either: on some occassions, it came down to actual votes. Pirate MEP Andersdotter’s draft report on ACTA (“reject”) was carried in the Industry Committee as a whole. MEP Gallo’s draft report on ACTA (“accept”) was rejected in the Legal Affairs committee with the narrowest possible of margins – and Pirate MEP Engström was one of the ones voting against it.

2. A Pirate MEP made “three-strikes” schemes illegal.

The very first victory in Brussels was the so-called Telecoms Package, which had gone through a number of bureaucratic hoops on its way to becoming law. As Pirate MEP Engström took office, it was down to a roundtable negotiation between the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the European Council – the last step if Europe’s institutions can’t agree on a new law. MEP Engström was one of the people in the Parliament’s delegation, and together with his colleague MEP Lamberts in the Green group, managed to turn this from a done corpoate deal to something where the dignity of Parliament itself was at stake.

Various lobby-rich institutions wanted the ability to cut people off from the Internet after mere allegations of wrongdoing in their eyes, and they wanted the ability to do so en masse. By requiring something as basic as due process of law for revoking a fundamental right (for access to the net is indeed a fundamental right today, as we exercise our other fundamental rights through it), the plans of the copyright industry to kill our civil liberties en masse by so-called “three strikes” schemes was stopped abruptly.

Specifically, it was determined at the time that the telecoms package must pass the “Hadopi test” – meaning, it must make the French Hadopi authority, and the French law under which it operates, illegal. Through a great deal of Pirate MEP Engström’s footwork (as well as contributions from many activists outside Parliament that put pressure from the outside), this was also the end effect. “Three strikes” schemes are now illegal in the entire European Union.

(To this day, France continues to ignore this fact.)

Again, having the Pirate MEP in the European Parliament’s delegation was far from sufficient for victory. But his presence was necessary for victory.

3. Grown support for copyright monopoly reform.

Since taking office, the political support for a thorough reform of the copyright monopoly has grown from being two pirate MEPs to now being the mainline position of one of the major political groups: the entire Green group has taken the position of legalizing all noncommercial file-sharing, cutting commercial protection times to (at most) 20 years, requiring registration of works for a continued commercial monopoly, banning DRM enforcement, and allowing remixes, mashups, and quotations. (This proposal is summarized in the book The Case For Copyright Reform.)

Before the Pirate Party MEPs took office, this was considered an absolutely impossible and highly improbable position to ever succeed. Today, it’s becoming a mainline proposal through the persistent political footwork in Brussels of the Pirate MEPs – but politics take time, and much more work is needed to push it over the 50% barrier.

4. Contribute with, and instill, sense and proper language.

Perhaps the greatest contributions so far are the ones that aren’t very visible on the outside – those of framing the political discussion in proper language. Wherever there’s a pirate MEP, the copyright maximalists’ language will be shot down in a heartbeat.

You can observe that you don’t hear childish expressions like “copyright theft”, “piracy” or similar ridiculous terms out of the European Parliament any longer (except where “piracy” actually refers to robbing on the high seas, as defined by the United Nations). You will also note that you don’t hear the equally childish conflation “piracy and counterfeiting”, deliberately equating teenagers sharing music with counterfeit fatal medicine, anywhere near as often as you used to. Through hard and persistent work, our MEPs have pointed out improper and biased use of language, re-framing the entire debate out of the copyright lobbyists’ and the monopoly maximalists’ hands. This is subtle, but lays the foundation for the political work yet to come.

You may also have noted that language that was considered absolutely politically impossible before the Pirate entry into the European Parliament is starting to pass Parliament’s committees. This report, for instance, recently passed the important International Trade Committee – the same committee that owned ACTA – by a 25-4 majority, with my highlights:

[the committee] is aware that there is concern that some people increasingly hear the word copyright and hate what lies behind it;

[the committee] calls on the Member States and the Commission to develop IPR policy in order to continue to allow those who wish to create their own content and share it without acquiring IPR to do so;

This language is extraordinary. Not just the first paragraph, which is extraordinary enough; this is a call for abolishing the silly copyright monopoly rules about the “clearance culture” that prohibits creators from creating something larger out of smaller components, and would instantly undo ridiculous lawsuits against parents who post videos of dancing toddlers with The Simpsons running on a TV in the background.

Yes, the report was drafted by Pirate MEP Andersdotter, and it was globally noted through the keen eyes of Glyn Moody.

You will note that this, allowing remixes and mashups, is a part of the proposal to reform the copyright monopoly overall – and this shows that support is growing well beyond the Green group in the parliament through persistent and tenacious political footwork, passing the heavyweight International Trade Committee.

Conclusions

Basically, I wanted to highlight what the Pirate MEPs are doing for your liberty in the European Parliament. Without them, there would now be a “three-strikes” scheme in Europe, and ACTA would most likely have been in effect.

They are doing tremendously important work already, and are needed not only to keep doing that work and defending all our civil liberties against the relentless onslaught from corporate lobbyists, but also to keep turning the tides long-term and making reform happen, pulling the teeth from the monopoly lobbyists, one by one.”

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