Are the Pirate Parties a serious and important political force?

Last week, the Pirate Parties of Catalonia and Germany picked up municipal seats, adding another trophy to the international movement’s cabinet. Pirates have held office in Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and now Spain. In the European Parliament, two Pirates have taken considerable effort to sway opinions on ACTA, winning a vote to demand transparency and an exception for Braille translations. In the American state of Massachusetts, it is now possible to register as a Pirate. Simply by organizing itself, the Party alerts other political forces to the importance of information policy.

Rick Falkvinge answers positively to the question of our title. Here’s why:

“Simply by understanding how the world is changing and where it’s heading, the importance of supporting the Pirate mission will be evident. Here’s why:

* In 2011, unimpeded access to information is not only a theoretical threat to tyranny, but has been directly responsible for toppling governments.

A close study of the Arab Spring is enlightening here. The motive for changing regimes was economic: people were barely scraping by, and the government was making their lives worse. But how does a destitute population know what sort of change will be good for them, and when it will be safe to demand it? This is where the universality of the Internet and cell phones changed the situation on the ground. People could anonymously read all kinds of political stories online and discuss what needed to be changed. Without the danger of an in-person meeting, individuals could learn that hundreds, even thousands, of their friends would be on the street the next day. The people had become dangerously well-educated about themselves and their government.

The tyrants got clued into this fast. Egypt shut down the Internet and cell phone networks entirely, as did Syria and Libya. The United States government is clued in as well, and has publicly championed freedom of information around the world, but their own track record leaves much to be desired. The only role left to be played is by you, the voter: do you understand the power of uncensored information, the strategies regimes use to control it, and the steps you need to take to ensure that information can be distributed freely around the world?

* In 2011, the copyright industry is on the defensive and making up shocking new strategies to keep laws secret and avoid public scrutiny.

How times have changed. When the World Intellectual Property Organization wanted to write a binding treaty in the 1990s, their main concern was resolving the differences of opinion between invited delegates. Now they’ve discovered that there’s a mob pounding at the door: the people who have been left out of the treaty-writing process and want copyright law to reflect a different set of values. Thus, the saga of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), written in complete secrecy and made known to the world only through documents sent to Wikileaks and other whistleblowing organizations. A Canadian citizen who filed a request for information with his government received a document with only the name of the agreement and the rest of the page blacked out.

Hot on the heels of ACTA is the IP chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which enables copyright holders to ban people from importing books and newspapers from other countries. Freedom to read material that you have legally purchased and own is actively under attack. Additionally, the patent process would be “streamlined”– meaningless modifications to existing patents (e.g. the same drug with different inactive ingredients) would be automatically approved, to basically extend patent lengths indefinitely, and outsiders would no longer be able to oppose any new patents! These details were meant to be classified until four years after the agreement passed. If it weren’t for a whistleblower’s leak of the document, this agreement could have been passed completely in secret without any Congressional or public knowledge of its contents.

This is another situation where, all other methods having failed, a regime is trying to prevent the spread of information about itself and its abuses. This is what industries relying on IP have been reduced to in the face of efforts from Pirate Party leaders and others who put the spotlight on them. Again, the decision now lies with you: do you believe, as most ruling political parties do, it’s fair for these agreements to be kept secret?

* In 2011, piracy probably is feeding the poor.

No, I don’t actually have statistics to prove this. (What industry would pay for such an analysis?) But consider some well-known facts. More CDs, DVDs, software, and books are being printed without permission today than 20 years ago. Developing nations are flooded with this stuff. Cheap goods are providing profitable jobs for people who didn’t have them before. It’s piracy, so none of the money is being siphoned off to faraway wealthy countries. In short, piracy is democratizing the market for entertainment and information technology. Copyright industry, why do you hate third world entrepreneurs?”

He also concludes:

The Pirate Party is founded on a concept that many Internet-savvy people have come to realize for themselves: access to information, that is, freedom to read and write, will change the world for the better. Rather than relegating itself to fringe group status, it has taken center stage in the infopolicy wars. What it needs now is the critical mass that will determine its future.

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