The Swedish Pirate Party – a group of online radicals who back free downloading of music and films from the internet – is taking advantage of a series of high profile anti-piracy cases to stage a pan-European electoral assault for 2009’s European elections.
“The battle over our privacy and the hunt on filesharers is fought down in Brussels. That is why we want to go there,” the party’s leader Rickard Falkvinge told EUobserver.
The group’s electoral platform is based on three principles: to fundamentally reform copyright law, get rid of the patent system, and ensure that citizens’ rights to privacy are respected.
“Not only do we think these are worthwhile goals. We also believe they are realistically achievable on a European basis. The sentiments that led to the formation of the Pirate Party in Sweden are present throughout Europe,” reads a party declaration.
It was in 2006, after a new law forbidding the downloading of copyright protected material from the internet, such as music and films, was introduced, that a group of Swedish file sharers decided to start a political movement, attracting over 4000 supporting signatures within the first 24 hours of the party’s launch.
A list of possible future MEPs has now been drafted, and the party is convinced it stands a good chance of winning a seat in the European assembly.
“All the way up to the election in June, controversial legislation surrounding our issues are in the pipelines. The debate puts the spotlight on us, and attract voters,” Rickard Falkvinge said.
The Pirate Party has already surpassed the long-established Green and Left parties in number of active members, while its youth wing, “Young Pirates”, has become the second biggest political youth group in the country.
The group needs an estimated 100,000 votes to cross the country’s four percent threshold in the election – a number the party thinks can be achieved by appealing to those who normally would not bother to vote but who do regularly share their strong views on computer freedoms: students, particularly at technical universities.
The timing of the European elections is perfect for those who defend cost-free consumption of culture online.
The Swedish media, political establishment and public opinion has for over a year been involved in heated discussions about surveillance in society, bringing file-sharing and online rules to the top of the political agenda.
Last summer, a controversial law on tapping e-mails was passed by the Swedish parliament, giving officials the power to open all emails and listen to any telephone conversation in the country. The bill provoked widespread opposition, with protesters handing out copies of George Orwell’s 1984.
Soon after, the new “Ipred-law”, based on the European Union’s Intellectual Property Rights Enforcement Directive, which would give copyright holders the right to seek a court order requiring internet service providers to reveal the names of people linked to IP-addresses through which illegal downloading occurs, caused a fresh ruckus.
Over 50,000 internet users immediately signed up to the “Stop the Ipred-law” group on Facebook, and the Pirate Party signed up 600 new members in only one day.
Expressen, a daily newspaper, wrote in an editorial that even though the EU has given young people things like the Erasmus study programme, aka the possibility of drinking wine in another EU country with other European youngsters, it has not made EU politics more interesting to them.
But the fact that the Brussels makes proposals such as the Ipred-law and the data retention directive has caught the young voters interest in the EU, the paper stated, guessing that election participation among the young would reach unexpected heights in June if for no other reason than pure “Ipred-fury”.
More than 10 percent of the Swedish population participates in file-sharing, according to Statistics Sweden. For men between the ages of 26 to 35, the figure rises to 56 percent.
With new anti-piracy measures, around 1.3 million ‘ordinary people’ – and voters – of all ages, professions and social backgrounds, risk being criminalised for a hobby they have no intention of giving up, and they are closely following the state of play with legislation that affects file-sharing.
On 16 February, a highly publicised trial of the content industry begnan against those responsible for the Pirate Bay, a site that enables people to find others willing to share audio, video, games and other files with them.
Four individuals have been charged with being accessories to breaking copyright law, facing fines or up to two years in prison if found guilty.
Plaintiffs in the case include media giants such as Warner Bros, MGM, Colombia Pictures Industries, 20th Century Fox, Sony BMG, Universal and EMI, led by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). They are claiming damages of â‚¬12 million.
The first day of the trial was such an event that Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter’s reported that tickets to get the courtroom were selling on the black market for as high as â‚¬50.
The trial’s political undercurrent has been powerful, with the Pirate Party accepting more than 2000 new members since it began. The court’s decision on the Pirate Bay trial is due on April 17.
European pirates unite
While Sweden is home to the first Pirate Party, similar groupings have since sprung up all over Europe, many of which are planning to run in the June elections on the same manifesto as their Swedish peers.
The German Pirate Party is busy trying to collect enough signatures to be able to run in the election.
“We have got a lot of hard work to doâ€¦ but we really want to reach the goal we set for ourselves, to take part in the European elections,” a spokesperson for the German pirate branch states on the party’s website.
In an interview with Canal Plus, the leader of the Spanish Pirate Party, Carlos Ayala, explains that his party will use the internet rather than traditional campaigning methods to reach disaffected voters ahead of the June elections.
Other countries with their own pirate branches include Finland, Poland, Austria, Belgium and France. But not all have the same instant appeal to their voters.
“It’s not realistic to hope for our own all-pirates political group in the European Parliament this year, but definitely for 2014,” Rikard Falkvinge told this website.
Under current EU assembly rules, a party must have at least 25 members from seven member states.