The Pirate Party has now become the third biggest political party in Germany. Having sprung out of an internet sensation, file-sharing website the Pirate Bay, they have grown to be a new political force on the European political spectrum. But what exactly is the Pirates’ political agenda?
The Pirate Parties International (PPI), a collective that acts as an umbrella organisation for national Pirate Party chapters, was only founded in May 2010 in Brussels. But the Pirate Party (Pirat Partiet) of Sweden was created as early as 2006 following the success of the Pirate Bay.
The Party’s political programme, that changes relatively little from country to country, is a very simple three-tier agenda. It calls for the reform of copyright law, the abolishing of patents and the ‘right to privacy’.
They consider copyright law to be obsolete, not representing the reality of the digital, instantaneous era we live in. They believe it hinders the transmission of culture and knowledge, calling for a five year limit on copyright.
As for the patent system, they call for it to be scrapped altogether. Their anger is in particular aimed at pharmaceutical companies, but also at business methods, scientific research and innovation.
Finally their battle for protecting privacy from intrusive legislation was recently manifested by their pan-European opposition to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), organising demonstrations throughout Europe and in the European Institutions themselves.
Do their ideas have a future? They have most certainly been able to arrogate a certain proportion of the electorate in Europe, mostly young professionals, fed-up with the way the system is run by politicians in serious rupture with their time.
However, the cause is noble but the methodology and the agenda itself is doomed to fail. Copyright law is indeed too restrictive as of now. But this is due to the flaws and greed of record labels, who were unable to foresee reform and fully take advantage of digital formats. Once the genie of free-music is unleashed, via more technologically-savvy users, it is hard to get it back in the bottle.
On the other hand, copyright is one of the rare forms of protection of abstract and intellectual creation. Music, like books and paintings, is an ‘abstract’ form of art in the sense it does not take a material form but is an idea. Its protection was ensured beforehand through record companies’ monopoly of the material support for this art, but in a digital age, this is not so. A serious review of copyright law at the international level is indeed needed.
The abolishing of patents is a refrain often used by left-wing groups and very common in the media, who are always happy to find a new enemy everybody loves to hate. Pharmaceuticals and agribusiness are two areas where patents are particularly common. The example of US company Monsanto using a single-life crop that automatically self-destructed after one season (versus reusing it for different seasons) was prolifically used worldwide to showcase the ‘exploitation of the Third World by greedy capitalists’.
Yet, reason commands one to search further. There are abuses present in patents, such as the attempts to patent air, but without patents, there would be no innovation, no invention, no scientific research. If one is not guaranteed the protection of the fruit of their labour, of their discovery, why bother at all?
This is also true of pharmaceuticals, which are portrayed as exploiting opportunities to the expense of peoples’ lives. However, the European pharmaceutical process is an incredibly long one. It takes on average two to three decades for a new drug to reach the consumer, through arduous testing and trials. The makers of these drugs need to be able to pay for that drug over that extent of time, and that many times over. Generics are all very good and a practical solution for our wallets but they are not invented, they are copied. The truth of the matter is that without ‘Big Pharma’, there would be no innovation in drugs at all.
The Pirate Party is a great example of what is called ‘Post-It voting’ in political science. It is an ad hoc expression of discontent by a group of politicised voters, frustrated by established politicians’ refusal to heed their calls. The fact the Pirate Party does not yet have a serious economic, social or political agenda means that its own very existence is only due to opposition. Voters love to express their frustrations, but would rather not see them govern.