THE PIRATE PARTY
The Euro Elections: Vote Pirate / 01 Jun 09
In Sweden, a force known as the Pirate party had (at the time of writing) grown to become the country’s third largest political organisation by membership. Its inspiration? The successful prosecution of file-sharing site Pirate Bay, for the illegal distribution of millions of films, albums and television programmes. With 45,000 members and counting, the Pirate party are campaigning on a simple platform: “to fundamentally reform copyright law, get rid of the patent system, and ensure that citizens’ rights to privacy are respected.”
They seem likely to win at least one seat in the European parliament—provided, Pirate party leader Rick Falkvinge notes, “we get our ballot papers out.” As a non-established political force, they must supply all 7,000 polling stations in Sweden with their own ballots by hand.
POST-VERDICT MEMBERSHIP BOOM
Pirate Party plans election raid / 22 April 2009
Sweden’s Pirate Party says it has had a surge in membership, giving its leaders hope that anti-corporate feeling will translate into electoral success. The party is campaigning in the June European elections, fielding 20 candidates. It wants sweeping reform of copyright law and an end to patents. The membership boost followed the jailing last week of four founders of a file-sharing website, The Pirate Bay. The party says membership soared from 14,711 to 36,624 in just a few days.
Party leader Rick Falkvinge told BBC News that “in terms of membership it is now the fourth largest party in Sweden. If everybody who is angry about the Pirate Bay verdict votes then we’ll get at least one MEP,” he said, referring to the elections for the European Parliament.
Hundreds of supporters of Pirate Bay demonstrated in the Swedish capital Stockholm on Saturday, some of them waving Jolly Roger flags. In the verdict against the world’s most high-profile file-sharing website, the Stockholm district court found Frederik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, Carl Lundstrom and Peter Sunde guilty of breaking copyright law and sentenced them to a year in jail. They were also ordered to pay $4.5m (£3m) in damages. Record companies welcomed the verdict, but the men plan to appeal.
Mr Falkvinge said support for the Pirate Party was not only coming from young people, but also “a considerably older crowd saying ‘enough is enough’. They see how these laws break civil liberties in an unacceptable way,” he said. He said the party membership was split about 50-50 between people aged under 25 and over. But its youth section is “by far the largest” among Swedish political parties, he added.
The party says it has only three issues on its agenda: “to fundamentally reform copyright law, get rid of the patent system and ensure that citizens’ rights to privacy are respected”. Mr Falkvinge said it was funded entirely by private donations, typically of 100 kronor (£8; $12).
The Pirate Bay, with an estimated 22 million users, is reckoned to be the most popular of the many file-sharing sites on the internet. Its success angered executives and artists in the music, TV and film industries, who saw the Swedish case as an important step in stamping out the illegal sharing of copyrighted media.
Pirate Bay Bias Charge: ‘Random’ Judge Assignment Wasn’t
BY David Kravets and Kerstin Sjoden / May 15, 2009
New allegations questioning the legitimacy of The Pirate Bay trial surfaced Friday when lawyers for the four file-sharing defendants accused the Swedish courts of secretly steering the case to a hostile judge. The latest ethics charges in the aftermath of the April conviction of the four founders of the world’s most notorious BitTorrent tracker alleged that the judge who presided over the trial wasn’t chosen at random, as is required under Swedish law.
The allegations came weeks after it was revealed that the same judge, Tomas Norström, is a member of pro-copyright enforcement groups. “We’ve found some things, particularly about the random selection. It doesn’t seem to have been random,” Per Samuelson, one of the defendant’s lawyers, told Swedish television station SVT. Samuelson, who is demanding a retrial, declined to elaborate on the latest misconduct allegations. Norström declined comment.
Cecilia Klerbo, the chief magistrate of the district court in Stockholm, where the case was tried, said the presiding judge was chosen at random. “The procedure was carried out as usual,” she told SVT.
After weeks of testimony and delays ending April 17, Pirate Bay administrators Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm Warg and Peter Sunde were found guilty in the case, along with Carl Lundström, who was convicted of funding the five-year-old operation.
In addition to one year of jail time, the defendants were ordered to pay damages of 30 million kronor ($3.6 million) to a handful of entertainment companies, including Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Bros, EMI and Columbia Pictures.
The case was brought by the Swedish government and Hollywood, in what’s best described as a joint civil-criminal trial. The defendants were charged with facilitating copyright infringement.
In the trial’s aftermath, several BitTorrent trackers across the globe have shuttered. The verdict has emboldened copyright authorities to crack down on torrent sites, and file sharing in Sweden has dropped. Mininova, one of the world’s largest BitTorrent indexer, has begun moving toward legitimacy.
But the verdict also triggered a political backlash among Swedish youth, and the Swedish Pirate Party more than doubled in size, giving the copyright-reform party a genuine shot a landing a seat in the European Parliment. The Pirate Bay, with more than 20 million users, keeps operating as usual, despite the contested convictions.
The first ethics violations lobbed against the court centered on Judge Norstrom’s membership in organizations that lobby for stricter copyright legislation. Norström is a member of the Swedish Copyright Association and is a board member of the Swedish Association for the Protection of Industrial Property.
Some legal experts said the appearance of bias by the judge is enough for a retrial. “The confidence in the legal system demands that the appeals court regards this is as a conflict of interest, and that means that the appeals court must order a retrial in the district court,” said Eric Bylander, a Gothenburg University legal scholar, told The Local, an English-language news site in Sweden.
SWEDISH ISPs REVOLT
3rd LARGEST PARTY IN SWEDEN
Pirate Party 3rd Largest Political Party in Sweden
BY Ernesto / May 06, 2009
Support for the Swedish Pirate Party surged following the Pirate Bay verdict and today it became the third largest political party in the country. When they are elected for the European Parliament next month, the party hopes to end the abuse of copyright by multi-billion dollar corporations.
The explosive growth rate displayed after the Pirate Bay verdict has skyrocketed the Pirate Party’s member count and today they’ve surpassed that of the Center Party. Of all the established parties only the Social Democratic Party and the Moderate Party have more members.
The Pirate Party has tripled its ranks in only three weeks up to 44,000 members, and it’s on course to become the second largest political part in the country. TorrentFreak caught up with party leader Rick Falkvinge to congratulate him on this unprecedented achievement, and we used the opportunity to find out more about his future plans. First off, we asked him if the recent surge in members can be solely attributed to the outcome of the Pirate Bay trial.
“The Pirate Bay verdict was not a single event, but the final straw in a long series of events,” Falkvinge replied. “We tripled our member count in a week, and have kept growing at an accelerated pace. With just one month till the European elections, the timing of these horrible events arguably work as a catalyst for change.”
Falkvinge is looking forward to the upcoming European Parliament elections on June 6 this year. “I’m extremely optimistic,” he told TorrentFreak. “It’s not a question of ‘a’ seat any more. If everybody who is angry with the Pirate Bay verdict goes to vote, we will get at least one seat, and probably more.” Although things are looking good, the road to Brussels is not guaranteed yet. There are two hurdles left.
“One is to get our ballot papers out — contender parties are not served by the Election Authority, but have to distribute their ballot papers to all 7,000 polling stations by hand. That’s a logistical nightmare, but with 13,000 activists, we should be able to fix that. We had 1,600 activists in the last election, and covered 93%. The other hurdle is getting our folks to actually vote, but I believe they’re still angry enough.”
A question that has been under reported is what the party actually plans to achieve when they arrive in Brussels. One of the questions we asked is how torrent sites and trackers such as the Pirate Bay should be handled. “The Pirate Bay is infrastructure,” Falkvinge told us. “The messenger immunity, that the messenger is never responsible for the contents of a message, is crucial to how our society works. The Lobby is trying to gut that immunity, along with boneheaded politicians who see a chance to look tough on crime.”
“First of all, copyright needs to be reduced to cover commercial activities only. That would get copyright out of ordinary honest peoples’ bedrooms, which is badly needed. That would also make everything that happens over The Pirate Bay legal overnight, and so, there would be no copyright infringement that TPB could potentially facilitate. At that point, since they can’t be facilitating, aiding or abetting anything illegal [anymore] in any interpretation, this would also mean that they can be as commercial as they like.”
Falkvinge further told us that he’s toying with the idea of writing “Nothing that happens at The Pirate Bay violates copyright law” directly into Sweden’s copyright law. In 2010 the Pirate Party hopes to enter the Swedish parliament, and they want to make it absolutely clear that The Pirate Bay four will be acquitted on appeal.
“But that’s not enough,” Falkvinge told TorrentFreak. “The issues at stake are more important than that. The Lobby is constantly nagging on the gray area, making inroads, establishing new precedents, and acting very aggressively. They can do this without any risk at all, and that needs to stop. The Lobby is damaging the open society and our economy at a level that I think should be criminal, especially since they’re doing it as a commercial operation.”
So, the Pirate Party wants to reduce the abuse of power and copyright by the entertainment industry, and make that illegal instead. With the current level of support and indications by recent polls there is no doubt that they will get a seat in the European Parliament, and we hope they will be able to be heard there.
Political pirates: A history of Sweden’s Piratpartiet
BY Nate Anderson / February 25, 2009
The leader of Sweden’s Pirate Party is thinking big: seats in the European Parliament, seats in the Swedish parliament, and a string of Pirate Parties on six continents. He just needs more votes to make it happen. Ars explores the birth, growth, and awkward adolescence of political pirates.
Rick Falkvinge is the face and voice of the Swedish Pirate Party, the party that he founded in 2006, but being a pirate isn’t all gold doubloons and chests of booty. Falkvinge is a principled pirate—and that means working for the sake of the cause even when the pay is low, or nonexistent. He currently takes no salary for his work, but he gets along by finding supporters willing to donate toward the costs of his food and rent.
Limited resources don’t mean he’s thinking small, though. Indeed, he wants to (democratically) take over the world, and he has a plan.
A pirate’s life for me
What catapults someone into such a lifestyle? For Falkvinge, it was Sweden’s 2005 debate over changes to copyright law. In his view, the issue received tremendous media coverage and generated obvious interest among the public, but politicians basically failed to notice the entire debate. He wondered how to get their attention, and he concluded it probably couldn’t be done. So Falkvinge decided that the only way to make change happen was to “bypass the politicians entirely and aim for their power base.”
That meant a new political party, the Pirate Party—”Piratpartiet” in Swedish. Falkvinge registered the domain in December 2005 and threw up a website that “looked like shit.” But looks weren’t the point; the site’s manifesto was something he hoped would find an audience. (Read it in Swedish [PDF] or in an English translation).
It did. When the site went live on January 1, 2006, Falkvinge hoped he might “get a couple thousand visits,” collect some volunteers, and refine the document. The goal was (eventually) to round up enough signatures to get the Pirate Party registered with Sweden’s electoral authority so that it would be on the ballot for the upcoming September 2006 elections. After that, who knew—maybe the fledgling movement could even pick up a seat?
Falkvinge posted his new site into a chat channel—it was “all the advertising I ever did.” The site quickly racked up three million hits and pulled in links from sites like Slashdot and Digg. The challenge turned out not to be attracting interest, but channeling massive interest into a movement.
A theory of movement
Falkvinge had given some thought to “movements” already. He had a theory that every major social shift followed a three-stage pattern. First, wild activists provoke the public to generate attention around an issue. Next, academics get involved in researching the issue. Finally, the issue is successfully politicized. It’s a pattern that Falkvinge sees in both the labor and environmental movements, both of which have spawned vibrant European political parties such as the Social Democrats and the Greens.
When it came to issues of copyright, “piracy,” and the production of art and entertainment, provocateurs like Shawn Fanning of Napster fame had blazed a trail for a decade already. Academics had been pumping out a recent body of literature on copyright in the digital age. But there were no political parties that even appeared to take the issue seriously.
So Falkvinge set out to organize the inchoate interest generated by his Pirate Party website. His first test was Sweden’s electoral authority, which would not accept electronic signatures on petitions. That meant the hip new party’s first task was an old and unbelievably mundane one: collecting paper signatures from Swedish residents. When the volunteers came through with the required signatures, Falkvinge saw that he had a loose, unstructured organization—but one capable of getting things done.
To boost the party’s profile beyond the hardcore pirate demographic, the mainstream media’s reach was needed. But the media didn’t appear interested in a fledgling Pirate Party. That is, until the (unrelated) Pirate Bay file-sharing site was raided by Swedish authorities in the middle of 2006. In a moment, the issue of copyrights and file-sharing was front-and-center in the popular consciousness.
“We had been trying to get into mainstream media from January to May,” said Falkvinge, but after the raid, suddenly “my face was on every news broadcast on every hour on every channel.” The Pirate Party tripled its member count in a week.
The election: a splash of cold water
If the sudden success of the party made it seem as though God himself wore an eyepatch and flew the Jolly Roger, the 2006 Swedish elections sounded a wake-up call: this “politics” thing was going to be tough.
Under the Swedish system, parliamentary seats are handed out on a percentage basis—win ten percent of the vote and get ten percent of the seats. But, in order to keep Parliament from dissolving into a hundred tiny parties, each party has to clear a four percent national threshold (or gain 12 percent of the votes in any particular district) before it gets any seats at all. Get 3.9 percent of the vote and you go home with nothing.
In the 2006 fall elections, when Swedes went to the polls, Falkvinge had “high expectations” that his new party might pick up a seat or more. But when the votes were tallied, Piratpartiet had a mere 0.63 percent of the national total with 34,918 votes (results in Swedish). In other words, no seats.
On the other hand, the party had been around for less than a year and managed to garner more votes than did several established politicians. The Pirate Party was dismissed as “this election’s joker party,” says Falkvinge now, but he never accepted that characterization. Instead, he took comfort from the fact that the Pirate Party had become the third largest party… outside of parliament. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
After the electoral defeat, Falkvinge and his fellow pirates sat down to talk strategy. They developed a three-part plan that would govern their actions for the next four years, fully expecting that they could board and loot both the European Parliament and the Swedish one in that amount of time.
The strategy began with the creation of a youth section called Young Pirate (Ung Pirat). Such youth political groups, common in Europe, are set up to develop young political talent and provide a counterbalance to the grey-haired elders who run most parties. Because the Pirate Party’s membership already skewed young (high school and college students are the largest demographics), it wasn’t long before Young Pirate was the third largest political youth group in Sweden.
What makes the Young Pirate story so odd is that the group is actually funded with taxpayer money. In Sweden, the government doles out kronor to youth groups based on the size of their membership. By January 2009, Young Pirate was raking in 1.3 million kronor a year (about $150,000) from the Swedish government, according to Swedish newspaper The Local.
The music industry was less than pleased. “It is surprising. Ung Pirat works in principle to encourage something illegal,” said Lars Gustafsson, head of IFPI Sweden. “That they then receive money from a state institution is remarkable.”
With the youth section developing quickly, the Pirate Party has been focused on the second bit of its plan for world domination: a seat in the European Parliament. The election for Swedish MEPs opens May 20, and voters can cast a ballot through June 7. MEP elections are notorious for significantly lower turnout than big national elections, and Falkvinge is counting on low turnout to propel his forces into a seat.
The Pirate Party needs an estimated 100,000 votes to cross the four percent threshold in the election. In 2006, it only picked up 35,000, so Falkvinge admits this is a challenge. Still, the party has seen significant growth in the last two and half years, and the success of its young wing was responsible for a 4.5 percent showing in recent mock elections in Swedish schools. Even if the pirates are closed out once more, time appears to be on Falkvinge’s side—unless his Young Pirates mellow as they age.
Even if the pirates get their coveted seat in the European Parliament, they won’t have much power among the nearly 800 MEPs. But Falkvinge hopes that gaining a seat would set the stage for a strong national showing during the 2010 Swedish parliamentary elections. Right now, because of the four percent threshold, many people refuse to vote for a small party in order not to “waste” their vote. Winning an MEP seat would “shatter that psychological barrier,” says Falkvinge.
The 2010 elections are the third stage in the strategy. If the pirates can scrape up five percent of the votes, they will suddenly have five percent of the seats in parliament, and they then hope to position themselves as a tiebreaker party in a coalition government. The price of their inclusion in a coalition: intellectual property reform, of course.
And how could they fail to do something at the polls? The elections are scheduled for September 19, 2010, after all—which happens to be Talk Like A Pirate Day.
Making the party a presence in Swedish politics is one goal, but it’s only a stepping stone to bigger things. The pirates “want to change Sweden, Europe, and the rest of the world, in that order,” says Falkvinge.
The idea here is that if one country, such as Sweden, can challenge the “groupthink” on copyright issues, it will be like “pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.” It’s a long-term goal—Falkvinge estimates that gaining wide influence will take 20-30 years—but he’s convinced that his lack of pay and 90-hour workweeks are worth it.
“This is about control over our knowledge and culture,” he says. In his view, societies can go two ways: toward a culturally rich society where everyone participates and enjoys culture, or down another road in which culture is locked down and comes mainly from a few multinational companies.
It’s a stark vision of the world, but it’s one shared not just by Falkvinge and his fellow Swedes. Pirate Party offshoots have sprung up spontaneously in 15 or 20 countries. They aren’t controlled by the Swedish group, but each shares a similar view of the world and works toward similar ends. But despite the surprising success of the Swedish Pirate Party to date, however, the movement has struggled to generate significant support in most other places.
We checked in with the UK Pirate Party, but the party’s contact told us that “the UK branch has faded into nothingness. From all the initial excitement and setting up we ended up with just myself and one other trying to get things moving. Everyone else sort of, just left…”
Canada has fared no better. After some expressions of interest back in 2007, anything resembling a “movement” failed to materialize in quite spectacular fashion. There’s no website and no apparent leadership structure. Posting to an international Pirate Party forum back in December 2008, someone from Northern Ontario suggested starting small.
“We should/need to focus on smaller jurisdictions,” he wrote. “Trying to start a federal party requires a lot of money, a lot of people, and a central means of DIRECT interaction. So, I suggest starting parties on a provincial/terretorial [sic] level (OR, in the case of a civic partisan government like Vancouver, a municipal level). While this fractures the member base, the support of a the full national parent group would still be there, and the requirements of starting a party would be greatly lessened.”
How much interest did the appeal generate? In February 2009, the poster returned and noted that he had not received “the kind of reply at all I want. Is there someone willing to at least comment?”
In the US, the Pirate Party is currently struggling just to get its name on at least one state ballot. Ars spoke with current party leader Glenn Kerbein, who took charge after a 2008 vote. He’s not presiding over a vast empire—yet, anyway. The current Pirate Party leadership in the US amounts to two or three officers, a website, and a Facebook group of less than 900.
The US branch was founded the week after The Pirate Bay was raided by Swedish authorities. Its immediate object was to register as a party in Utah, where one of the founders lived, but this required signatures. When the founder in question fell ill, Kerbein said, the project stalled, even though Utah required only a few thousand signatures to put a party on the ballot.
According to the group’s “About” page, this bid for recognition also failed “due to interference from the Libertarian Party. Many of the people who had already signed the Pirate Party petition backed out in order to support the Libertarians. Though we bear no ill will, this shows the extreme difficulty the Pirate Party faces.”
Kerbein, who lives in California, is now “trying to get the ball rolling” there; to do so, he needs to round up one percent of the voting population from the last primary election. In this case, that means 88,991 people. But before he can get started on that, the party needs to hold a caucus, elect officers, and have a constitution—which is still in progress.
Unlike the Swedish party, the US pirates are aiming their cannons at tiny targets. Kerbein says that the group’s current target is just getting all the signatures and being recognized by California’s Secretary of State. Actually winning any sort of seats, even at the state level, remains a long shot.
And the party doesn’t sound especially piratical in many ways. For one thing, it endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 (though there was debate within the membership about this due to Obama’s eventual support for the warrantless wiretapping bill).
Copyright isn’t even one of the main planks. Instead, Kerbein says that the US party wants to make sure that people can protest freely without excessive police action; to see that privacy is protected from warrantless wiretapping and other abuses; and to insist that secret government is wrong, and that full transparency is needed for democracy. Still, he does believe that the noncommercial trading of copyrighted material should be legalized.
Given the odds against him, Kerbein has chosen to invest his time in the fledgling party because “I feel like I’ve been gypped by politics as usual.” Nothing makes him angrier than lying politicians; his version of a “pirate” is someone who is honest, transparent, protects privacy, and doesn’t have anything against a little consensual blockbuster swapping among friends. But he knows that “the national climate for third parties is rather unforgiving” right now.
Sweden: the sneak preview
Not that the bad news bothers Falkvinge. He doesn’t believe that it’s a coincidence that Swedish broadband is some of the best in the world. Falkvinge talks about the heady days in the late 1990s when most of the world was just discovering DSL and cable, while Swedish entrepreneurs were running fiber to apartment buildings. In 1998, he had a symmetrical 10Mbps connection to his own apartment.
Falkvinge believes that by getting such a jump on most other nations, Sweden’s debates taking place around issues like file-sharing offer a sneak preview of what other nations will soon grapple with. If the pirates are now making gains in Sweden, a country where The Pirate Bay trial has become front page news, they may have to wait a few years to gain more credibility in countries with less-ubiquitous broadband.
That’s the hope, at least. The world’s big content industries haven’t yet agreed to be boarded, though, and they appear to believe that so-called “graduated response” programs can dragoon ISPs around the world into helping them police copyright infringement on the Internet. With such plans well underway in the US, the UK, France, Japan, New Zealand, and other countries, it’s still possible that the vast majority of casual Internet users can be steered into lawful shipping lanes.
But once a movement has exploded into the mainstream, has its own youth organization, and receives government funds, it looks increasingly legitimate. And if Piratpartiet can execute its plan to grab seats in the European Parliament and then at home, Sweden seems unlikely to do the creative industries’ bidding without major political battles.
That’s still a big “if,” and extending the scenario to the rest of the world requires an even longer leap of faith. When so much can be accomplished so fast by a man living off food and rent donations, however, it’s unwise to hold too firmly to a belief that a group of fractious “pirates” can’t possibly organize itself into something fearsome… or wonderful.
PIRATE PARTY INTERNATIONAL
History of the Party
The Swedish Pirate Party was formed by Rickard Falkvinge, and he created the embryo of this site and mentioned the address once on a busy DirectConnect hub on January 1, 2006. Within two days, the site displayed three million hits, and the first thousand or so members joined up. The principles of the Pirate Party soon began to take shape, as more and more members joined up, and in February they were voted through in the 3.0 version, which you can read in several languages further down on this page. The reform of copyright laws, the abolishing of patents and working against installing more regulations, and remove the Data Retention Act, that are seriously threatening citizens’ privacy are the only articles in the Pirate Party agenda.
The aim is to hold the balance of power, to be the tie-breaker, in the Swedish Riksdag and through that offer a collaboration of parties to gain the majority and thus give the governmental status, to either left or right. The difference between left and right, we feel, are no longer obvious, and therefore makes it easy for us to take this measure.
The issues that we represent are sorely missing, or are only fragmentarily represented, with an alarming display of lack of knowledge, and we hope to be able to bring in the legislative groups of Sweden into the 21st century. Feel free to show us your support by sending us a donation or a cheer in the Visitor’s corner when you’re here!
International Growth and Your Role In It
In order to create a place where international collaboration can start and grow, we have created PP International Net. We would very much like to invite you to participate. PPI can also to serve as a way of getting people in touch with eachother, interested in starting up a party in their respective country, as well as provide resources, discussions and advice to eachother across the borders.
Below are the links to sister parties abroad, as well as a list of existing translations of the Swedish Pirate Party’s declaration of principles. If you have a translation in a language missing, feel free to mail it to us at Piratpartiet.
Answer to a common question: Yes, you are free to use the Black Sail logotype for the Pirate Party in your own country. Most do.
Technical information about setting up a Pirate Party website can be found here.
email : info [at] piratpartiet [dot] se
Introduction to Politics and Principles
The Pirate Party wants to fundamentally reform copyright law, get rid of the patent system, and ensure that citizens’ rights to privacy are respected. With this agenda, and only this, we are making a bid for representation in the European and Swedish parliaments.
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. There are already similar political initiatives under way in several other member states. Together, we will be able to set a new course for a Europe that is currently heading in a very dangerous direction.
The Pirate Party only has three issues on its agenda:
Reform of copyright law
The official aim of the copyright system has always been to find a balance in order to promote culture being created and spread. Today that balance has been completely lost, to a point where the copyright laws severely restrict the very thing they are supposed to promote. The Pirate Party wants to restore the balance in the copyright legislation.
All non-commercial copying and use should be completely free. File sharing and p2p networking should be encouraged rather than criminalized. Culture and knowledge are good things, that increase in value the more they are shared. The Internet could become the greatest public library ever created.
The monopoly for the copyright holder to exploit an aesthetic work commercially should be limited to five years after publication. Today’s copyright terms are simply absurd. Nobody needs to make money seventy years after he is dead. No film studio or record company bases its investment decisions on the off-chance that the product would be of interest to anyone a hundred years in the future. The commercial life of cultural works is staggeringly short in today’s world. If you haven’t made your money back in the first one or two years, you never will. A five years copyright term for commercial use is more than enough. Non-commercial use should be free from day one.
We also want a complete ban on DRM technologies, and on contract clauses that aim to restrict the consumers’ legal rights in this area. There is no point in restoring balance and reason to the legislation, if at the same time we continue to allow the big media companies to both write and enforce their own arbitrary laws.
An abolished patent system
Pharmaceutical patents kill people in third world countries every day. They hamper possibly life saving research by forcing scientists to lock up their findings pending patent application, instead of sharing them with the rest of the scientific community. The latest example of this is the bird flu virus, where not even the threat of a global pandemic can make research institutions forgo their chance to make a killing on patents.
The Pirate Party has a constructive and reasoned proposal for an alternative to pharmaceutical patents. It would not only solve these problems, but also give more money to pharmaceutical research, while still cutting public spending on medicines in half. This is something we would like to discuss on a European level.
Patents in other areas range from the morally repulsive (like patents on living organisms) through the seriously harmful (patents on software and business methods) to the merely pointless (patents in the mature manufacturing industries). Europe has all to gain and nothing to lose by abolishing patents outright. If we lead, the rest of the world will eventually follow.
Respect for the right to privacy
Following the 9/11 event in the US, Europe has allowed itself to be swept along in a panic reaction to try to end all evil by increasing the level of surveillance and control over the entire population. We Europeans should know better. It is not twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and there are plenty of other horrific examples of surveillance-gone-wrong in Europe’s modern history.
The arguments for each step on the road to the surveillance state may sound ever so convincing. But we Europeans know from experience where that road leads, and it is not somewhere we want to go. We must pull the emergency brake on the runaway train towards a society we do not want. Terrorists may attack the open society, but only governments can abolish it. The Pirate Party wants to prevent that from happening.
Pharmaceutical patents are harmful
Patents on drugs, or pharmaceutical patents, have many negative effects.
* Pharmaceutical patents prevent hundreds of thousands of people in poor countries from receiving the drugs they need, even though the drugs exist and could save their lives.
* Pharmaceutical patents distort the pharmaceutical research priorities, since it becomes more profitable to treat the symptoms of diseases that come from a high standard of living, than to cure poor people from malaria.
* Pharmaceutical patents continue to lead to ever increasing costs for drugs in Sweden and Europe, outside any form of political control
Are pharmaceutical patents necessary?
Despite all these negative effects, there are many people who defend pharmaceutical patents, and say they are nevertheless necessary. Pharmaceutical research is very expensive, so we have to make sure it is properly funded. Otherwise we wouldn’t get any new drugs in the future, and that would be even worse.
– Because it is so easy for anybody to copy a pharmaceutical substance that has cost billions in research money to develop, we unfortunately have to let the pharmaceutical companies have monopolies on new drugs, those who defend pharmaceutical patents say.
But that is not true.
The first part of the argument is of course valid. One way or another we have to make sure that there is serious money available for pharmaceutical research.
But the claim that pharmaceutical patents is the only conceivable system for raising that money, is simply not true.
The government pays for the research today
Today it is already the public sector (henceforth called “the government”) that pays for the bulk of all drugs that are used in Europe, thanks to various systems for universal medical coverage. (See for example page 37 in this report from EFPIA, The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations.) It is the government that pays for the pharmaceutical research today, by paying high prices to the pharmaceutical companies for patented drugs.
So there is no natural law that says that patents are the only way to get new drugs developed. If “the government” in the different countries funded the research directly, and made the results freely available, this would be at least as reasonable as today’s model, where the government instead creates and maintains private monopolies for the pharmaceutical companies.
The relevant question is which model provides the most efficient and cost effective way of funding pharmaceutical research. Because nobody claims that pharmaceutical research is cheap. The average cost for developing a new drug is just over a billion US dollars.
But considering that “the government” already provides most of the income for the pharmaceutical companies, a reasonable first step would be to find out how much of that income actually goes to research.
Fortunately, this is very easy to do, as all the big pharmaceutical companies have their annual reports available online. As an example, we can look at the numbers for Novartis (page 143), Pfizer or AstraZeneca.
They all spend around 15% of their revenues on research. The other 85% go to other things, according to their own figures. The numbers are typical for the industry.
So the question is: does the patent system really give us, the taxpayers, the maximum amount of pharmaceutical research for the money we are spending on drugs? Or is there room for improvement, when even the pharma companies themselves admit spending 85% of the money we give them on other things?
If the government would instead take 20% of what it currently spends on drugs, and allocate it directly to pharmaceutical research, there would be more money than today for the research. If the results are made freely available, the pharmaceutical companies would be able to produce modern drugs without spending any money on research themselves. All that would remain for the government would be to pay for the actual substances.
Patent free drugs are cheap
How would it affect the price of drugs if there were no pharmaceutical patents? To answer this question, we can look at the experience we have from patent free generic drugs. In that market segment we already have a situation where different (private) manufacturers of the drugs compete with each other, and the government buys from from cheapest and best ones.
And it works!
According to a report from the Swedish Food and Drugs Administration (pdf in Swedish), the price for drugs dropped on average 70% when they became free of patents (page 13 in the pdf).
In the case of generic drugs we are talking about drugs that are more than 20 years old. For newer drugs the pharmaceutical companies add an even greater surcharge, so the actual savings if pharmaceutical patents are abolished would almost certainly be considerably more than 70%. But let us still be conservative and use that number.
Half the cost, more money to research!
The price for a substance will then drop to 30% if we get rid of the patents. Add 20% to fund future research according to the proposal presented here, and we have reduced the government’s bill for drugs to 50% of what it is today. We would cut the cost in half, while still giving more money to pharmaceutical research.
Isn’t this an idea worth exploring?
What arguments are there for keeping the pharmaceutical patents, and rejecting the cost savings and other benefits possible if we choose a different approach?
Let us summarize the main points of the proposal:
* In Europe it is already the government that provides most of the revenues for the pharmaceutical industry, thanks to universal medical coverage.
* The pharmaceutical companies spend 15% of their revenues on research, according to their own numbers. The remaining 85 are spent on other things (mostly marketing and profits).
* If the government would instead take 20% of what it currently spends on drugs, and allocate that money directly to pharmaceutical research, there would be more money for research. The pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t have do do any research themselves, so there would be no need for pharmaceutical patents, as they would have no research costs to recoup.
* Without patents the price of the actual substances drop by at least 70% when they are manufactured on a free market with competition, instead of by a monopolist.
So: compared to today’s system the government’s cost would be 20% (for research) plus 30% (for the substances). A total of 50% of today’s costs, and still more money than today for research.
Realistic on the European level
An obvious counterargument would be that this is not something that Sweden alone could reasonably do. This is true. But on the European level it is quite doable.
If the European governments wanted to, they could easily decide to get rid of pharmaceutical patents, and instead allocate sufficient funds directly to pharmaceutical research. Whether a country recognizes patents or not is entirely up to the legislative body of that country to decide. And it is already the government that pays most of the pharmaceutical bill in all European countries.
Europe is big enough and rich enough, both to fund a substantial part of the global pharmaceutical research so that nobody could accuse us of freeloading on others, and to withstand the diplomatic pressures that will no doubt be put upon us the day we choose the open road.
So, to repeat the billion dollar question: What arguments are there to keep pharmaceutical patents, and to reject the cost savings and improvements that the open road would offer?
The Pirate Party’s position
The Pirate Party wants to abolish pharmaceutical patents as a long term goal, but realizes that this requires alternative systems for funding pharmaceutical research. We believe that the introduction of a new system should be done on the European level.
We urge the Swedish government to study the effects of different alternative system, such as the one proposed here, and to take initiatives to put the issue on the European political agenda for discussions.
Lars Gustafsson: “Why my vote goes to the Pirate Party”
Lars Gustafsson is probably Sweden’s most profilic living writer. Since the late 1950’s he has produced a steady flow of poetry, novels and literary criticism. At the same time, he has until recently been active as professor of philosophy at the University of Texas. Now he’s back in Sweden and just started publishing himself on a blog. He has also received a long list of literary awards, most recently – only two days ago – the Selma Lagerlöf award.
Therefore, it is making quite an excitement in Sweden as Lars Gustafsson, in today’s issue of Expressen, explains why copyright must be left behind and declares that he is voting for the Pirate Party in the ongoing European elections.
As this text could probably be of interest for a few people also outside of Sweden, I made a very fast translation. It is certainly not perfect, but please do not complain on translation wrongs in the comments – make an updated version instead, and post the link to it!
I could also add that I do not personally share every detail in Lars Gustafsson’s analysis. Especially, the dichotomy between “material” and “immaterial” is problematic, as digital technologies indeed lead to re-materializations everywhere – something we are right now exploring in the project Embassy of Piracy, culminating next week on the Venice Biennale. There are also good reasons to questions the status of Walter Benjamin’s concept of “reproducibility”. However, Lars Gustafsson – like Walter Benjamin – is powerfully formulating the ongoing conflicts in materialist terms and putting them in a very relevant historical perspective. Let this be a starting point for discussions. And once again, apologized for any translation wrongs…
“Why my vote goes to the Pirate Party”
BY Lars Gustafsson
According to an ancient source, the Emperor of Persia gave orders that the waves of the sea must be punished by beating, as the storm hindered him from transporting his troups by ship.
That was quite stupid of him. Today, would he maybe have tried with Stockholm district court? Or a consultative conversation with the judge?
It is odd, how strongly the situation spring 2009 – on the area of civil rights – reminds about the struggles over freedom of press in France, during the decades preceding the French revolution.
A new world of ideas is emerging and would not have been able to, were it not for an accelerating technology.
Raids against secret printing houses, confiscated pamphlets and – even more – confiscated printing equipment. Orders of arrest and adventurous nightly transports between Prussian enclave Neuchâtel – where not only large parts of the Encyclopedia was produced, but also lots of daring pornography, between the atheist pamphlets – and Paris.
Between the 1730’s and 1780’s, the number of state censors in France was doubled by four. The raids against illegal printing houses was rising at about the same pace. In retrospect, we know it did not help. Rather, the increase of censorship and printing house raids had a stimulating effect on the new ideas and made them spread even faster.
Now the conflict rage over the net’s continued existence as a forum of ideas and as an institution of civil rights, protected from privacy-threatening interventions and against powerful private interests.
That a mad French-German proposal just fell in the European parliament does certainly not mean that the freeedom of the net and the privacy is now safeguarded.
How real are then these threats? Let us think about the Dalälven river in spring flood times. A really critical year, the water may trespass 100 meters, maybe 200 meters, into house lots and meadows. Does it help to call the Ludvika police?
So for – this is shown by most historical experience – legislation has never been able to stop technological development.
Walter Benjamin wrote an influential essay, whose title usually is translated as “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction“, where he draws a series of interesting conclusions about what the radical changes that must follow on his time’s relatively modest degree of reproducibility. The digital revolution has brought about a reproducibility which Walter Benjamin could hardly ever have dreamt about. One could talk about maximal reproducibility. Google is about to build a library that, if is is allowed to grow, will make most material libraries obsolete or at least outmoded.
Cinema and paper newspapers are since long drawn into this new immateriality. Films, novels, magazines let themselves be reproduced. Further on; also three-dimensional objects, like products of programmable lathes let themselves be reproduced. Wirelessy and rapidly.
This immaterialisation naturally threatens the material copyright. And then were are not only talking about run-of-the-mill writers like Mr. Jan Guillou, whose social problems of acquiring new country estates I am honestly ignoring.
Material copyright has much more serious aspects: What has the large pharmaceutical firms patents on aids medicin meant for the third world? Or what about Monsanto’s claim of holding rights on crops and pigs?
Every society must make its balance between differing interests and every hypocritic attempt to ignore that is nonsense. A functioning military defence is more important than ice hockey rinks and bicycle lanes. Probably the net implies a threat against the copyright of the material. And so what?
Intellectual and personal integrity for the citizens, briefly speaking an internet that has not been transformed into a government channel by lobby-marinated courts and EU politicians in leashes, is arguably more important than the needs of a primarily industrial scene of literarature and music, which is rapidly crumbling away already within the lifetime of the authors. The need of being read, of influenceing, to formulate one’s times, may but does not need to get in conflict with the wish to sell many copies. When the both needs are getting in conflict, the industrial interest must be put aside and the great intellectual sphere of the arts must be defended against threats.
The essential interest of artists and authors, given that they are intellectually and morally serious in hat they are doing, must certainly be to get read, to let their voice become heard in their generation. How that goal is attained, that is, how to reach the readers, is in this perspective of secondary importance.
The growing defence of the internet’s expanded freedom of speech, of the immaterial civil rights, that we are now witnessing in country after country, is the start of an – just as the last time in the early 18th century – liberalism that is carried by technology and therefore emancipated.
Therefore, my vote goes to the Pirate Party.
AT LEAST ONE SEAT IN EU PARLIAMENT
How Pirates Shook European Politics
BY Ernesto / June 08, 2009
With 7.1 percent of the vote, the Swedish Pirate Party has shocked its critics and secured a seat in the European Parliament. The Pirates received more votes from those under 30 than any other party in the European elections yesterday, and this was celebrated with pints of rum and loads of pirate chants. Late Sunday night, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt congratulated the Pirate Party on their unprecedented win at the European elections. The Pirate Party is seen a serious competitor in Swedish politics now, a fact underscored by the Prime Minister who said that his own party will formulate a clear policy regarding net integrity and copyright issues in preparation for the Swedish national elections in September 2010.
A few hours earlier, the party dinner had come to a close with volunteers and members singing “The Broadband Hymn”. They had fittingly gathered at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and as Swedish TV published the exit polls results indicating that the Pirate Party would get around 7% of the votes, wild cheers broke out. Party leader Rick Falkvinge took to the stage. “Together we have today re-shaped the political map in Europe,” he said. “Right now, Europe is watching what is happening here and politicians everywhere are scrambling to understand our issues. They now know that the party that has information-political perspectives can win many votes.”
And yes, it did. 214,313 of them in Sweden on Sunday. 7.1 percent of the vote and a guarantee of at least one seat in the European Parliament. The Pirate Party was the most popular party among voters under 30 years of age. Taking into account that Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Moderate Party is the most popular party among voters over 65 years of age, one can understand why Reinfeldt later in the evening said he will sit down with the Moderate Youth leader Niklas Wykman – a critic of the surveillance legislation and anti-filesharing laws – to discuss Internet issues. “We’ll share files in Brussels!” a young man shouted as he ran to the bar at election night. Meanwhile, journalists from all over Europe who had flown in to cover the unique occasion tried to get their piece of party leader Rick Falkvinge and vice chairman Christian Engström.
The latter, who will probably take the party’s seat in the EU parliament, held a short speech in which he thanked all the volunteers. The Pirate Party stays true to its net-roots and has no formal organization. Anyone who thinks he or she can contribute is welcome to do so simply by posting on the forum and going out and doing it. No formal decisions on campaigning are taken and the thousands of party ballots have been distributed to voting centers simply by someone living close and wanting to play their part. “It’s amazing that it worked. I never thought it would,” Engström joked.
A journalist from Swedish radio broke into the celebrations with a question for party founder Rick Falkvinge on how he felt. With champagne in his hand and pride in his eyes, he just smiled: “How does it feel to write history? It feels pretty damn good.” Today, after a night spent drinking rum and chanting seafarer standards, the pirates woke up finding themselves on the front pages of the Swedish newspapers. Pirates waving Jolly Rogers. Pirates taking celebratory late night dips in fountains. Pirates laughing. Pirates hugging. And there is consensus among the op-eds and political pundits on how it could happen: Enthusiasm paid off.
The two large parties in Sweden, the Social Democrats and the Moderate Party, are heavily criticized because of their lack of engagement in the European Parliament. Meanwhile, the Green Party (which also had a great election with 10.9%) and the Pirate Party positioned themselves on their respective expert issues and built a lot of support from the base. When the EU parliament meets after summer, there will be at least one pirate in the midst of European parliament. If the Lisbon treaty is voted through, there can be two. It may not seem a lot in order to make a difference, but as a blogger put it: One pirate can hijack a whole ship.