I love the fact that there is such a thing as a Pirate Party. Just the name of it! Pirates! Yarr!
all know the story of pirates as a cultural phenomena. It has been
thoroughly romanticized into something kids can be fascinated by, and
the often brutal reality of what those real sea dogs back in the days
did is seldom mentioned anywhere. And the reason the Pirates of the
Caribbean series was actively trying to market itself to kids is that,
well, pirates are kid's stuff. Something one grows out of at a somewhat
unspecified yet very present age limit.
Yet at the end
of the day, there are very few IT departments around here that does not
have at least one Pirate Party member on staff. And in the few years
since the first Pirate Party was founded here in Sweden, sister parties
have appeared in some fifty odd other countries around the world. As a
political reality, the pirates are here to stay.
With "here" being a great many places.
is of course necessary to note that we're not seeing an international
movement based on the idea that Captain Morgan had the right idea when
it comes to maritime policy. Rather, the term "pirate" in this context
refers to the more recent phenomena of internet piracy. Which, in
somewhat less romanticized terms, is also referred to as "copyright
infringement". Someone, somewhere, thought to use pirates as a metaphor
for this (actually not very) new phenomena, and it stuck.
There is an interesting story to tell about the appropriation of this name. This is not the place for that story.
I know what many of you are thinking. Creating a political party in
order to keep the flows of online piracy flowing is the biggest
strategic Rube Goldberg machine
there ever was. If the thing you want to accomplish is the free flow of
information, creating a political party and getting bogged down with
various complicated and time-consuming local political issues is a big
waste of time. You'd be much better off just investing your time in
developing encryptions, secure connections and new file-sharing
protocols. In strictly technical terms, politics is not necessary to
keep piracy going, and it is in principle always possible to throw more
tech at it at every turn.
If you are beginning to suspect that there is something more to this than just file sharing, you are on the right track.
is a very good place to start, though. It's no big secret that there
are laws against it, and that they have a tendency to become more and
more severe as time goes by. To simplify things, we could say that we
on the one hand have corporate rightholders who lobby the system to the
limits in order to impose ever stricter copyright laws. On the other
hand, we have a generation of people who use the internet every day, and
who by virtue of these stricter copyright laws become criminals per
default. Not because they actively want to be criminals, but because
their normal use of the internet includes such things that the stricter
copyright laws prohibit.
You can see how this becomes a
political issue really quick. It is a bad thing for just about everyone
if young people's everyday habits are criminalized, and it is moreover
not a good thing to teach kids that they are criminals. Once you are a
criminal, after all, doing other criminal things is not that big of a
leap. Going from innocent to criminal is a Big Deal; going from criminal
to slightly more criminal isn't.
So while the
technical aspects of piracy are by and large politically irrelevant, the
implications of turning what is essentially a whole generation into de
facto and de jure criminals - isn't. Especially not when combined with
ever stricter laws regarding what can and cannot be done to criminals.
One other aspect of this is that efforts
to preserve irreplaceable cultural artifacts are hampered by the same
criminalization. Archivists can choose to either illegally copy
copyrighted material, or watch as the things they are meant to preserve
withers away due to physical deterioration.
In the choice between preserving and not preserving our cultural
heritage, the fear of finding yourself on the wrong side of an expensive copyright lawsuit
makes many choose the latter option. Over time, that's a lot of lost
material that we won't ever be able to replace.
You can see why there is a need for a political movement. In order to change
legislation, one needs to be a part of the legislative process. Not only
in order to affect existing or proposed laws, but also in order to
shape the discourse in which public policy is made. Laws don't just
happen out of thin air - there's a long and often complicated procedure
taking place before they see the light of day. Being part of this
process is vital to getting things done - especially when complicated
issues are on the table.
Make no mistake - copyright reform is just about as complicated as things get.
is of course more to the Pirate movement than just the issue of
copyright. That just happens to be the one that (for natural reasons)
gets the most attention. Less talked about (but therefore also the more
important) issues are political transparency, personal integrity (i.e.
rights such as habeas corpus and privacy), free/open software
(especially in the public sector, where the "free" can save billions in
license fees each year), and the digital divide (and ways to make it
less of a big deal in everyday life).
In short, a range of public policy changes that would encourage the individual to make
use of analog or digital media technologies in order to inform
themselves about what's going on, and discourage the state from using
these same technologies to spy on individuals. The internet is not a
stranger in our times, and it is time to patch politics with a new set
of values, that stems from the reality we live in rather than the one
our parents lived in. Politics based on you being an active user of communication, rather than a passive consumer of media. You are the political subject, not an object of politics.
The future is already here. Let's make the best of it, shall we?