The Pirates and Liquid Democracy – Young and Politically Engaged

Stop Press:

The German Pirate Party continues its storming success at the polls having just added to their growing popularity with voters and may soon find them in the German Parliament.

They call it Liquid Democracy. Policies are adopted ad hoc – responding to changing circumstances and ideas bounced between chat rooms. In the Netherlands the courts are trying to crack down on them. In Germany their popularity is soaring and they have become that country’s third strongest political group. They belong to the growing Pirate Parties who are demanding internet freedom and greater participation in politics.

This emergent political force is more organised than its name suggests, under their umbrella organisation Pirate Party International.

Based in Belgium the various groups came under PPI in 2010 to increase the impact of their demands for the extension of freedoms including: enhancing civil rights, free education, direct participation in politics, universal health care, knowledge-sharing, freedom of information, separation of state and religion, data privacy, copyright reform (exemption of non-commercial activity from copyright regulation, reduction of the duration of copyright protections), removal of Digital Rights Management technologies (which controls access to technologies used by hardware manufacturers, publishers etc, patent law – including patents on seeds and on genes as well as software).

The Pirate movement began in Sweden. The Piratpartiet was founded by Rickard Falkvinge in 2006, taking its name from Piratbyrån or Pirate Bureau (2003) which was set up to eradicate the restrictive practices which are a consequence of intellectual property.

International property law covers copyright, authors’ rights, patents, trademarks, moral rights etc. By claiming intellectual property rights their owners are claiming exclusivity and denying others free access to information.

The term Intellectual Property was created in the 19th century but has roots in the 17th or 18th century. However during the 20th century the application of IP came under the United Nations’ World Intellectual Property Organziation (WIPO).

One is to give statutory expression to the moral and economic rights of creators in their creations and the rights of the public in access to those creations. The second is to promote, as a deliberate act of Government policy, creativity and the dissemination and application of its results and to encourage fair trading which would contribute to economic and social development.

The WIPO Intellectual Property Handbook.

Behind the original Swedish movement to counter IP was Rickard Falkvinge who as a young man immersed in IT grew up in the culture of widespread programme and gaming exchanges going on between computer wiz kids in the ‘80s. His ambition at 16yrs was to digitise the world.

After years in the software industry, Falkvinge (Falcon wing), not his real name but chosen for its association with the freedom and vision of the falcon, established a group to press for open transfer of knowledge and adopted the pirate identity from another pressure group advocating copyright reform. He wanted to become politically active rather than push for change from the sidelines of the political system and so gave his group the name Pirat Parteit (Pirate Party) and on 1 January 2006 the Pirate Party opened an online petition to register PP as a political party in Sweden. From the start support for it was huge – 3 million signed up over the first days. The Swedish PP currently claims to have between 800,000 and 1.1 million active file sharers. Last year the party launched Free & Social described as a social networking and micro-blogging service.

Support for Sweden’s Pirates grew from 0.63% of the vote in the 2006 election to 7.13% in the European election of 2009 giving them 2 parliamentary seats. Their main supporters were the under-30s. The Swedish Party support stands at some 49,000 members in the official Party and the country’s young pirates, Ung Pirat, adds 22,000, making it the largest political youth organisation in Sweden.

Meanwhile other similar parties were springing up in the wake of Sweden’s and the most successful, in terms of votes translated into seats, is the German Pirate Party which took 8.9 percent of the votes in the Berlin Landtag election in 2011 to give it an impressive 15 out of the 141 seats in the House of Deputies with around 130,000 votes.

Amelia Andersdotter MEP

Where the Pirates have been elected: Austria – 1 city councillor; Czech Republics – 3 municipal councillors; Germany – 25 state parliament seats and 163 city/municipal council seats; Spain – 2 municipal councillors; Switzerland – 1 city councillor.

The UK had nine Pirates stand in the 2010 election, including one in Glasgow but their share of the vote was tiny. In the recent local elections PP candidates did better with one in Manchester receiving over 5% of the vote but the Glasgow vote was down on 2010.

Around the world however, support is strong for the Pirate’s message of openness.

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, UK, Uruguay, USA all support Pirate Parties and there are other countries with fledgling organisations.

For years now controversies over free music and film downloads have occupied many newspaper and blog columns. When Norway’s music industry went on the offensive with its slogan piracy kills music the country’s Piratgruppen (Pirate Group) responded with piracy frees music.

Inevitably pirate parties have attracted the attention of the law. Campaigners have had their property raided and there has been harassment and arrests of individuals as state machinery endeavours to crack down of their attack on intellectual property.

The participants in pirate parties, like this blog, are happy to have others copy their output. The Piratbyrån place their material under the banner, kopimi – copy me.

Kopimi logo

Copie from Brazil Pirates

The social networking aspect of their rolling policies means the pirates have retained their dynamism. They share ideals but they also differ in various respects. Some are more influential than others: The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) from the USA and the Chaos Computer Club, a hacker organisation from Germany are two better-known marginal groups.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation logo

The Chaos Computer Club logo

The Pirates have taken the negative connotation of their name used by the film, music, photographic, publishing industries and made it into something positive which is striking a chord with voters, especially the young.

Pirate Parties across the globe

Officially registered pirate party

Active, unregistered pirate party

Discussed within PP-International

 No pirate party

Since its inception the popularity of Sweden’s Pirate Party has forced other Swedish political groups – the Greens, Moderate Party and Left Party – to re-address their positions on copyright and internet downloads and file sharing. The strength of the Pirates in Germany gives the lie to the idea that young people are just not interested in politics. There the younger voters have found a political organisation they can relate to and who knows, this might be coming to a voting booth near you in the future.

Whether or not some of the Pirates’ demands will be appropriated by mainstream parties and ultimately be undermined is probably  irrelevant. If their members achieve their goals they have won the arguments. However there is little indication this will happen any time soon but with the German Pirates picking up votes like they are doing interesting times lie ahead.

4 Comments to “The Pirates and Liquid Democracy – Young and Politically Engaged”

  1. Hi there. I think this really is the biggest change democracy has ever seen. Unfortunately so far the liquid democracy software is mostly in german. I’m surprised this isn’t being adopted more widely and quickly, it can unleash such enormous power. For the first time ordinary people can directly engage in politics. Scary and exciting. Thanks for your post!

    • And thanks to you for stopping by to read the blog. Who knows where this movement is going but between this and huge and growing involvement and influence of social media it looks like the old order is being forced to move over – a little bit at least.

  2. Thanks for commenting. They’re certainly shaking up things, specially in Germany at the present. Interesting to see how far this goes.

  3. A breath of fresh new air blowing away old cobwebs and far more in tune with the real world than the fetid, stale parties here.

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