Pirate Party Antics

by on June 5, 2006

Whatever you might think of the Pirate Bay from a legal or moral perspective, they’re proving to have undeniable entertainment value:

Swedish hackers are evidently not too pleased with the shutting down of Pirate Bay. This weekend they launched a DOS attack against the Swedish government’s website, as well as the Swedish police site. Both were offline for a couple of hours. The government’s website was functioning again at around 8am on Sunday, according to news site The Local. A group calling themselves World Wide Hackers claimed responsibility for the attacks in a phone call to the newspaper Aftonbladet.

On Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators with pirate flags gathered in downtown Stockholm. In G¶teborg, the country’s second largest city, another 200 protesters took the streets. They demanded that The Pirate Bay’s servers, which were seized on Wednesday, are given back and the investigation against the site’s operators closed.

Now, my ignorance of Swedish politics is as complete as my knowledge of Swedish law, but I have to say this doesn’t seem like a very effective PR strategy. Most of the intellectually serious defenders of services like Grokster focused on the potential of peer-to-peer technologies for distributing non-infringing content like open source software and public domain works. The pirate party seems to be taking the opposite approach, celebrating the role of peer-to-peer networks in copyright infringement, and generally providing the opponents with an easily-caricatured image.

On the other hand, one of the crucial differences between Swedish and American political systems is that the Swedish Riksdag has proportional representation. According to Wikipedia, that means they only need four percent of the vote to earn seats in parliament. In that kind of system, self-caricature might actually be an advantage. They don’t need to attract the median voter, they just have to attract the votes of the 4 percent of voters who support their cause. The exaggerated pirate antics may be an effective strategy for increasing their media coverage and attracting the requisite 4 percent of the vote.

Unfortunately, the party’s website has only a small amount of its content available in English, so it’s hard to judge how serious their ideas are. They say they want to abolish the patent system and replace it with something better, but the English summary doesn’t elaborate on what the “something better” would be. And for copyright law, they propose a broad exemption for personal copying, and a reduction of copyright terms to five years. That strikes me as fairly radical, although it does fall short of advocating a repeal of copyright outright. Their proposal to ban DRM and contract terms approximating DRM strike me as a bad idea.

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