The founding of the Pirate Party in Sweden in 2006 was regarded by many as a joke. After all, the argument went, who would want to be associated with "pirates" or vote for such a narrow platform? This overlooked the fact that the traditional political parties had consistently ignored the concerns of voters who understood that the Internet raised important questions about areas such as copyright and privacy. By focusing on precisely those issues, the Pirate Party gave disaffected voters the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with the old political parties and their outdated policies.
This they have done not just in Sweden, where two Members of the European Parliament were elected in 2009, but increasingly in Germany. In Berlin, the Pirate Party recently obtained nearly 9% of the vote in the latest Berlin state parliamentary elections, a level of support that is being mirrored across Germany if you believe the latest opinion polls.
Among those most threatened by the rise of the Pirates are the German Greens, a party which has traditionally appealed to precisely the voters that the Pirates are drawing their support from. The risk for the Greens is that the Pirates could take over as the main "alternative" option in German elections, turning the former into an anachronistic throwback to pre-digital times.
To head off this threat, the German Green party has drawn up a 16-page proposal entitled "Openness, freedom, participation – Exploiting the opportunities of the Internet – Making the shift to digital green", which aims to position the Green party as a defender of all those things that make the Pirates attractive to some voters (German original.).
There is support for a shopping list of digital-friendly ideas like Internet freedom, Net neutrality, privacy, data protection, online anonymity and pseudonymity, free software, open access, open data, open government, CC licenses – even for things like free public wifi and DDoS attacks, which the Greens regard as "civil disobedience". There's also a list of things that the Greens don't want: Net censorship, "three strike" exclusions, data retention, online surveillance, software patents and the export of surveillance tools.
That's all good stuff, but the really interesting part of the proposal concerns copyright, because it's here that the Greens are being forced by the Pirate Party to make the most radical shifts, and where the biggest battles within the Green party seem to be taking place. According to a report in the magazine Der Spiegel (original German), the "cultural" wing of the party want copyright to remain as it is, while the "Internet" wing want its term reduced to just five years.
That gulf explains the rather vague statements of the Greens' policy paper on the subject:
We Greens are committed to a modernization and reform of copyright law and to a fair balance between the interests of copyright owners and users; that is, for all Internet participants. We want to strengthen the copyright owners and artists against the exploitation and marketing of their content, but also to provide adequate financial compensation for the free use of their copyrighted content on the Internet. At the same time we want to end the criminalization of non-commercial use of copyrighted works on the Internet and facilitate access to them. If copyrighted material is offered directly on a website or platform, which has a significant (higher than cost recovery) income from contributions from members or through advertising or links, then this counts as commercial scale.
Among the concrete proposals are a right to make private copies:
Private copying may not be prevented by technical measures, such as digital rights management (DRM), or by legal restrictions. Such a copy for private use and the right to copy it to personal devices, be it a laptop, an MP3 player, a tablet PC, or transferred to a smartphone, does not automatically include the right to share it with others publicly.
The proposals contained within the paper are currently just that: not official statements yet. But the fact that the party felt the need to address these issues in such detail shows that it is acutely aware of the challenge posed by the German Pirate Party, and it seems likely that many of the ideas will make it into the Greens' final platform.
Moreover, it's not just the German wing that is moving closer to the Pirates: as a Techdirt story from October reported, the European Green Party has also adopted many of the Pirate Party's key policies on copyright. Both are testimony to the impressive knock-on effects of the Pirates' appearance on the European political scene five years ago, and to the increasing importance of copyright in particular, and digital rights in general, to political platforms in the Internet age.