A fledgling new political movement calling itself The Pirate Party of the United States has emerged from the dust of last month's police raid on The Pirate Bay in Sweden.
Six days after the May 31 seizure of BitTorrent servers, the new organization's website, was up and running. Organizers claim the newly launched site drew over 100,000 hits in a little over a week.
The group patterns itself after Piratpartiet, the Swedish political party associated with The Pirate Bay, and says it wants to reform intellectual property and privacy laws. Piratpartiet was launched January 1, and by the end of that first day had gathered the 1,500 signatures it needed to participate in Sweden's upcoming parliamentary elections in September.
Wired News interviewed the founder of The Pirate Party of the United States, Brent Allison, 30, a PhD candidate at the University of Georgia, and his provisional co-chair David Segal, 20, a computer science major at the University of California Santa Barbara. They shared their thoughts on the stormy seas ahead.
WN: When did the party start, and who started it?
Allison: The party started on June 6, 2006 with two members, myself and my friend Alex English. A couple of days later, I received around 300 e-mails from people I didn't know expressing interest in joining and helping out. This was thanks to publicity from the original Swedish party, Piratpartiet, who found out about it when I edited their Wikipedia entry to include mention of the U.S. version I founded.
On June 9, faced with not being able to finish a dissertation, hold down a job and lead a rapidly growing party at the same time, I handed control of the party to Joshua Cowles and he appointed David Sigal as co-chairman.
WN: What sparked you to form the U.S. version of the Pirate Party, or in David's case, to get involved?
Allison: I have always been concerned that trends in intellectual property policies have been going too far in favor of entertainment conglomerates and major pharmaceutical firms at the expense of ordinary citizens and patients. The passage of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) in 1998 first awakened me to this trend. The RIAA's and MPAA's interference in P2P-sharing networks, through lawsuits, political lobbying and flooding them with bogus files, seemed to threaten one of the most democratic institutions in the digital sphere.
A friend of mine on LiveJournal had talked about the Swedish Piratpartiet in a journal entries on June 2. I had heard about the raid on The Pirate Bay earlier, but hearing that not only was a political party's server affected by the raid, but that this party addressed these issues that I cared about made me ask, "Why don't we have a party like that here?" I was frustrated that no third party in the United States, let alone the Democrats or Republicans, was making file sharing, medical patents and overextensions of law enforcement's power top agenda items. So, I thought it was time that a party here actually did that, and if I had to be the one who started it, so be it.
Sigal: It started when Slashdot covered the raid on the Pirate Party. I got into contact with the founders … every point they made I found myself agreeing with. Then I took a step back -- we needed something not quite like the Swedish party, but something along those lines.
WN: What do you hope to accomplish?
Allison: Now that I'm no longer in a leadership position, I can't speak for the Pirate Party U.S. as a whole. However, I started the party so it could nominate candidates for public office that would get people thinking about intellectual property and privacy, and confront other candidates head-on about these issues.
Iintellectual property is such an esoteric topic that lawyers, academics and lobbyists have had dominion over it, even though it intimately affects all of us. The public should be informed about and have concrete ideas about IP. Other political parties and public officials should take active stances on intellectual property so voters can associate (the position) with them as they do with taxes and foreign policy.
This party is all about raising awareness of issues that only geeks and lawyers have cared about until now. With enough hard work, we can not only put these issues on the table, but, dare I say it, even win positions in public office for ourselves or other candidates sympathetic to our causes.
Sigal: We're basically trying to take control of the internet. Net neutrality was rejected in the house and there's no one to speak out -- they're trying to make laws about it, when they have no experience in that culture.
WN: What kind of challenges are you faced with?
Sigal: The biggest one facing us right now is getting everything formed.... There's so much support, and everyone wants to go in different directions. Also, getting support from organizations such as the EFF, and getting someone elected into office -- that's going to prove difficult too, but we're up for the challenge.
WN: Is that significantly different from what the Swedish version of the party faced?
Allison: Sweden's political culture is much more hostile to companies trying to smear pro-consumer initiatives as "anti-business," which I expect intellectual property-dependent conglomerates will try to do here against us. While most Americans don't want the NSA to snoop on their telephone calls, their overall lack of awareness of copyright and patent-dependent businesses entrenching themselves in political circles puts us at a disadvantage on that front. Nevertheless, if we don't try to at least organize and make these issues known, we'll continue to suffer unacceptable indignities online, in the doctor's office and at the hands of overzealous law enforcers.
WN: What kind of response have you received so far?
Allison: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Many have asked me why a party like this hasn't existed by now. Others are worried about naming ourselves the "Pirate" Party, because file sharing has been demonized as piracy in the press. More people than I ever thought possible have offered help, including expertise in public relations, programming and organization on the ground. There's a lot of excitement in the air that these concerns that have rarely gone outside of the geek community will go straight into the political arena.
WN: How did the raid in Sweden affect you?
Sigal: I think the raid is what brought this whole thing to my attention, and to the attention of people around the world. The raid in Sweden could turn out to be the best thing that happened to the internet community. I think it backfired on the MPAA. They wanted to take down a site they thought was illegal, but everyone noticed that the MPAA is terrorizing the people.
WN: Do you believe that artists should be paid for their work?
Allison: Indeed I do, and it would be nice if the conglomerates that make up the RIAA would actually pay most of their contract artists what they're worth. Artists should really welcome file sharing as a method to promote their work and their touring events, and to escape the clutches of Big Music that they sign away their lives to. No one has ever gone broke and homeless or ever will because of file sharing, but the RIAA has not been averse to suing penniless 12-year-olds living in public housing for sharing files.
WN: Do you currently download software illegally?
Sigal: I'm not going to answer that one. But I support the downloading of music, movies and software for trial use, or to gain knowledge in the pursuit of development.
Allison: No. Not at all.
WN: Are you worried about the RIAA and MPAA deploying resources against you?
Allison: For now, the Pirate Party U.S. is a small undertaking that will probably exist under the MPAA's and RIAA's radar for some time. When they do notice us, I doubt they'll openly confront the party itself. Plus, they can't dismiss us as scofflaws like they do the people they sue since we want to change the laws rather than break them. So if they confront us openly, it rightfully puts their own motives to keep the status quo into question. Therefore, I expect they'll attack us through a proxy, perhaps through funding a pseudo-activist group or by influencing election officials to keep us off the ballot.
Sigal: Worried? Not at all. These fear tactics and scare tactics are doing the exact opposite -- yeah, they've busted a lot of people, good for them. But you've also seen a huge increase in the amount of illegal downloads. I think it's hurting them. The RIAA and MPAA need to wake up and see that they're doing something wrong and we're doing something right.
WN: What about RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol's statement last week that "we believe digital downloads have emerged into a growing, thriving business and file-trading is flat?"
Allison: Bainwol should talk to Weird Al Yankovic about that. On the same day Bainwol said that, The Digital Music Weblog posted an article where Al said he gets more money from CD sales than from downloads, ironically enough. Getting his music sold through iTunes, the most well-recognized music download business, Al actually faces an 85 percent reduction in income compared to CD sales. The savings from not having to produce a CD or open up a brick-and-mortar record store are passed to Al's RIAA-affiliated label and Apple, not to Al himself.
Therefore, the companies that make up Bainwol's RIAA and Apple are benefiting from a "growing, thriving business," but not the artists. Big surprise, given this industry's history.
File-sharing, on the other hand, allows an artist to professionally record from their own studio, get their music out there to a wider audience by using the fans' bandwidth rather than their own, and reap financial benefits through touring and selling physical property that music lovers want in the form of a CD in a jewel case with liner notes, as well as related merchandise -- all without the RIAA siphoning off their hard-earned money via one-sided recording contracts, be it through CD sales or iTunes.
Sigal: I don't think that they've contained anything, and BitTorrent is all the proof you need. It sounds to me like they're conceding but they're just trying to do it politely.
Cool. My first News Article too btw...