Abolish patents, reform copyright, protect privacy, open up government, and end corporate personhood. That’s the agenda of the Massachusetts Pirate Party – think BitTorrent not eyepatches – an offshoot of a global political moment centered around intellectual property reform and digital rights.
Since its founding last year, the Massachusetts Pirate Party has already gotten an official “designation” so you can now register with the state as a member of the Pirate Party. Last month it held the first state level Pirate Party conference in the U.S., next month it will hold a film festival, and it is currently working to get a candidate for State Representative on the ballot in Lowell for 2012.
But that’s just the beginning.
“Our goal is not simply that election but to look at local elections in 2013,” said James O’Keefe, who identified his role in the party only as “captain.”
When asked about the growing Massachusetts movement, Yochai Benkler, a Harvard Law professor and one of the world’s foremost scholars on politics and the internet, offered some context.
“I think the main thing to remember about the Pirate Party movement, which began in Sweden and has swept across Europe, is that at its core it is a young persons’ protest against one of the main ways in which they interact with law day to day, and which brands millions of them felons,” Benkler said by email. “Just as the Whigs and Tories embraced the derogatory term used for them by their rivals, so too the Pirate Parties across the world have embraced the piracy accusation as a flag for a worldview that rejects the control-oriented policy that the copyright industry has been pushing for over 20 years.”
Benkler cited the uprising against SOPA as evidence that the broader themes of openness and freedom online, if not the pirate label, resonated widely.
For my part, I’m excited to see the rise of the Pirate Party locally not because I necessarily favor its platform, but because it seems pretty widely understood at this point that copyright terms in particular have gotten out of hand, and are being shaped by incumbents based on rent seeking rather its actual purpose, to incentivize the production of useful materials for the public good.
And some areas of patent law – notably software patents – have been widely criticized for holding back innovation.
To the extent that the Pirate Party can shift the conversation even a little bit in that direction, that strikes me as a good thing. And when asked about the extremity of the party’s positions, O’Keefe admitted a similar view.
“We’ve seen in the U.S. parties that will ask for a mile and get three quarters of a mile,” he said of the party’s extreme view on patents. “We do that to make a point as to showing what the problems are and how patents stifle innovation. And if we end up having to settle, well we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”