Pirates: They're Not All Somalian

The Swedish Pirate Party, a group opposed to current copyright and patent laws, received 7.1% of the national vote to secure at least one and possibly two of the 18 seats Sweden holds in the European Parliament. 43.8% of Swedes voted in the election, which is about average.

The Party was bolstered by the April trial of four members of Pirate Bay, a popular file-sharing website and BitTorrent provider that has 20 million users. The case was filed jointly by the Swedish government and number of well-known entertainment producers. The verdict ruled copyright infringement, slamming down $3.6 million in fines to be paid to entertainment firms, as well as a year jail sentence. "When the Pirate Bay got hit, people realized the wolf was outside the front door,” said Rickard Falkvinge, the Party leader. The court case inspired rapid growth.

The case was followed by an ill-received intellectual property rights enforcement directive, which enables copyright holders to tap into the private information of users downloading files illegally. With a large community immersed in file-sharing, Swedes were soured by what they believed to be an infringement on their privacy rights.

"The establishment is trying to prevent control of knowledge and culture slipping from their grasp,” Falkvinge continued.

The established parties now face great pressure from the rising youth movement, which views them as out-of-touch and restrictive.

With only 48,000 members, the three-year-old Pirate Party now ranks third in terms of membership and fifth in terms of election results among Sweden’s major political parties.

Like most fledgling groups joining the European Parliament, getting elected to a seat is just the first hurdle of an arduous process. Now the Pirates must find a voting bloc, leaving a lot of options for a small group with such a narrow platform.

The success of the party highlights a novel turn in Swedish politics away from its statist reputation — socialized medicine, welfare and trade unions. "We don’t accept to be bugged by the government,” Falkvinge observed. “People start to understand that the government is not always good."

At the hub of the Pirate’s platform is the assurance of individual rights and freedoms. It hopes to liberalize copyright laws, making noncommercial copying free and file-sharing more readily available. In addition, the party calls for truncating the copyright process, abolishing the patent system and expanding online privacy rights.

“We’re a serious and credible party,” says Christian Engstrom who sits at the top of the Pirate’s list. Of course, the Pirate Party currently is only one of the 785 members on the European Parliament.

The next stop? The 2010 Swedish elections. At least that’s their hope.