Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Monday, 19 October 2009 13:58 UK

Pirate Party hopes for free future

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News

Rick Falkvinge
Falkvinge established his party after a police raid on The Pirate Bay

The Pirate Party, a political movement born out of music file-sharing, has gained support in Sweden and Germany, and is planning to field candidates in the next UK general election.

It wants to encourage all file-sharing and slash copyright - to the horror of many artists and entertainment executives. So are they a significant force or a fleeting bunch of freeloaders?

If Rick Falkvinge did not already know what the music industry thought of him, the Pirate Party founder found out at the In The City music industry conference in Manchester.

One delegate offered to "burn him at the stake", while another called him "seriously manipulative".

"Some very important people in the music industry have been shouting at me for the last month," said In The City organiser Yvette Livesey of her decision to invite Mr Falkvinge to the event.

"But I think it is important to have these debates. If we'd had these debates 10 years ago, perhaps we wouldn't be in the position we are in now in the music industry."

The Pirate Party is so controversial because many believe its philosophies - if it ever came close to power - could wreak havoc on creativity and ruin the entertainment industry.

Winning votes

Members of the German Pirate Party on the campaign trail
Members of the German Pirate Party on the campaign trail

Mr Falkvinge started the Pirate Party four years ago in Sweden in response to a crack-down on peer-to-peer services, taking inspiration from the hugely popular, but illegal, service The Pirate Bay.

The Pirate Bay's closure and the jailing of its founders in April rallied support, and the Swedish Pirate Party attracted 7% of the Swedish vote in June's European election, where it was the most popular party among first-time voters.

In the German general election last month, the German Pirate Party won the support of 13% of first-time male voters, and Pirate Parties have now sprung up in 32 countries.

Although they share objectives, the national parties are not formally connected.

Creators deserve to be paid in some way if they produce something the public appreciates
Jon Webster, UK Music Managers' Forum

"This is not just something that has fringe appeal," Mr Falkvinge says. "We are talking about being the largest party for the next generation of voters."

The music business has spent the last decade fighting file-sharing as illegal internet traffic has snowballed and global album sales have plummeted. And the issues stretch far beyond music to film, TV and publishing.

The main attraction for Pirate Party followers, Mr Falkvinge says, is the proposal to make file-sharing not only legal but actively encouraged.

It also wants to drastically cut copyright, the legal protection that allows writers, performers, record labels and other rights holders to exclusively profit from their creations.

The Swedish Pirate Party wants to reduce copyright to five years, from the current position of at least 50, while the UK branch is likely to recommend 10 years in its manifesto.

Objecting to the prospect of digital communications being searched by authorities for copyrighted material, Mr Falkvinge also describes his party as a "civil liberties group".

File-sharing will never be stopped, he believes.

Gottfrid Svartholm Varg (C) and Peter Sunde, (R) from The Pirate Bay
The Pirate Bay founders were jailed in April for breaking copyright law

"You can argue about whether it should exist all day, pretty much like you could argue about whether blueberries should be allowed to grow in the forest all day."

He takes a long pause when asked whether he agrees with the principle that artists should be allowed to make a living from their creations, if they are popular enough.

"In economic terms, there is an enormous oversupply of people wanting to live off creativity," he replies.

"So there isn't enough demand to pay everybody. In such an occasion, market forces dictate that there will only be so many successful creators."

'Music is like water'

The former Microsoft employee says artists must find new ways to make money in a world where their music files fly freely around the globe.

"If you want to make a living, you are no longer a creator, you're an entrepreneur," he says.

"The same rule applies to you as to every other entrepreneur on the planet. You need to offer something which somebody else is prepared to pay for."

He cites Volvic and Evian as companies that compete with a free, legal, universal service - tap water.

His ideas have unsurprisingly found little support among the music establishment.

These issues are seen as extremely unimportant to the existing politicians
Rick Falkvinge, Pirate Party

"If I hear once more that artists, songwriters and musicians can make a living by playing live and selling merchandise I'm going to scream," says Jon Webster, chief executive of the UK Music Managers' Forum.

Only big stars make much money from playing live, he says.

"And I don't see why Kate Bush, who hasn't played live at a paying concert for 31 years, should have to go and tread the boards for her creativity. Creators deserve to be paid in some way if they produce something the public appreciates."

Mr Falkvinge accepts that many will see him and his followers as freeloaders, simply too selfish to pay for a service they enjoy.

But the spread of super-fast broadband has helped make his views acceptable, he says.

"Values are changing, and they are changing extremely rapidly. So are we freeloaders? Certainly in the eyes of quite a few people.

"But as values change, democracy works in the way that some politicians are going to step up to the plate and politicise those values, and that is what we are doing."

The UK party, formed in August, has between 500-600 members, according to its leader Andrew Robinson, a 41-year-old graphic designer from Worcester.

He hopes to field "as many candidates as we can" in the next general election, due to take place before next summer, but says the final number depends on the party's finances.

Lily Allen
Lily Allen has been an outspoken critic of illegal downloading

Candidates will stand, he says, "mostly as a profile-raising exercise rather than having any chance of winning".

In Sweden, however, Mr Falkvinge believes his party has a better chance of wielding power.

In the 2010 general election, he hopes to win around 5% of the proportional representation vote, giving him the balance of power between the two major political blocs.

That would make him, as he puts it, the "tiebreaker kingmaker".

"That would mean we would get to sit down and play Who Wants To Be Prime Minister.

"These issues are seen as extremely unimportant to the existing politicians. They would see it as an extremely cheap price for the cabinet to give us everything we want."

From there, the rest of Europe and then the world will follow, he believes, in the next 20 to 30 years.

If this were a Hollywood movie, a long, evil laugh would follow.

It is tempting to characterise this, as many in the entertainment establishment have, as the fantasy of a deluded megalomaniac.

But the Pirate Party's success in attracting young, tech-savvy, otherwise politically alienated voters has made them difficult to dismiss.

The test will be whether its support continues to grow after the rush of Pirate Bay-inspired anger subsides.

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