Page last updated at 09:20 GMT, Tuesday, 27 April 2010 10:20 UK

Election: Can Pirate Party UK emulate Sweden success?

By Will Smale
Political reporter, BBC News

Pirate Party UK
The party is fielding nine candidates in the general election

A movement inspired by the success of Sweden's pro-internet file sharing Pirate Party in the European elections hopes to make waves in the UK on 6 May.

Launched less than a year ago, Pirate Party UK are fielding nine candidates in the general election.

Although they have fewer than 900 members, they still hope to stir mutiny among sections of the electorate unhappy with "criminalisation" of file sharing, "excessive surveillance" and what it sees as limits to free speech.

The party's leader, Andrew Robinson, says he hopes to make enough of an impact to build momentum for the next European Parliament elections - likely to be in 2014 - and match the success of their Scandinavian inspiration.

Sweden's Pirate Party was founded in 2006 and last year had more than 50,000 members, making it the country's third-largest political party in terms of membership. It also secured two MEPs in last year's European Parliament election.

So why did it become so popular so quickly?

Andrew Robinson
Internet copyright laws have to change, or else you are criminalising a whole generation
Andrew Robinson, leader of Pirate Party UK

Essentially it is a single issue party that is opposed to copyright controls on the internet. It wants people to be able to download any song or movie free on the internet.

As long as no money is changing hands, it wants the practice to be decriminalised.

It takes its inspiration from the well-known Swedish file-sharing website Pirate Bay, whose four founders were last year found guilty of assistance to copyright infringement and sentenced to 12 months in jail.

While the Swedish Pirate Party has no direct connection to Pirate Bay, it shares the same beliefs and saw a major surge in membership following the high-profile Pirate Bay court case - particularly among internet-savvy young people.

However, it is important to note that may of the 50,000 people that joined the Swedish Pirate Party in 2009 have not renewed their membership a year later, and as such it has fallen back to between 25,000 and 30,000.

Pirate Party UK, and similar organisations springing up around the world, share the same core policy principle that copyright law should be changed to allow file sharing over the internet.

But Mr Robinson admits they have a long way to go before it can catch up with the size and success of the Swedish party.

"As we are coming from absolutely nowhere, our best hope is just to raise our profile," says the 41-year-old website developer, who will be standing for the party in his home town of Worcester.

"This election is all about a learning experience for us, about getting the party's name known.

"It's about building up to the next European election, when because they are elected under PR [proportional representation], we hope to be able to win a seat or two."

'Free advertising'

For the impending general election, Pirate Party UK's key focus is on how the internet is policed.

"Internet copyright laws have to change, or else you are criminalising a whole generation," says Mr Robinson.

"Sharing music over the internet for example, shouldn't be considered an offence, as in reality it is free advertising for the band in question.

"In the old days record companies would pay a plugger to get their music on the radio, today it is all about people listening to it over the internet, which a far more democratic process."

In addition to decriminalising file sharing, Pirate Party UK wants tougher rules to protect people's privacy on the internet, requiring the police to get specific warrants before they can monitor an individual's communications.

It also wants stricter limits to prevent companies from keeping excessive personal data on their customers, and laws to prevent government censorship except in the most extreme circumstances.

On a more prosaic note, it wants internet users to only have to pay for the actual speed they get from their provider, and not what was advertised.

Young candidates

"I may be 41, but the average age of our candidates is slightly under 25," says Mr Robinson. "And one is just about to turn 19, so we are certainly bringing a breath of youth into politics."

Although the internet is Pirate Party UK's main focus, it is standing on a manifesto that also has policies on medical patents, privacy and freedom of speech.

Pirate Bay
The Swedish Pirate Party says it is unconnected to website Pirate Bay

They want all pharmaceutical patents to be scrapped so instead of the NHS spending a fortune on expensive patented drugs, they say, the health service would save millions of pounds if all drugs were available generically.

To recompense the drugs giants for the lost earnings that would have gone into research and development, Pirate Party UK proposes that the government would instead pay them directly to continue to conduct this.

The party are also calling for a big reduction in the number of CCTV cameras to pay for more police on the beat.

Mr Robinson admits Pirate Party UK's immediate battle is to gain enough votes to retain candidates' deposits but says it is "very, very difficult" to predict the outcome on the night.

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