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The Pirate Party

PiratPartiet was originally formed in Sweden in 2006 by Rickard Falkvinge after he realised that the current system is broken. In 2009 they got an E.U. Parliament seat, and when the Lisbon Treaty came into effect, it resulted in a second seat for them.

Currently, in Copyright, the vested interests in the Intellectual Property Distribution system have an abusive relationship with the content creators.

The Patent System has a similarly abusive relationship with the creators of various technologies, as the current USA system invites all sorts of abuses. While it undoubtably needs cleaning up, there are serious questions as to what the scope should be as which things should be patentable, and the extent to which it can be cleaned up.

At the moment, some things are already explicitly excluded, most notably mathematics. To the extent that software is mathematics, it should also be excluded. Similarly it wouldn't make any sense to extend patents to cover literary or culinary innovations, and to the extent that you agree there are similar doubts about the validity of business method patents.

Simply put, the pirate party stand for changing the system in a way which re-balances the system so that creative people actually get rewarded for the things that they create, and prevents patent holders stifling innovation and harming FOSS.

The idea is so popular that there are now pirate parties in 26 different countries, each of which is a self-contained local and independent party in their local political system. While they are independent, they share a common ideology.

However not everything is great with their policies, as it is not clear that they have fully understood the issues and therefore considered the consequences if they were implemented in full, although there has been a lot of internal discussion about some of these issues.

While their idea for patent reform of the government owning any patents generated in the execution of any government contract will work, the policies around copyright reform have a fundamental flaw at their heart.

Their basic aspiration is to slash copyright protection periods to a more realistic and much shorter time than the current life plus 70 years to something nearer to 5-10 years. In practise, how it is likely to work is as follows:

  1. Encourage the use of Open Standards, Open Source and free software
  2. Change patent and copyright law so that it can't harm free and open source software (ie abolishing software patents and getting realistic rules on DRM)
  3. Make non-commercial copying and fair use copying more reasonable
  4. Reduce the copyright term to more like 50 years
  5. Reduce the copyright term eventually to about 5-10 years

While there are lots of good things to say about most of this, there is a very specific problem where copyright duration reduction interacts with open source permissive licenses (ie Gnu GPL), which applies not only to software, but also to other creative commons material. Examples include:

  1. Books
  2. Podcasts
  3. Music
  4. Software
  5. Technology

How permissive licenses (ie Gnu GPL or Creative Commons) work is that the preferred license says everyone has a license to use the stuff involved for most purposes, so long as they don't try and impose additional constraints on people receiving the derived works.

When someone doesn't comply with the license, they lose the right to distribute their derived work until they come into compliance, and they must either do the right thing, or seek an alternate license from the rights holder (which they probably wouldn't get), or have to defend their behaviour in court (which wouldn't be easy).

This gives a fallback position where they are basically in the same place legally as someone bulk pirating DVD's, and it is this fallback position that is weakened when you reduce the copyright term, and the more it is reduced, the less pressure on the abuser to do the right thing.

An example could be easily constructed which covered all of these areas, by taking the Arduino prototyping and control circuit board, driven by open source software, with a creative commons manual which has a creative commons podcast featuring excerpts from the manual with creative commons backing music.

The core technology of the board is mature, as are the drivers, so the argument that 5 year old technology would be of limited use doesn't apply (indeed the networking stack taken from BSD Unix and inserted into Microsoft Windows 95 was mostly 15 years old).

The Unix API (procedure calls) have largely been stable for over 30 years, so a manual which used Unix calls to drive the hardware would have problems even earlier in the term reduction process.

Because at the end of the copyright period the stuff becomes public domain, any changes made to the technology would not need to contributed back after this time.

Because open development requires ALL the specifications to be available for it to work at all, commercial users essentially get made a gift of the complete package, ready to be exploited in any way that they wish, and if you don't believe that companies would try something like this, just look at the history of TIVO or Microsoft, and it has only been the duration of the copyright period which has forced compliance.

Some representatives of the Pirate Party UK seem to think that there is no problem with the fact that commercial software is only available in compiled or obfuscated form, but given that minor changes in parameters can radically change the form of the output, how do you check how long they waited before they started using later changes if you can't see when the changes were added to the source code?

Obviously this part of their plans needs more work, so that it does not convert permissive licenses to the public domain without doing something to keep the playing field level in the way that long copyright terms currently do.