Pirate Party finds France fertile territory

Third copy of the hit party takes to the Internet

Sweden's Pirate Party won 7.13 percent of the vote in elections earlier this month. Its campaign for the respect of privacy, the reform of copyright law and the abolition of the patent system earned it a seat in the European Parliament, and it may yet gain another seat there, if planned changes to the number of seats attributed to each country win approval.

The issues promoted by the Pirat Partiet (Pirate Party) resonated particularly with younger voters, and were thrown into sharp relief by the prison sentence handed out to four operators of the similarly named but unrelated Pirate Bay Web site shortly before the election. Pirate Bay is a torrent tracker: it allows people to track who else is sharing a file using BitTorrent, so that they in turn can download and share it. The site's operators were sentenced to a year in prison for being accessories to crimes against copyright law.

With the French government hell-bent on cracking down on file sharing by forcing ISPs (Internet service providers) to divulge the identities and cut off the Internet access of anyone accused of sharing copyright works, it will come as no surprise that France now has its own Pirate Party.

In fact, it now has three, a perhaps-inevitable consequence of the parties' willingness to copy in order to increase access to culture and information.

The most recent pretender to the name, the Parti Pirate Français (French Pirate Party), sprang into life on June 8, the day after the elections for the European Parliament in which the Swedish party won its first seat.

The values of the Parti Pirate Français are those of the digital generation -- freedom, democracy, solidarity, respect for individual privacy, and the sharing of culture and science, its founder and president, Rémy Cérésiani, wrote in its statutes.

The party's goals are similar to those of its Swedish counterpart: reforming copyright law and the patent system to protect art and science from rampant commercialism, strengthening local democracy through the use of the Internet, and protecting individuals' privacy.

It intends to present candidates in the next round of local elections in France, according to the news release announcing its creation.

The party wants its Facebook group to become a rallying point, helping it avoid two dangers facing any nascent political movement: fragmentation and running out of steam.

It's too late to avoid the first of those, though, because the movement is already fragmented.

The Web site of the Parti Pirate (Pirate Party) predates Césériani's registration of that of the Parti Pirate Français by a couple of years. It's also the site that the Pirate Party International recognizes as its official partner in France.

According to its site, the Parti Pirate fights for the defense of individual freedoms and the respect of privacy; the right to private communication; a redefinition of the idea of intellectual property; a ban on the patenting of software and living organisms, and the decriminalization and legalization of noncommercial sharing of cultural products, a French term that typically encompasses music, film, books and games. However, its activities seem to consist mainly of promoting its online "pirate radio" channel and two compilations of freely distributable music.

Even that wasn't the first pirate party in France, though.

An earlier incarnation of the same group, but called the Parti Pirate Français, was created in mid-2006 to campaign against the creation of the Law on Authors' Rights and Related Rights on the Internet (known as DADVSI, the acronym of its French title). The party's Web address, parti-pirate.info, has since been abandoned, and has now fallen prey to the kinds of low-rent advertising that quickly colonize once-popular domain names.

Right from the beginning, founder "HPK" was concerned that agents provocateurswould use the party to further their own agendas, outside the scope of the party's goals.

In November 2006, with 10 others, HPK created the Parti Pirate Français Canal Historique (Real French Pirate Party), saying that the original party had taken a "techno-geekoid turn," promoting free software and developing software tools that were taking it far from the initial goals of fighting against the erosion of freedoms.

The profusion of pirate parties is confusing, not just for their supporters, but for those attacking them. In its most recent blog posting, the Parti Pirate rails against commentators who have confused it with the upstart Facebook group, calling itself the "legitimate" party.

The muddle recalls a scene in "Monty Python's Life of Brian," a parody of religion and politics in which the People's Front of Judea fights with members of the Judean People's Front, the Judean Popular People's Front and the Popular Front of Judea, rather than fighting their common enemy, the Roman occupier.

Fragmented opposition to its policies allowed the French government to push through the HADOPI law, a successor to DADVSI, earlier this year, although the country's Constitutional Council did force the government to rethink some of the measures it contained. Another bill with serious consequences for online freedom, known as LOPPSI, is also in the works.

The pirate parties could clearly learn something from the Life of Brian, and while I would certainly do not condone breaking the law, they might like to know that Pirate Bay is tracking over a dozen different versions of the movie, ripped from DVD and Blu-ray Disc, formatted for DivX players or iPod, and subtitled in Dutch, Swedish and Serbian.

People everywhere, it seems, are interested in using the Internet to exchange culture and knowledge freely, and the proliferation of pirate parties is probably far from finished.

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