U.K. gets its own Pirate Party

Party, which is dedicated to tech and copyright-law reform, registers with the U.K. Electoral Commission, but its numbers are small--around 250 active members so far.

Tom Espiner Special to CNET News
3 min read

The Pirate Party UK, which is dedicated to technology and copyright-law reform, has become an official political party.

The party was registered by the Electoral Commission this week, the party's leader Andrew Robinson told ZDNet UK.

"We're still in the early stages of forming the party," Robinson said Thursday. "We're still very small."

The U.K. organization has around 250 active members, Robinson said.

Electoral Commission registration allows the party to raise funds and list Pirate Party UK candidates at the next general election, which must take place before June 2010. Similar parties elsewhere have won election victories: the Swedish Pirate Party gained a seat in the European parliament in May, while the German Pirate Party has an elected MP.

The Pirate Party UK intends to campaign before the next general election on issues such as patent and copyright reform, and freedom from excessive electronic surveillance.

It is proposing an exemption from copyright law for noncommercial file-sharing, which is essentially an extension of fair use. Under U.K. copyright law, fair use allows organizations such as schools and news agencies to use parts of a copyrighted work.

In May, government advisers estimated there were 7 million file-sharers in the UK. The government's Digital Britain report, released in June, put forward a statutory maximum fine of 50,000 pounds ($83,000) for copyright infringement.

"The government is saying that there are 7 million people that share files in Britain, and that file-sharers should be punished with a maximum fine of 50,000 pounds," said Robinson. "The fact that the government has threatened to bankrupt up to 10 percent of the population shows the need for a party that understands technology."

The party will press for the length of the copyright on works to be reduced from the life of the owner plus 70 years to a shorter term, said Robinson. Its membership has not yet voted on what the shorter copyright term should be.

One major campaign platform will be the reform of patent law to prevent one company building up significant market power in products such as medicines. "Monopolies maintained by companies producing life-saving drugs mean people are dying, as they can't afford (treatment)," said Robinson.

The party will also campaign to reform electronic surveillance laws, which will include defining which types of deep packet inspection and surveillance are allowed. Robinson offered Google Street View and behavioral ad-monitoring company Phorm as examples of technology not covered by U.K. law.

"Current law isn't taking into account advances in technology such as Street View," said Robinson. "There's no law to say it's OK to take pictures of streets, but not the inside of houses. Phorm is too much like surveillance. We're saying there needs to be a set of laws to handle technology such as Phorm and Street View."

Surveillance by government agencies, including the proposed Interception Modernisation Programme, must be made as transparent as possible, according to the Pirate Party UK. "We would like to expand the Freedom of Information Act so government information is published by default, unless there are security issues," said Robinson.

At the moment, the Pirate Party UK is recruiting members and seeking donations, and it aims to field as many candidates as it can at the next general election, Robinson said. The party leader intends to stand for election in either the Worcester or West Worcestershire constituencies.

The Pirate Party UK has no formal connection with similar parties around the world. "There are very informal links--we talk to each other," said Robinson. "We are structurally and financially independent."

There are 24 Pirate Party organizations around the world.

Tom Espiner ZDNet UK reported from London.