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Why The Name “Pirate Party”?

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Pirate Parties

Pirate Parties

I’m frequently asked about the name of the Pirate Party, particularly in international contexts. Is it serious? Isn’t it an obstacle? Does it work? The answers are yes, no, and yes, in that order.

To understand why the name Pirate Party was chosen in Sweden — Piratpartiet — we need to look at the context of that country. After all, the movement originated there. Sweden was very early in broadband-proper rollout: I had ten-megabit fiber, full duplex, to my suburban apartment in 1998. When you put that kind of disruptive technology not just in the hands of technicians, but in the hands of everyone, it starts to change public perception of how this technology can be used, and maybe even should be used.

To put things on the timeline: in Sweden, fibered apartments with 10Mbit/s were commonplace before Napster had arrived in 1999. (Guess what happened when Napster arrived.)

In this sociocultural land, the copyright industry’s lobby arrived to a battle already lost and long over. Nevertheless, lacking fingerspitzengefühl as usual, they followed the blueprints of all other countries and established the enforcement agency Antipiratbyrån — The Anti-Piracy Bureau — in 2001, which was immediately a laughingstock in its feeble attempts to “educate” the public.

In response, a couple of artists, musicians, and cultural workers founded the think-tank Piratbyrån — the Piracy Bureau — in 2003. Choosing that name, they wanted to signal that they were the progressives, and the antis were the regressives. These activists were the first to talk back to the copyright lobby, and immediately catapulted into media everywhere. Inspired by the talkback culture of Piratbyrån, a small subgroup of their activists set up a BitTorrent tracker as an experiment in the fall of 2003. They named it The Pirate Bay.

They were all heroes, in particular with the youth.

In 2005, copyright laws were harshened yet again in Sweden. The debate over the proposed legislation raged everywhere: in schools, at dinner tables, in TV, in the newspapers, at universities, at workplaces. Everybody participated. Everybody — except the politicians.

This was the scene that made it necessary to make the debate personal for politicians, to aim right at their power base. “This doesn’t work. Take part in the discussion, damn it, or we will threaten to take your job.”

It’s important to understand that at this point in Sweden, pirate policies were already established by the Piratbyrån. When the time came to politicize the issues, it was not a matter of founding a new party and start contemplating its name.

It was a matter of founding The Pirate Party.

The name was a smash hit, winning attention immediately. Everybody knew two things on seeing the name for the first time: they knew exactly what our policies were, and they knew that they could vote for us come Election Day. That would not have happened with any other name. With 99% probability, any other name would have stayed an obscure web page.

Branding experts also give the name 10 points out of 10. In brand management, you ideally choose a name that is as unique as possible and as descriptive as possible. You will always have to make a tradeoff between these two. Skype is unique, but not descriptive in the least. Word is descriptive, but not unique in the least. “The Pirate Party” scores bell-dinging top scores in both aspects.

The surprise for me was how quickly policitizing activists in other countries, where the red carpet had not been prepared by a Piratbyrån equivalent, also chose the name The Pirate Party in their own languages. Each of them discussed at length before settling on using the same name as we had. Perhaps the most convincing reason came from the discussion in founding the Spanish Partido Pirata:

Either we call ourselves the Pirate Party, and get to define what the name stands for, they reasoned, or we’ll be called the Pirate Party anyway, without control of what the name stands for.

It’s quite like when the gay movement reclaimed the word gay in the same way. By standing proud about being a pirate, and doing so in public, you take that weapon away from the copyright industry’s lobby. These days, they are even complaining that branding people as pirates doesn’t work anymore.

So, to tackle common misconceptions:

Does the name work to get votes? Unquestionably. We were the largest party in the most coveted sub-30 demographic in the European Elections in Sweden, with 25% of the votes from that demographic. We had 38% of the votes among young males. The name is not an obstacle for votes, and we have the election results to prove it.

Is the name taken seriously? That some people didn’t take the Pirate Party seriously at first had less to do with the name, and more to do with the fact that we were a new party. We were treated with the same scepticism that any new party gets.

But older people still don’t take the name seriously. Well, it’s true in some instances that people who are not part of the net culture don’t understand the name. But if the party had another name, those people would give it 30 seconds while browsing the party program before dismissing it anyway as the non-net demographic does not agree with the policies. It’s much better to have a strong brand towards your core supporters.

Besides, it’s really a hypothetical discussion. We would not have been where we are as a global movement if we had not had that name on day one, and we are not strong enough to change the name and survive it as a cohesive movement, even if we wanted to.

But we don’t want to change the name, even if we theoretically could. That would send all the wrong signals to our core supporters, that we had rethought our policies and come to the conclusion that copying wasn’t really that good after all. This is not the message we want to send.

Quite simply, we believe in copying and in civil liberties. Some people brand us pirates for that. Well, then we are pirates, and we stand tall and proud about it.

So keep those pirate colors flying high across every continent!

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About The Author: Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. He has a tech entrepreneur background and loves whisky.

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This article is also available in other languages: Portuguese (Brazil), Czech, Spanish, Ukrainian, Catalan.

By participating in the discussion and posting here, you are placing your contribution in the public domain (CC0). If you are quoting somebody else, credit them.

Contributors take own responsibility for their comments.

31

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Falkvinge, Ann Markström, Piratpartiet Live!, lillebrorsan, HIGE VISION and others. HIGE VISION said: RT @ppinternational: RT @falkvinge: on #infopolicy: Why The Name “Pirate Party”? http://goo.gl/fb/hEKXZ [...]

  2. 2
    Magnus

    “Quite simply, we believe in copying and in civil liberties. Some people brand us pirates for that. Well, then we are pirates, and we stand tall and proud about it.”

    That was the best summary of this topic i have read so far.

  3. 3
    Rob8urcakes

    As usual, an excellent article Rick, And thank you so much for being so informative as to the history and very understandable reasons for calling the new Party all those years ago, the Pirate Party.

    I wholly and fully support all that the Party stands for and wishes to achieve, and I thank you and your colleagues for working so hard and spreading the good fight internationally. People worldwide support you and the goals of the movement unreservedly as I do too.

    However, I remain convinced having the word Pirate in the name of the Party sends the wrong message right from the start and doesn’t do justice to our noble fight for internet freedom and civil liberties.

    Filesharers worldwide still cringe whenever they hear the word Pirate or Piracy applied to them and their online activities because it immediately labels us with a negative and criminal connotation that’s simply inapplicable and inaccurate. Having to claim the label for ourselves gives us an uphill struggle right from the start and just doesn’t work for me or millions of other law-abiding citizens.

    I asked you in the other article if it was too late to change the name of the Party, and I respect your decision to stick with it. But in my humble opinion it doesn’t do the movement justice because we have to repeatedly tell people that we share digital files for free – that is for no cash, no profit and no gain.

    Then we need to explain time and again that “real Pirates” are people who try to make cash or some other tangible gain from the work of others without their consent. This, we do NOT support.

    To continually try to educate people with that simple distinction is tiresome and could easily be avoided if we change the name of the Party to something more appropriate and accurate.

    And I’m afraid I’ve no sensible ideas on that (eg the Caring-Sharing Party :o ), so people more clever than I could maybe assist?

    • 3.1
      Scary Devil Monastery

      “ilesharers worldwide still cringe whenever they hear the word Pirate or Piracy applied to them and their online activities because it immediately labels us with a negative and criminal connotation that’s simply inapplicable and inaccurate.”

      And yet they shouldn’t. As the spaniards so succintly put it, either we call ourselves Pirates and define what it stands for…or we will be known as “Pirates” anyway, and have no saying in what we stand for.

      As Rick had it, the gay movement were fighting a losing battle up until the time they reclaimed the common epithet.
      Sure, we could call ourselves the “liberals” or the “Digital party” or what have you. In which case we’d just be defending ourselves against the slander. According to the mores of our time, “Pirate” fits the bill. We can call ourselves whatever else we like, but this is the truth. Todays digital liberal is a Pirate. That’s all there is to it.

  4. 4

    @Rob8urcakes: This might be a country/communy specific problem. As Rick points out is the title pirate something quite positive here in Sweden as everyone knows what’s read into it. And I have never felt bad about describing myself as a pirate, Here in Sweden or in any of the online networks I partake in. Granted that most of them is highly internet and culture politically aware.

    So I feel good describing myself as a pirate confident that the recievers understand what that implies. Except maybe when at my grandmothers..

    • 4.1
      Scary Devil Monastery

      As do I. When people ask me for my political leanings, i always answer “Pirate”. On more occasions than not they leave with a better understanding of what we stand for and the realization that we are, in fact, far more oriented towards common sense than the established status quo.

      Usually this nets us sympathizers and not outright voters, but we do get heard. And as a few have said openly, it’s enough to get us votes in the EU, for instance.

  5. 5
    Putte

    Excellent article. There is an additional point to make. The PP name differentiates PP from all other political parties. Just look at the collection of platitudes you find in the names of other parties:
    Liberal, social, people, workers, democratic, moderate, folk, Christian, justice, progress, freedom, national, unity, etc.

    The name Pirate Party stands out. Yes, it is not a meaningless platitude, but people will remember it.

    PS. That the PP movement removed death skull in Jolly Roger and replaced it with a “P” is a good move.

  6. 6

    Why The Name “Pirate Party”? – Falkvinge on Infopolicy: http://bit.ly/gd83mU

  7. 7

    Hi Rick!

    we translated your article to Catalan:
    http://pirata.cat/bloc/?p=1362

    Cheers from Barcelona!

  8. [...] Vous le saurez en lisant cette Interview avec le fondateur du parti pirate suédois. [...]

  9. 8
    Joona

    There are elections coming here this month in Finland and I’m gonna vote for Piraatti Puolue (the pirate party) which is atleast one good thing that has come off from Sweden to Finland and to the rest of the world *wink wink and a nudge* :)

  10. 10

    There are now a German an a Luxembourgish translation of this blogpost available!

    German: http://piratenpartei.lu/node/294
    Luxembourgish: http://piratepartei.lu/node/293

  11. 11

    As governments around the globe conspire to outlaw liberty…

    … it’s never too late to remember that…

    Wherever liberty is truly outlawed… only the outlaw can have true liberty.

    Maybe we should look for a new Tortuga Iceland ;)

  12. 12

    Hi. We’ve made ukrainian translation for our new PP site.
    http://bit.ly/hn0C4r

  13. [...] ist die deutsche Übersetzung eines Blogposts von Rick Falkvinge, dem Gründer der Piratenpartei [...]

  14. [...] ass eng Iwwersätzung vun engem Blogpost vum Grënner vun der schwedescher Piratepartei, Rick [...]

  15. [...] first to talk back to the copyright lobby, and immediately catapulted into media everywhere,” says Falkvinge. “Inspired by the talkback culture of Piratbyrån, a small subgroup of their [...]

  16. [...] the first to talk back to the copyright lobby, and immediately catapulted into media everywhere,” says Falkvinge. “Inspired by the talkback culture of Piratbyrån, a small subgroup of their activists [...]

  17. [...] first to talk back to the copyright lobby, and immediately catapulted into media everywhere,” says Falkvinge. “Inspired by the talkback culture of Piratbyrån, a small subgroup of their [...]

  18. [...] first to talk back to the copyright lobby, and immediately catapulted into media everywhere,” says Falkvinge. “Inspired by the talkback culture of Piratbyrån, a small subgroup of their [...]

  19. [...] first to talk back to the copyright lobby, and immediately catapulted into media everywhere,” says Falkvinge. “Inspired by the talkback culture of Piratbyrån, a small subgroup of their [...]

  20. [...] de autor, y de inmediato fueron catapultados a los medios de comunicación en todas partes ” dijo Falkvinge. “Inspirado por la cultura Piratbyran, un pequeño subgrupo de sus militantes [...]

  21. [...] first to talk back to the copyright lobby, and immediately catapulted into media everywhere,” says Falkvinge. “Inspired by the talkback culture of Piratbyrån, a small subgroup of their [...]

  22. [...] Falkvinge.net Comparte esta entrada: Tweet Publicado el 14/01/2013 by Benito in Blog, Noticias, [...]

  23. 14

    Thanks for some other informative site. The place else may I get that kind of info written in such an ideal
    way? I have a project that I’m simply now running on, and I have been on the glance out for such information.

  24. […] Observatório Pirata, Rick Falkvinge Tradução: Felipe […]

  25. […] quand Rick Falkvinge a l’idée du parti pirate, c’est à cause notamment de The Pirate Bay, le fameux site de torrents, dont le nom lui-même […]

  26. 15
    mindcrash

    Like Steve Jobs once said (after shipping the Lisa): “It’s better to be a pirate than to join the Navy”.

    And then there’s this at that same meeting: http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?story=Pirate_Flag.txt. Yes, that’s the original Mac team with a Jolly Roger.

    He didn’t say that at that particular meeting without a reason. The pirates are the rebels mentioned in the ad campaign in the 90s: The ones thinking differently. The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world in a positive way.

    If you ever need to think about what it means to be a pirate outside of the context of file sharing, that right there is just it. If anyone is mocking you for being a pirate, because you believe in a fair and just society go ahead and say “Well, you know; Steve Jobs was a pirate too”.

    Arrr ;-)

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About The Author

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. He has a tech entrepreneur background and loves whisky.

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