Origins Of The Pirate Party: Privacy, Sharing, Innovation

I sometimes see claims in media that the Pirate Party was born out of The Pirate Bay, after the raid on May 31st, 2006. This is wrong. It has entirely different, and earlier, origins.

The stories that claim the party was born out of the raid on The Pirate Bay do have one point, though, and that is the observation that you can generally see what gave birth to what by putting all the related events on a timeline. That which happened earlier are possible causes of things further down the road.

However, putting things on a timeline and looking for proximities is not enough. You can’t spot just one event and claim it was the birth of a new global political movement that was born two days later or something like that; it takes months and months of thinking and planning before something can be started. However, once that thinking is done enough, the formation can be triggered by such an event. This is also what happened.

The Pirate Party has its origins in three separate developments. (Only one of them contributed to the party name, as described in a separate article.) These developments all take place in 2005.

The first development was the fight against software patents in the European Parliament, where corporations tried to buy themselves monopoly laws to the ability to destroy innovative startups that threatened the status quo. In a vote early July 2005, the software patent monopoly lobby lost, but by a very, very narrow margin from a game point of view. This had consumed all activist resources for some considerable time in Europe, and set me thinking that this was simply too close. There must be a better way to do this, a better way to ensure innovation can continue unhampered by colossi who prefer lawyers over engineers to win a market.

(Our Member of European Parliament was an activist in Brussels during this fight. How fitting that he has now returned to parliament with voting privileges.)

The second development was the criminalization of copyright monopoly violations by downloading in Sweden in the summer of 2005. File sharers — counting 1.2 million at the time — were demonized by a joint voice of the copyright industry and the senior politicians. They showed the usual discrimination against indie artists that relied on new distro methods; downloading was to be made illegal unless “from a legal copy”. How would you know that on the Pirate Bay? You wouldn’t, which in effect killed indie and alternative artistry, corralling them back into the old distribution monopolies. So it was an attack not just on the connected lifestyle, but also on the next generation of artists.

Also, what was notable was that these senior politicians were totally unaware of how everybody were discussing this harshening of the copyright monopoly. In universities, over coffee at workplaces, even over family dinners. It was important to pretty much everybody except the politicians, who weren’t even aware that it was important to a lot of people.

That set me thinking; the math for a new political party checked out. If just one in five of the connected generation had had enough of the politicians criminalizing their lifestyle and demonizing their person, a new party would get into Parliament. It needed 225,000 votes. That would force the politicians to pay attention. I toyed with this idea over the fall of 2005, thinking it might just work out. The necessary quantity was there. Votes, after all, is strictly a matter of quantity and not quality.

But the third development, the trigger to create the necessary anger and energy to actually make this happen was something different than the copyright or patent monopolies; it was an event that is clearly visible on the timeline. The domain — the domain of the first Pirate Party — was registered on December 16, 2005. What happened in the immediate days before? We find this in the voting logs of the European Parliament.

Two days before, in the morning of December 14, 2005, the European Parliament had passed the Data Retention Directive. This was the direct trigger for the formation of the Pirate Party, after half a year of considering the possibility of doing so.

One of the driving people behind the Data Retention Directive was the Swedish Thomas Bodström, who had also been vocal in harshening the copyright monopoly during the summer of 2005. He had been driving so repressive legislation across the board, that in the Swedish blogosphere, people started to use the term Bodström Society rather than Big Brother Society.

In most of my early interviews, I tried to explain that Data Retention — changing the logging of all our communications from forbidden to mandatory — went way further than what the former East German Stasi ever had had access to, and tried to make people aware of how rapidly things were changing. This wasn’t taken seriously at the time (as in “this is the West, we don’t do that”), but people have started waking up to what’s going on now, six years later. The first draft of the party program even had a special section for Mr. Bodström:

Thomas Bodström gets his very own section in the party program. Since he has proven himself dangerous to civil liberties, it is part of our policy that this man should get no other public job except selling hot dogs outside of Parliament. We motivate this by asserting that he at least can’t do any damage from there.

This, in itself, gave us some media at the time. But above all, it tells you something about where the Pirate Party comes from.

Given these three origins, it is not too surprising that the three pillars of the Swedish Pirate Party were — and still are — privacy, culture, and knowledge.

The party was formally launched on January 1, 2006, at 20:30 CET. The raid on The Pirate Bay came five months later short of a day, when the party’s infrastructure was already well up and running.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Kla

    A fun thing I realized a couple of months ago when I replayed Sid meier’s Alpha Centauri (or rather, the expansion pack Alien Crossfire) is that one of the fourteen factions in the game (future-based game where factions take the role of countries, political organisations dividing themselves instead of dividing based on nationailty) is in fact the data angels.
    They are a hacking faction which values freedom of information.

    This game was made back in 99.

    I just find it interesting that they in their own way foresaw the political organisations years before it existed.

  2. Rickard Olsson

    Data Angels… Wow, if we ever want to swap out the Pirate name, I want to be a Data Angel. 🙂

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