If electronic information is the most profitable and abundantly produced commodity in the digital age, what qualifies its protection as intellectual property, for how long, and at whose expense? Would the pervasive surveillance and corporate jurisprudence needed to ‘own’ information justify the societal ends? In the field of intellectual property reform, the Creative Commons and Pirate Party have publically addressed these questions, yet from angles that embody distinct transnational organization models and political tactics of hacking.
The Creative Commons organization has enacted a rapid internationalization project for an alternate licensing system to recognize cultural works under the same principles developed by the free and open source software (F/OSS) community; while The Pirate Party, in just six years, has proliferated a political campaign for IP reform, government transparency, and digital privacy across four continents and 63 nations. Since two Swedish Pirates won seats in the 2009 European Parliament election, the movement has taken off. In May 2010, Slim Amamou, a Tunisian blogger and Pirate Party activist, organized a demonstration against Internet censorship in Tunisia that presupposed the revolutionary wave of demonstrations now referred to as the Arab Spring. In 2011, the Pirate Party’s founder, Rick Falkvinge, was named as one of Foreign Policy’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers.” To date, the movement has won over 150 positions across Europe in local government and 45 seats in four German state parliaments including the capital of Berlin and the country’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia.
Despite the party’s increasing mainstream success, the existence of Pirate politics has invoked a high degree of ambiguity as to what (if anything) the movement coherently represents as it crosses borders and mobilize new actors. In the F/OSS community, organizations such as the Free Software Foundation anxiously warn against extreme anti-copyright policies, while Creative Commons must maintain legal legitimacy by denouncing acts of commercial ‘piracy.’ In German politics, Chancellor Angela Merkel has called the party an, “interesting appearance” while others depict the movement as anarchy devoid of substantial policy recommendation and professional experience. For now, the movement’s anti-establishment aura remains especially attractive among youth disillusioned with the status quo. In the European Parliament, the Pirate Party has recently entered into a policy agreement with the European Free Alliance, a political party for ‘stateless’ nations, and The Greens. In The Case for Copyright Reform, published by Swedish Pirate Party MEP Christian Engstrom and party founder Rick Falkvinge, advocating for free sampling, a ban of digital rights management (DRM), 20 years of commercial copyright monopoly, and legal non-commercial file sharing.
This thesis considers the context and political tactics of a transnational coalition between the Pirate Party and Creative Commons, within a diverse ecology of other actors participating in the movement for ‘cultural environmentalism.’ How do the distinct political tactics of The Pirate Party and Creative Commons rely on transnational activism networks related to the tactics of ‘hacking’ and what roles have overlapping membership played in constructing a shared discourse of reform?
The paper is structured as follows. The first section serves as a theoretical resource introducing necessary concepts to understand the organizations’ transnational operations. In the second section, the political and technological context of the thesis is discussed with emphasis on the historical discourses of ‘piracy,’ challenges created by the Internet to the copyright regime in the late twentieth century, and the consequential emergence of a movement for intellectual property politics in the image of the environmental movement. The third part of the paper synthesizes ethnographic research conducted on the Creative Commons organization and Pirate Parties in Sweden and Germany to shed light on how their transnational projects mobilize actors in pre-existing activism networks with overlapping membership based on distinct ‘genres’ or political ‘tactics’ of hacker I call invention, inversion, and idealization. To substantiate these claims, I analyze field-configuring events (Lampel and Meyer 2008) in which the Swedish Pirate Party’s tactics of idealization and the German Pirate Party’s commitment to invention dialogically intersect the Creative Commons’ and broader F/OSS communities’ tactics of inversion. I also address how the politics of intellectual property and electronic transgression have invoked a constellation of new actors including WikiLeaks, Occupy Wall Street, and the Missionary Church of Kopimism. In conclusion, I aim to challenge the intuition that the Pirate Party is a priori opposed to the tradition of neoliberalism- and instead hope to show how it symbolically (re)performs its rhetoric on today’s technocultural infrastructure.
Recent developments in the field of intellectual property provide important empirical clarification of questions looming over globalization studies. Though the existence of distinct transnational communities are recognized as an important area of interest, research typically has focused on identifying types of communities with less consideration paid to the way they emerge and coalesce in overlapping issues of global governance (Vertovec 2001). Further empirical observations are needed to document how a diverse coalition of transnational organizations within a single issue of governance can cooperate in action or discourse to achieve novel types of reform (Mayntz 2008).