For some time now I have been following the furore and the various (counter)arguments surrounding the infamous ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement):
” a multinational treaty for the purpose of establishing international standards for intellectual property rights enforcement”,
one of which relates to “copyright infringement on the Internet”.
Now the protection of intellectual property rights is very noble in itself, but the way it is being put into context, defined, interpreted, pursued and – potentially alas! – enforced is a classic example of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater“. It goes something like this:
“Stealing is bad, so let’s assume that everyone is prone to stealing, and therefore everyone is potentially bad and should be controlled and censored, if not punished“;
a sweeping statement that is stunningly unfounded, extremely dangerous to basic civil liberties, and – as it has already been proven by multiple very reliable sources – ineffective as well. There are several reasons for that, as for instance Prof Michael Geist’s speech at the European Parliament’s “INTA Workshop on ACTA” shows (01.03.2012)
I personally have never felt the need or the inclination to download anything illegally: definitely not a film (torrents sound like far too much work for me – I’d rather use the time to go to the cinema!); but not even a single mp3 (but then again, I have been lucky to be well connected with and trusted by dozens of music producers all over the world who send me links to their own tracks for me to play and promote in my shows / podcasts or gigs). For me, it’s a matter of principle to pay for goods and services anyway, esp. for culture products. And I don’t consider myself to be extra conscientious. I believe I represent the general population.
So even just the thought that – sometime in the very near future – I could suddenly be suspected and even charged of “criminal activity” for hosting on my laptop a track that I have essentially not paid for (as it was given away to me for promotional purposes by the artist themselves!) fills me with terror and visions of a 1984 societal nightmare. It may sound far-fetched and ridiculous right now, but experts from all kinds of different disciplines from Law to Social Psychology think not! ACTA paves the way for such a legal development.
It was in this context that I was recently approached by Pirate Party UK and asked whether I would stand in the upcoming Local Elections in May as their Manchester City Centre Candidate. It took me less than a minute to enthusiastically say YES! Firstly, I had personally known for some time the other two Manchester candidates, Loz Kaye (the Leader of the UK Pirate Party) and Tim Dobson (a former candidate at the 2010 National elections). We have all been attending the same numerous digital events and creative industries meetups all over Manchester (e.g. the various BarCamps and the Social Media Cafe). Secondly, I have been living and working in the Manchester City Centre for more than a decade now, so the area is especially dear to me and its issues of particular relevance of course. Thirdly, I have seen incredible openness in the Pirate Party and its policies, so I felt that I would be free to establish and work on local priorities rather than follow a potentially rigid party whip sitting in London or even in Sweden (where the Pirate Party movement originated).
So I will be standing in the May 2012 Local Elections as the Pirate Party UK Manchester City Centre Candidate. For me it’s not just about copyright, civil liberties and freedom of speech (the foci usually associated with the party); and it’s definitely NOT about impunity for malicious or unintentional illegal downloads! I see it as my chance to put my 20+year love for Manchester into practice, working for practically the only political party I respect. As I write in my first official statement:
I see (Pirate Party UK) as the only party that is adapted to the realities, the needs and challenges of the modern world, and yes that includes a strong technology focus: technology is not just for scientists, engineers, geeks, and hackers. It is an indispensable part of everyday life, including social and data communication, continuous education, as well as participatory democracy. Whoever blissfully closes their eyes to this fact will just be marginalised, let alone ignored when important decisions are taken on their behalf.
I believe it’s crucial that more government data becomes publicly available, more public services are available online, and more people in Manchester get broadband internet access and thus access to this data and those services: especially those people who need it the most: not the young to middle-aged single professionals, but the digitally disabled elderly, and the thousands of foreign students who come to study and live in the city. After all it would help them to help themselves and to contribute to the Manchester life. For me this is all about inclusion, information, understanding, empathy, participation and making the public services and data work for us all and not just for the few and the already privileged and perfectly informed.