Pirates at the gates

Voting begins Thursday across the 27 member countries of the European Union for representation in the 785-seat European Parliament. Record low turnout is expected.

But the low turnout doesn’t mean that nothing interesting can happen. In fact, it could well open the door for smaller parties with, let’s call them, atypical agendas, to gain seats in the body that plays an important role in passing pan-EU laws and setting the budget for the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU.

Sure enough, in Sweden, the Pirate Party, which advocates a major roll-back of copyright laws, doing away with  patents and increased privacy protection, is poised to send its first representative to Brussels, seat of the EU. Recent surveys show the party polling between 6% and 8% among likely voters, well behind the Swedish Social Democrat party and the ruling Moderate (conservative) party, but well above the 4% needed to earn to a seat. Support is even stronger among voters under 30, at abotu 13%.

ellen-soderbergThe party is fielding the youngest candidate in the race, 18-year old Ellen Soderberg, a high-school student from Stockholm. “I hope I can be a different voice that people can listen to and understand,” she told Swedish Web site The Local. “I hope to get a more open EU Parliament, to speak about integrity, surveillance and piracy. Knowledge is a right as a human. I want knowledge and culture to be free.” (Photo via The Local).

The Pirate Party has surged in the polls in Sweden since a Swedish court sentenced four founding members of The Pirate Bay, a BitTorrent tracker, to a year in prison plus fines for copyright infringement.

“When the verdict was announced at 11:00 am, we had 14,711 members,” Rick Falkvinge, the 37-year-old founder of the party, told AFP. “We tripled in a week, becoming the third-biggest party in Sweden in terms of numbers. All of a sudden we were everywhere.”

Call it the law of unintended consequences in action. The music companies and movie studios that sued The Pirate Bay trumpeted the verdict as a major victory against lillegal peer-to-peer file-trading.

But not exactly an unalloyed victory. The trial itself became a near-circus, turning the defendants into folk heros and boosting interest in the Pirate Party. The judge in the case, Tomas Norstrom  has also been accused of bias. Norstrom is member of two organizations that represent the interests of copyright owners, leading several legal experts in Sweden to call for a new trial. The original verdict, meanwhile, has been appealed.

In the meantime, The Pirate Bay continues to operate while the appeal is pending. The  district court (under a different judge) recently denied a motion by the studios and record companies to impose fines on the defendants until the site is taken down.

Voting in European Parliament elections runs through Sunday. The Pirate Party now has affiliates in 19 other countries and is fielding candidates in Poland and Germany.