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by Myles Fish
While Canadians need not worry about Long John Silver showing up at their doors peddling for votes, they may have the chance to vote for pirates in the next federal election. The Pirate Party of Canada (PPCA) is expected to soon join the ranks of registered national political parties. The party, formed in June, already claims a membership of 1,125 and is in the process of collecting forms from party members needed to register as an official party.

The party platform has nothing to do with eye patches and walking the plank. Instead, the focus is on reforming copyright laws and the patents system, as well as strengthening Internet privacy, net neutrality, and government transparency.

“We would like to increase privacy laws in general. As for social networking, we believe that information used on social networking sites should be protected just as if you send an email between you and a friend; that information is for you and that friend to view,” interim party leader Jake Daynes explained in an email.

The PPCA is an offshoot of the Pirat Partiet of Sweden – a party which won one seat in the 2009 European Parliament elections. There are now Pirate parties in over 30 countries worldwide, the Swedish and German branches being the only two which have won seats so far.

Daynes, a Vancouver-based computer repair technician said he expects the party’s message will resonate with young people, but also with older voters concerned about government transparency. Still, he realizes the chances of electoral success for a single-issue party in Canada’s first-past-the-post system are not great.

“Our goal is to bring the issues to the debates, though we do believe that it is possible for us to gain at least one seat, most likely not in the first election, but we have hope,” said Daynes.

The group, which recently appointed an interim leader and executive, is in the process of building its technology-based platform and will be adding policies on environment and health in the “mid-to-long-term,” according to marketing and media relations director Daniel LaSalle.

The PPCA hopes to make non-commercial copying of material, specifically music and movies, legal. The party argues that by doing so, culture is spread “farther than ever before” and artists are promoted.

One of the first actions the party took was setting up a free peer-to-peer torrent distribution program titled ‘Captain’ on their website. It bills the program as “an efficient and inexpensive global distribution network.” So far seven artists have signed on.

“The current distribution model is dead, the market must evolve,” wrote Daynes.

Should the PPCA’s application for status be accepted by Elections Canada, it would become Canada’s 20th registered party. Law dictates that to run candidates, a party must be registered for at least 60 days prior to an election call.

Despite not yet officially being a party, Daynes and the PPCA have already had their first minor political spat, after Green Party leader Elizabeth May said Canada did not need a Pirate Party. The PPCA countered that the Greens have not raised copyright and privacy issues in the past.

As for the party name, Daynes said he expects people will take the party seriously and will quickly notice it.

“We hope to use the name to entice people into finding out more about us and our issues. It is also a big help with media campaigns,” he said.

However, the name might hurt both the party and the user-rights cause, cautions Roger Petry, a University of Regina intellectual property and Open Source licensing expert.

“The label ‘pirate’ isn’t exactly a useful label. It’s not necessarily prudent to use that terminology that is already loaded in terms of people being seen as being guilty of something,” he said.

Petry added that, aside from some NDP MPs, the current major political parties are pro-industry when it comes to copyright reform. He cited bills C-60 and C-61 introduced by successive Liberal and Conservative governments as what the Pirate Party will be fighting against.

The two bills sought to amend the Copyright Act. Bill C-61, among other things, would have introduced a $500 fine for people caught downloading copyrighted material from the Internet. Both bills died on the order paper, but the Conservatives have pledged to reintroduce C-61.

Finally, Petry said that penalties on individuals for copyright infringement have become increasingly punitive and arbitrarily prosecuted.

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