There are dozens of Pirate parties around the world and although run by different people, most have something in common – the proud use of the word ‘Pirate’ in their name. But for Taiwan’s Pirate Party the term is causing all kinds of problems. The High Administrative Court has just ruled that the Party cannot use the word ‘Pirate’ to describe themselves, since citizens will confuse the Party’s aims with those of sea-based criminals.
From Argentina to Venezuala through Uruguay back up to Bosnia and Herzegovina via Nepal, Pirate parties are appearing all around the world.
From their Scandinavian roots in the Antipiratbyran movement from which the Pirate Bay was born, today Pirate policies are being spread using dozens of languages. Currently there are parties in at least 29 different countries and although subject to local variations there is one constant – the use of the word ‘Pirate’ in the party name.
But for the Taiwan Pirate Party the term is proving problematic. Its woes began earlier this year when local founder Tai Cheh logged an application to form the Party with the now standard ‘Pirate’ prefix. The application was rejected by the Ministry of the Interior as “improper” on the grounds that the word ‘pirate’ has “bad connotations”.
Tai, an associate psychology professor, immediately complained.
“It is a matter of free speech,” he said. “When parents name a child, should the government interfere and say: ‘Don’t name the child this way because it sounds bad’?”
A subsequent appeal by Tai to the Executive Yuan’s Administrative Appeals Commission was rejected in February, leading the professor to announce the filing of a lawsuit with the Tapai Administrative Court. The Court’s decision is now in and it’s bad news for the Party.
In its ruling, the High Administrative Court agreed with the Ministry of the Interior’s stance that the use of the word ‘Pirate’ did not accurately describe the true aims of the Party.
The MOI said that the term “pirate” could mislead members of the public into voting for people they believed to be real, sea-based pirates. The country’s Criminal Code outlaws acts of piracy, the MOI added.
Tai says that the English usage of the word “pirate” is associated with those who object to restrictive copyright and correspondingly his aim is to bring reform to Taiwan’s copyright and patent systems, not to form a criminal gang.
Of course, the word was originally used to describe people who engaged in crime at sea, but was later applied to those who snubbed their noses at restrictive licensing, such as in the case of ‘pirate’ radio operators.
In the history of the very first Pirate Party in Sweden, founder Rick Falkvinge says that using the term ‘pirate’ was a natural choice. In 2001, the copyright enforcement group Antipiratbyrån — (the Anti-Piracy Bureau) was formed, only to be countered two years later by Piratbyrån (the Piracy Bureau).
“Choosing that name, they wanted to signal that they were the progressives, and the antis were the regressives. These activists were the first to talk back to the copyright lobby, and immediately catapulted into media everywhere,” says Falkvinge. “Inspired by the talkback culture of Piratbyrån, a small subgroup of their activists set up a BitTorrent tracker as an experiment in the fall of 2003. They named it The Pirate Bay.”
In 2005, when copyright law was toughened again in Sweden, Falkvinge says it was time to take the war to the politicians, and threaten to take their jobs.
“It’s important to understand that at this point in Sweden, pirate policies were already established by the Piratbyrån. When the time came to politicize the issues, it was not a matter of founding a new party and start contemplating its name. It was a matter of founding The Pirate Party.”