Internet freedom, online privacy and copyright reform came up as a politically contentious issue in the U.S. following Rep. Lamar S. Smith’s (R-TX) introduction of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the grassroots campaign charging that the bill would lead to internet censorship. But while the SOPA controvery has (for the time being) been put to rest in the U.S., a similar movement in Germany has given new electoral weight to the Pirate Party, a niche political party.
The Pirate Party, which supports a platform of copyright reform and online privacy, picked up an electoral victory of four seats in the Saarland regional parliament in elections held at the end of March. The victory gives them twice as many seats as the once strong Green Party. The ultra pro-business Free Democrats won no seats.
Steve Ketteman, a former columnist for the newspaper Berliner Zeitung and the author of “One Day at Fenway,” opines in The New York Times:
This month they face their biggest challenge, with elections in two more states, including North Rhine-Westphalia, the country’s most populous. Should the results match recent poll numbers — as high as 13 percent, making the Pirates Germany’s third-most-popular party — they will serve notice that a new electoral force has arrived and offer a compelling political lesson for parties on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Pirate Party’s niche platform of stronger protection for file sharing, opposing censorship, and even supporting voting rights for teenagers has struck a chord for German voters. But while the party appears to have embraced a niche set of policy positions, the movement’s focus on the Internet as a medium for political organization and change has resonated with young Germans. Kellerman observes:
[T]heir real goal, and the root of their success, is more meta: using the Internet to create a new structure of politics that can solve the problem of how to energize citizens — not only for the excitement of a campaign but also the often dreary realities of actual governance.
Indeed, while a two party dominated system makes it unlikely for a similar start-up party to make such a splash in the U.S., the online activist-based pushback on SOPA and the growing power of the Internet as a political medium — and a political issue area — proves that the Internet-based influence is an emerging political force in legislative and electoral politics around the world.