Is It Time to Rename "Digital Piracy"?


In light of the recent spate of Somali pirate attacks (here’s one interesting long view, and here’s another), I wonder if it’s time to start calling “digital piracy” something else.

It was a clever name, at least in the beginning. Hijacked movies, music, games, even books — yeah, it’s the outlaws taking from the establishment, creating some wealth for the common man, yada yada. But in recent weeks, as real-life pirate attacks have gained in intensity, violence, and geopolitical meaning, talking about digital thieves as pirates has come to seem clever to a fault, and inaccurate too.

Even for the Pirate Bay guys — about to learn their legal fate in a Swedish court — there aren’t many parallels between what they do and what the Somali marauders do. Not much use of force; no gunshots; and most of all, no ransom demands. The reason so many people are so interested in ocean piracy is that it’s a weird, complex, and long-lived problem; digital piracy, meanwhile, isn’t much more than clever thievery.

So should we rename it? Neither “e-theft” nor “d-theft” (for “electronic” and “digital,” respectively) are any good; they’re too bland and too broad. Maybe “dobbery,” as in digital robbery? Eh. Suggestions, please.

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  1. keith says:

    Robbery technically involves threat of bodily harm or actual assault (such as a mugging or armed intrusion into a house) so if the excercise is one of precision in language, “dobbery” is already out, though I admit “Information Superhighwayman” does have a nice, pre-millenial ring to it for the perpetrator.

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  2. jep says:

    I don’t think robbery applies, Usually robbers threaten or actually perform violence to get their ill gotten gains. So then you are back to the same problem that applies to the digital piracy label.

    I think theft is a much more accurate label. Sorry you do not like that one.

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  3. Andreas says:

    It is no robbery – no guns involved, so forget dobbery.
    Be clear about what it really is: It is intellectual thievery, like stealing a patented solution.
    Why don’t you like e-theft? It fits the bill completely.

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  4. Aaron says:

    How about larcen-e or larcen-d?

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  5. Damien says:

    Call it what it is: “illegal copying”, “illegal distribution”, or the old standby “copyright infringement”.

    If those phrases are to long, you can go the more RMS route and call it “sharing”. It’s accurate, but less precise.

    I think I like “illegal sharing”.

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  6. Mark Schick says:

    Enough with the “digital piracy is stealing” meme.

    Digital piracy is rampant copyright infringement. It is not “theft” in the sense that you are taking one person’s property and making it your own.

    Nevertheless, it is a crime and should be punished as such.

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  7. Graham says:

    Could you please define thievery? By what definition does digitally-enabled copyright infringement constitute theft?

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  8. JW says:

    How about “Reproduction Monopoly Infringement”? The phrase captures the true nature of copyright, a goverment-granted monopoly on the reproduction of a work, without the crass and wildly inaccurate connotation of ‘theft’.

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