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.


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.


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.


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.


How about larcen-e or larcen-d?


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".

Mark Schick

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.


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


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'.

Leland Witter

World Wide Wobbery?

Ed Pinkley

The term pirate was a slang term invented by the software pirates themselves. I always thought it was pretty silly for the fbi warning to use that word. As far as coming up with a new name, there is no need. There is already a descriptive and accurate name for it: copyright infringement.

Dale Sheldon

How about "copyright infringement", since that's what it is? Calling it "theft" or "robbery" or "piracy" might grab attention, but none of those words, under the legal definitions, have any bearing on the actual legal issues at hand.

Or is that just too many syllables? (Dig-i-tal pi-ra-cy, cop-y-right in-fringe-ment; nope, same number.)


isn't 'terrorism' a catch-all?

Travis F.

It cant be anything like Burglary, Robbery, or even Larceny, because these are common law concepts that involve actual taking (and asportation) of the property of another.

Digital "piracy" is just violation of Copyright acts and DMCA, which is what it should remain called.

IMO the advertisements that downloading movies is stealing, etc. should be criminal.


d-fringement (digital copyright infringement)

paul haine


Mike B

E-theft eh? I didn't know it was possible to steal public goods.

If you wanted to be all 1337 you could call it The Scene or my idea, Z* (Z Star, or Zz). The importance of Z being that market liberated goodz are suffixed with a Z. Warez, bookz, Moviez, Comicz, etc. It's a little 1990s, but its very extensible.

Andre Arko

Bootlegging. It's already in popular use, it specifically means "copying", and it doesn't bring real pirates into things.

(I first saw it suggested by John Gruber at

Adam Zendel

Why don't we give up on giving digital piracy a negative spin and deal with the reality that this is the new method of content distribution. Music is no longer a product rather it has become a service. I think a shift in nomenclature should reflect that. Perhaps we should refer to piracy as what it is, an alternate form of content distribution. Dare I say we stop trying to criminalize it and simply call it legal?

After all theft, robbery, even piracy require a transfer of property. In digital terms its not so much a transfer but rather a creation. Rather than property changing hands, it simply grows. Theft, robbery nor piracy describe this fascinating expansion of property.

Lets drop the negative nomenclature that labels a vast majority of people criminals, I say we start criminalizing the redundancy of Record companies and their lobby groups. If they refuse to innovate in their methods of distribution and keep up with the global zeitgeist, that is their loss, not mine. After all we live in a capitalist country and if some one can offer a product for less, or better yet free I have no hard feelings taking advantage of that. After all capitalism has never been about morality.

Until then I'm fine being called a pirate!



"Copyright infringement" or "unlawful sharing" or "unlicensed sharing" or "royalty evasion" or "unlicensed fair use" depending on the details of the event and your inclination.

Lee Jarvis

I've often thought that the 'piracy' tag was a bit harsh (disclaimer: I'm not condoning any kind of music-theft / copyright violations), but never tried to think of a new name for it. Maybe it should be likened to shoplifting, pickpocketing or the late return of a DVD rental.

I'm a fan of the words 'pilfer' and 'filch', maybe we could work one of those in there?