Can You Pirate Piracy?

We’ve been watching the wandering meaning of the word “piracy” over the last few weeks, as it stretches and shrinks to accommodate the modern world. The re-emergence of honest-to-goodness sea piracy shares headline space with the high-profile trial of Swedish internet pirates and the debate over just what to call “digital piracy.” The Wall Street Journal reports that another group is bristling under the shifting definition of the word: re-enactors and enthusiasts who dress up as classical pirates. These would-be Jack Sparrows hate sharing their identity with lowly East African marauders. Maybe they’re just anxious about having to learn Somali in time for the next International Talk Like a Pirate Day. [%comments]


Clearly, the Jack Sparrows should be called "epoch-lifters."


I don't really think there is a "debate" about what to call digital piracy. Because it's called digital piracy.

Homonyms aren't a bad thing.

ticks are very different than tics, yet they have the same name.

I have only seen this "debate" on this blog, and while theoretically interesting, it really holds no significance.

People aren't suddenly going to shift from calling it "digital piracy" any more than they would start calling email or google a different name.

Sorry, but this "debate" is not very worthwhile. Then again, neither are online comments.


I agree that this "debate" is mainly restricted to the Freakonomics blog.

Guys, stop trying to push your goofy made-up term. We don't need it.


I suspect a lot of digital pirates are proud to embrace the term (see: The Pirate Bay) because of the romantic image pirates have in popular culture. When you hear "pirate" you think of Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow, Guybrush Threepwood, Captain Morgan: larger-than-life characters who search for chests of gold on the high seas and don't play by anyone's rules... not poverty-stricken Somalians wielding machine guns from flimsy little boats.

So, while I doubt the terminology will change (it's well established by now) and I don't see the point in trying to change it (there's no confusion), I wonder if we'll see less enthusiasm from the pirates themselves.


Instead of digital piracy, why don't we just call it what it is - copyright infringement. The whole digital piracy name was just a stunt by the recording and movie industry to make something that has little commercial impact (illegal downloading of copyrighted material) into something more sinister (armed people are stealing!). While the stunt was unquestionably successful, reporters could just go back to calling it infringement and leave the piracy to people who hijack ships.


There is no meaningful debate over what to call "piracy". Most people call it "piracy" or "bootlegging" casually, and "copyright infringement" when they need to use the legal definition.

When I played lacrosse, I had to run "suicides" and "steal" the ball. There was no confusion. There was no moral panic.


Snidely, people have called illegal copying "piracy" for centuries - it started with copying books, from what I've read.

University Instructor

A good example of how taking English classes can equip you to observe and analyze the world: the relationship between literal and figurative terms is interesting, but that there IS a relationship is unremarkable. Language is always open to being turned into metaphors which borrow lightly or heavily from their literal sources (and sometimes forget them altogether). We might compare "the war on drugs," for example, to "digital piracy" in this instance.

Guy, Western Australia

I especially like how many metaphors have been created by computers and the internet, from the software bug, to the hard drive crash, even recently with video streams and rss feeds, this is just another example. Gotta love language!


"We might compare 'the war on drugs,' for example, to 'digital piracy' in this instance." -University Instructor

It's an interesting comparison, because it highlights the futility of RIAA's fight to stop digital piracy. It is exceptionally difficult to win a war against an concept, be it drugs, terror or (digital) piracy.