A Look Back At The History Of The Word 'Pirate'

from the useful-background-info... dept

A couple years ago, we mentioned an interesting story about "book piracy" in the early 18th century, which (according to the article we linked to) the term "piracy" was first used in reference to copying the creative works of another in 1701, concerning a a poem by Daniel Defoe (it's worth noting, as an aside, that even in this first case of "piracy" Defoe wasn't bothered by the practice, even encouraging them to try to sell their copies "if they please," -- he just wanted to make sure they copied the poem accurately). Now, via Freakonomics, we're pointed to a recent study by K. Matthew Dames on the history of the word "piracy," both for high seas privateering and when it comes to copying content. This seems to be a small part of a larger project by Dames, who says his later research will help show why the use of the term "piracy" when it comes to copyright is inaccurate, and is misused by the entertainment industry to get laws repeatedly passed in their favor without a basis in reason. I'm definitely looking forward that later study, but as a starter, this history of the term piracy, is certainly a worthwhile read.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    R. Miles, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 6:36am

    And?

    I don't see "downlifting" as a term people will use to describe the actions of file sharing.

    The term "piracy" evolved because people see it as theft. Pirates steal. Thus, stealing = piracy.

    Instead of these people writing about the misuse of the term "piracy", they should better spend it to educate people on why the word "stealing" is wrong.

    It's semantics. It's a waste of time. The word "piracy" is here to stay. I'm certainly not going to use "downlifting". That just sounds absurd.

    There's also the "fear factor" of the word "piracy", and it's the reason why the entertainment industry uses it. They want you to think of murderous groups of people who hijack ships as to make a comparison about "theft".

    You should have filed this under the "misuses" moniker instead of "say that again".

    Oh, and the worthwhile read... wasn't. More of a waste of time, actually.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 6:38am

    Mike, there seems to be a problem with your last sentence.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 7:09am

    So i herd u liek semantics...

     

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  4.  
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    Rose M. Welch, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 7:11am

    Re: And?

    The term "piracy" evolved because people see it as theft. Pirates steal. Thus, stealing = piracy.

    I disagree. If that were the case, your average Joe would just call them a thief. But if you hear something repeated fifty billion times by people who have an interest in you believing a certain thing, it will stick in your mind, which is almost certainly what has happened with pirates.

    I know people who burn DVDs and CDs and don't think of themselves as pirates, because they don't use the Internet to do it and they don't think of themselves as thieves. I sat by last week as someone explained to my boss how to de-DRM some music she'd legally purchased online, so she could put it on her laptop without having to copy licensing files and the whatnot, which was really hard for her to do.

    She is fifty years old and would never consider herself a pirate, but if you tossed some terms around about pirates, called them bad, and said 'This law will fix it!', she'd probably vote for it, despite being a 'pirate' herself.

    Plus, R., alot of the people being called 'pirates' are not 'stealing' anything, by anyone's definition of the word. They are just not making the same purchase five times.

    Pirates aren't just people who share files online. They are also people who un-DRM music that they legally purchased, so they can play it in their car or on their portable music player at the gym. They are people who use legitimate software to make a legal backup copy of their DVDs and people who make an illegal copy of the DVD that they purchased to take with them on a trip to watch on their laptop.

    Pirates are people who purchase a copy of Spore. trash it, and then use an illegal copy so it won't hijack their computer and limit how they use the game that they legally purchased. And pirates are, finally, anyone that an industry doesn't like, including people with concerns about their privacy, roflmao.

    So keep on making assumptions about your etymology and keep on sounding like an idiot. Have a nice day, though.

     

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    TheStuipdOne, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 7:31am

    Re: Re: And?

    Don't forget that pirates talk with an awesome accent, wear eyepatches, have peg legs, use hooks for hands. Most importantly they violently take ships, usually kill all of the sailors, and then take everything they want. Alternatively they don't kill, but just hold the ship ransom for several million dollars.

    So real pirates = murderer and thief that costs millions of dollars.

    What the entertainment companies call pirates are exactly what you described. Collectively they steal millions of potential dollars.

    I see a HUGE difference between stealing real dollars and potential dollars.

     

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  6.  
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    R. Miles, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 7:37am

    Re: Re: And?

    So keep on making assumptions about your etymology and keep on sounding like an idiot.
    I'm really assuming here, but you must think I'm one who believes piracy = stealing.

    I'm starting to understand the idiot remark now, but sadly, I don't see it applied in my case due to your assumption.

    But with your long rhetoric, I can't help but chuckle the same definitions used by everyone else were spewed forth here and all called "piracy".

    We didn't need the recap, or did the entire foundation of the original article escape your comprehension?

    Pot. Kettle. Whatever, as they're both black.

    So, I will have that nice day, thank you.

     

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    R. Miles, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 7:38am

    Re:

    Semantics - the death of the English language.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 7:39am

    Re: Re: Re: And?

    You forgot one key point: pirates get to say "aargh" periodically. Next time you are in a meeting, say "aargh" periodically and see the reaction you get.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 7:49am

    Re:

    His last comma is unnecessary.

    'Downlifting' is a dumb word. How about data replication? Bit choreography?

     

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    Ima Fish, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 7:54am

    The copyright industry misuses words such as "theft," "piracy," and "property" to gain support for their point of view. Complaining about an "infringement of a government granted monopoly," no matter how accurate the claim is, simply doesn't give the same emotional response.

     

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    Charles W - T Consaul, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 7:56am

    Piracy Arises When Government Gets Too Greedy

    There have been Pirates and Robin Hoods all throughout history. When it suits their purpose, Government even hires Pirates to vex other Governments, and give them a slightly more legitimate title like "Privateers!" Do you suppose the author of the Pledge of Allegiance might be resting less than peacefully since the U.S. Congress declared eminent domain on what he considered to be a Socialist Manifesto for young boys, and turned it into the Pledge of Allegiance? (Complete with the addition of "In GOD we trust" which the author strenuously objected to!) Is that author ever mentioned when the Pledge is printed up? I guess decency and fair play only work one way in this Republic?

    I have been a consumer of 78RPM records, 45s, 33s, Reel to Reel Tapes, Cassettes, 8-tracks, CDs, DVDs, VHS, Super VHS, Minidisks, Laserdisks, and once even owned a copy of a James Taylor Concert on a Beta! How many times does one consumer have to purchase the same media in different formats before the industry will actually give him or her a break? If I buy an album on a CD and want to listen to it at the cabin where there is only a cassette player, I would rather be considered a pirate than have the word "SUCKER" tstooed across my forehead for buying into the industry's philosophy of pay and pay and pay some more. On the other hand, if I see a vendor at a flea market selling knock off copies of "A Boy And His Dog" with black and white labels, I am likely to call in the Tommy Knockers myself. I guess what I'm saying is that unlike Multi-National Corporations, Pirates have limits. Pirates have their own code of ethics, but it's better than no ethics at all! Besides, if your main office is in the Caymen Islands, you pay little or no taxes, and your booty is sitting in a numbered account in Switzerland, who is the real pirate after all! So buy me a parrot and rate this little rant ARRRRRRRRRRGH! I wonder what would happen if we all got servers in the Caymens, stored our data outside the U.S. and accessed it through private accounts. Would we still be pirates or just Multi-National Consumers? Ahh well, Pass me a flagon of Rum, make sure my eye patch is on straight, and meet me down in Davey Jone's Locker. After the landlubbers get done with us, it'll be the only peace on Earth!

     

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  12.  
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    Ima Fish, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 8:07am

    Re: And?

    "The term "piracy" evolved because people see it as theft. Pirates steal. Thus, stealing = piracy."

    You might see infringing copyright as theft. But you also might be an idiot.

    The vast majority of people realize that theft requires deprivation of property. Despite the propaganda spread by the copyright industries, there is absolutely no property right associated with a copyright. A copyright is a government granted monopoly.

    The vast majority of people realize that when someone infringes on a government granted monopoly, there is no deprivation.

    When I steal property, like your vehicle, you are deprived the use or your vehicle. But when I infringe a copyright by downloading a song, the copyright holder still has his song and still has his copyright.

    Of course you will argue that the copyright holder is being deprived of being paid for the use of the copyright. And to that you might be right. And that's exactly why infringing a copyright is illegal. However, merely because something is illegal does not mean it is theft.

    That's why P2P is so overwhelmingly popular. Because, despite the propaganda to the contrary, most people realize that downloading music is not in anyway stealing.

    And I'm not talking out of my ass, the United States Supreme Court has specifically held that infringing a copyright is in not even synonymous with theft. DOWLING v. UNITED STATES, 473 U.S. 207 (1985)
    There is no dispute in this case that Dowling's unauthorized inclusion on his bootleg albums of performances of copyrighted compositions constituted infringement of those copyrights. It is less clear, however, that the taking that occurs when an infringer arrogates the use of another's protected work comfortably fits the terms associated with physical removal employed by ยง 2314. The infringer invades a statutorily defined province guaranteed to the copyright holder alone. But he does not assume physical control over the copyright; nor does he wholly deprive its owner of its use.

     

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    Ima Fish, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 8:10am

    Re: Piracy Arises When Government Gets Too Greedy

    "How many times does one consumer have to purchase the same media in different formats before the industry will actually give him or her a break?"

    Never.

     

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  14.  
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    Charles W - T Consaul, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 8:12am

    P, S. (By the Bye)

    What do you call what the recording industry does to composers? What do the distributors pay artists for digital downloads compared to the pittance that they get paid for the standard CDs and such. Why isn't that considered Piracy as well? The distribution companies decide to pay these artists less regardless of the fact that they actually make MORE profit due to reduced storage, material, and transportation costs. Consumers could actually benefit greatly from being provided a way to pay full royalties to the authors and composers when they make their horribly treasonous copies (that's Pirate talk, I just can't halep myself) but oddly enough, there is no such provision for this! Could we file this under the heading "Finding no way to follow the spirit of the law, Consumers are eventually forced to break it out of sheer exhaustion"?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 8:22am

    @Charles W - T Consaul, you forgot to add the same movie/music on the same media just different editions. On Laser disc four different versions of Star Wars were release through the years and on DVD alot of movies were released like this-> movie, superbit, special edition and the Directors cut.

     

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  16.  
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    Rose M. Welch, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 8:29am

    Re: Re: Re: And?

    Roflmao. I didn't assume that you believed that piracy = stealing. I didn't assume anything. But you have. Again. More rofl. :)

    I saw that you stated that you believed that the term "piracy" evolved because people see it as theft. I don't believe that your statement encompasses the correct etymology for the term 'piracy'. I also don't believe that most people see everything that's labeled as piracy as theft, again negating your statements about the etymology of the word.

    It's actually funny because you keep saying that 'everyone' believes certain things that it's very clear that not everyone believes. A very limited amount of what is called piracy is viewed as theft by the average Joe, which I explained in my previous post. A very large amount of what is called piracy is viewed as piracy by your average music exec, which is outlined in the original blog post.

    Since 'everyone' is made up of both music execs, averages Joes, and Techdirt readers, I think it's safe to assume that 'everyone else' is not using the same definitions, thus making you wrong again. Rofl.

    I'm glad that you're having a nice day. :)

     

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  17.  
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    Charles W - T Consaul, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 8:32am

    Point Taken

    Thanks for the edification and enlightenment. I also think it ironic that I can usually purchase a movie or Concert for less than a CD costs. I get the additional video content, superior sound in many cases, and I spend less money getting it.

    In the area of books, how many times have I lent a book to a friend only to never see the friend or the book again? I really thought that digital editions were going to solve this problem, but alas, they have figured out that they can actually make money from this medium as well and they are loading down their files with all sorts of copyright protection. One of the biggest reasons people download pirated content is that it just works! All I can depend on from corporations like Sony, is to get a new form of copyright protection that freezes up my computer, or a tag that allows them to track my browsing habits without my knowledge. The nice thing about Pirates is that after they have their way with you, they leave you pretty much alone. The multinational corporation, as well as the government, hounds you to the grave!

     

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  18.  
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    R. Miles, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 8:37am

    Re: Re: And?

    You might see infringing copyright as theft. But you also might be an idiot.
    Okay, it looks as though I'll have to re-write my original line, because true idiots can't comprehend English while spewing off rhetoric to compensate for it.

    So, with that:
    The term "piracy" evolved because people see it as theft. Pirates steal. Thus, people think stealing = piracy.
    And, for clarification, "people" are those in the entertainment industry using the term.

    There. Pronoun added. Does this make it easier for everyone who can't comprehend English to understand?

    Thanks for the hypocritical post, waste of my time to have to correct myself, and the wasted bytes needed on Techdirt's server to educate you.

     

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  19.  
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    R. Miles, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 8:41am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: And?

    Since 'everyone' is made up of both music execs, averages Joes, and Techdirt readers, I think it's safe to assume that 'everyone else' is not using the same definitions, thus making you wrong again. Rofl.
    I corrected myself just now. I guess I had no choice.

    Funny thing: When I re-read your post (after I replied), I viewed it as sarcasm. Originally, I did not. Why the difference? Can't say. Probably because I just got done reading a blog filled with sarcasm.
    :D

    No harm done, I hope. And yes, I'm still having a nice day.
    I'm not one to get upset over something on the internet.

    I can be arrogant, but never angry. Ah, I love text. It conveys so much emotion.
    ;)

     

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  20.  
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    One time music buyer, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 9:36am

    Miles to go

    So.... If I decide to buy music... lets say a ZZtop CD.... and "Burn it" to my laptop.... put it on my Ipod... then put into a zip file for storage. I loose the CD but I want a friend to have the data without him/her spending the money on the CD to find out they dont like the music would make us pirates? I call it saving money if thats the case, I dont see it as piracy at all. Besides...dont these people have enough money as it is?

     

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  21.  
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    Tgeigs, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 9:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: And?

    "You forgot one key point: pirates get to say "aargh" periodically"

    That's actually the genesis for that encircled "R" that appears after trademarks. It was originally going to be "Argghhh!" in a circle to scare away pirates of lesser villainy than the legal industry (the ultimate pirates), but they shortened it for the sake of brevity.

    Also see references to "Castle Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh"

     

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  22.  
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    Greg G, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 9:46am

    Re: Re: And?

    Nicely said.

     

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  23.  
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    Cunning Linguist, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 9:52am

    Re: Re:

    Semantics - the FOUNDATION of the all language.

    Without semantics we'd all be grunting, whistling, and screaming... wait, I know people that that! Oops.

     

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  24.  
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    Cunning Linguist, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 9:59am

    Re: Re: Re: And?

    "I can be arrogant, but never angry. Ah, I love text. It conveys so much emotion."

    Hmm, you sound angry. Heh, I used the word "sound".

    The only thing I find wrong with your original post is the order of your equation. I believe you should say:
    people think piracy = stealing.

    It's a small thing but still important.

    I think the "DOWLING v. UNITED STATES, 473 U.S. 207 (1985)" post clarifies the difference in the eyes of our justice department nicely.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 10:00am

    Re: Re: Re:

    LIKE that... I swear that's what I typed originally!

     

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  26.  
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    Petréa Mitchell, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 10:04am

    Interesting but useless

    If the point of this exercise is to convince everyone using the English language to roll back their usage to the dictionary meanings of the mid-19th century, um, I'm not giving that very good odds of success. But sure, that was an interesting article from a historical perspective.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 10:06am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: And?

    lol...Good one...I love it. Arggghhh!

     

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  28.  
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    chris (profile), Apr 30th, 2009 @ 10:10am

    Re: Re: Re: And?

    Don't forget that pirates talk with an awesome accent, wear eyepatches, have peg legs, use hooks for hands. Most importantly they violently take ships, usually kill all of the sailors, and then take everything they want. Alternatively they don't kill, but just hold the ship ransom for several million dollars.

    don't forget the sword fights. sword fighting is why i download movies and music. sword fighting is good exercise and it relieves stress. i can't really start my day until i have had some coffee, stolen thousands of dollars in movies and music, and had a good sword fight.

     

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  29.  
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    chris (profile), Apr 30th, 2009 @ 10:15am

    where my ninjas at?

    pirates exist solely to fight ninjas. it's a fact. look it up.

    pirates hate ninjas almost as much as they hate america, capitalism, and family values. and ponies. pirates also hate and fight ponies.

     

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  30.  
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    Tgeigs, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 10:17am

    Re: where my ninjas at?

    "pirates hate ninjas almost as much as they hate america, capitalism, and family values. and ponies. pirates also hate and fight ponies."

    And apple pie, baseball, flowers, and hope.

     

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  31.  
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    If Chuck Norris did it....., Apr 30th, 2009 @ 11:04am

    I am betting if Chuck Norris was a "pirate" and performing acts of "piracy" the Entertainment industry would be ok with it.

     

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  32.  
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    DJ, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 11:47am

    Re: Re: And?

    "A copyright is a government granted monopoly."

    Ummm....no.
    Mono: prefix effectively equating to "there's only one"
    Poly: derived from "polis", which is greek for city.

    So I understand the confusion. However, a copyright is the [government granted] exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc. (dictionary definition).

    While on the surface one might think the two are synonomous, there are not. A monopoly --in business-- is where a company or product is THE ONLY choice for consumers; whereas you may have MANY companies or products which offer similar services, etc., each of which has a copyrighted symbol or whatever.

    If you're going to accuse people of improperly generalizing terms, don't do it yourself.

     

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  33.  
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    Dj, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 12:42pm

    Re:

    It's not so much that they'd be ok with it, but more that they'd be too afraid to do anything about it.

     

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  34.  
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    another mike, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 1:16pm

    Re: Piracy Arises When Government Gets Too Greedy

    How do I get to be a copyright privateer?

     

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  35.  
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    jonnyq, Apr 30th, 2009 @ 2:17pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: And?

    Ahh the Internet.

    You can't let agreement stand in the way of a good argument.

     

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  36.  
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    Philip Storry, May 1st, 2009 @ 12:00am

    @another mike

    "How do I get to be a copyright privateer?"

    Oh, that's easy. Work for a Hollywood studio or a major record label, and either:
    a) blatantly rip off someone else's idea, profess innocence, and settle out of court with a small chunk of your huge profits
    b) sit on a number of bits of property, waiting for someone to make a profit from something similar, and then sue them for it.

    Smart cookies may notice that these two options are effectively two sides of the same transaction. However, as the money stays with people who have an understanding of copyrights and copywrongs, this is all OK. Hence, you are effectively a Privateer.

     

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  37.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2009 @ 2:18pm

    Re: Re: Re: And?

    The term "piracy" evolved because people see it as theft. Pirates steal. Thus, people think stealing = piracy.
    And, for clarification, "people" are those in the entertainment industry using the term.


    No, you're still wrong. People means people. If you want to say people in the entertainment industry, then you need to say that. Like this:

    The term "piracy" evolved because people in the entertainment industry see it as theft. Pirates steal. Thus, people think stealing = piracy.

    And you would still be wrong, because not all of the people in that industry think that. Roflmao, man.

     

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