Piracy as Radical Force?

For your consideration:

Photo by P Wei.

In this article reposted from Jacobin on Salon.com, Gavin Mueller aims to place Internet piracy of intellectual property in context to 17th and 18th century piracy on the high seas.  Aside from overly romanticizing classic pirates in my opinion, it’s a well-written piece, although I do find its thesis a bit unclear until the final paragraph.  Bottom line:  Mueller welcomes anything that is “anti-capitalist,” or that “strikes terror into the hearts of the rich and powerful.”

For my tastes, this attitude is a little too Reign of Terror. My concern is not whether a person or a corporation has wealth so much as how that wealth is earned and used.  I happen to think it’s naive to see wealth earned through theft, whether by “cutlass or mouse,” as anti-capitalist so much as it is capitalism at its ugliest.  One of the reasons mobster stories always resonate is that they represent an extreme and dark version of the American Dream.

Still, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article, so please share!

© 2012, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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2 comments

  • The article is insanity. This country has long had twin conflicting threads: the love of the outlaw and the boring reality that lawfulness protects our individual rights and protects our property and ultimately has made us the most wealthy country in the world. We dream of being pirates, but go off to be accountants, or doctors, or waiters or engineers or musicians or whatever, because that’s what really creates progress and security, feeds our families, buys our health care and on and on. So it is with copyright – it isn’t so brave to sit at your laptop fantasizing about being a pirate, while failing to understand that by doing so, you are stealing from someone who invested time and energy in creating something great enough that you want to steal it. Call it your personal revolution and compare yourself to freedom fighters in Egypt who are actually doing something, while in fact you are simply sitting in your underwear shoplifting. Bah Humbug.

  • Oh my! Rarely does one see such amounts of confusion compressed into such a small space.

    An attempt to paint pirates as working-men’s heroes kinda falls flat on its face when we stop briefly to consider that piracy doesn’t involve seizure of the means of production, but mereley the fruits of production – someone else’s production most of the time. Pirates don’t produce anything, by definition – they are purely a parasitic entity. You cannot plunder unless someone has something worth plundering.

    Piracy doesn’t implement a new method of production – merely a new method of distribution. It’s lovely if you happen to be on the receiving end, but rather less so if it’s your own wealth that’s being redistributed. I rather doubt that the oppressed sailors of the Pirate Age got paid better if their ship happened to be plundered – I’d rather think that their personal situation got worse.

    Taking a broader view, it’s easy to see why piracy can be an attractive proposition – who doesn’t like to get something for nothing. Unfortunately, like any form of ‘cheating’ (plug: this is something I’m gonna be examining in more detail @ TCM soon), it only works if a small number of people are doing it. Once the land-owner’s mansion has been raided, there’s nothing left for late-comers.

    Like all radical left-wing philosophy, piracy ties its own noose: have-nots taking from the haves works only while the haves still have. Taken to its extreme form, you end up with the former-haves stealing stuff back from the former-have-nots, then back again – right up to the point where everyone’s living in caves and eating grubs, because the recreation of consumed wealth has gone to hell.

    I think I’ll stop now, before I drift too far from the topic.

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