| It's not just|
a good idea
“”Do what you want 'cause a pirate is free; you are a pirate!
|—Pirate Bay unofficial anthem|
 Maritime piracy
Various criminal acts at sea are, or have been, legally classified as piracy, the most common of which is robbery of ships or cargoes with violence or the threat of violence. Pirates have been around for as long as maritime trade, and are mentioned throughout recorded history. Their effects could be devastating, and so there have always been campaigns, by both governments and private interests, to stamp them out or drive them away. Pirates (with slavers and tortures) are defined under common maritime law as "Hostis humani generis"; Enemies of Mankind. This means that every nation on earth has a right and duty to stop piracy as the Sea is owned by all nations and people. This defines piracy as a frontier crime: it can only persist where there are oceans and coasts which are not adequately policed, but where there are cargo ships to be attacked. Consequently, the areas noted for piracy have shifted throughout history, reflecting changes in international politics and trade.
 The Golden Age of Piracy
The expansion of European empires and trade into the Americas and Asia during the early modern period prompted increased piracy in these areas, and the height of this era, during the late seventeenth to early eighteenth centuries, is sometimes referred to as the "Golden Age of Piracy." At this time the lucrative colonial trade routes were well established, but colonial governments were weak in many of these areas and lacking in the financial, naval and military resources needed to deal with pirates.
Pirate gangs proliferated in the Caribbean, up the eastern seaboard of North America, on the coasts of Africa, and around the Indian Ocean, preying on the ships that transported gold, rum, sugar, slaves, and other valuable cargoes. Many pirates of the era began their career in one region and finished in another, moving on as more effective governors and a greater naval presence were installed in areas such as Virginia and the Bahamas.
Naval warfare during this era also boosted pirate numbers, since it was common practice for nations to contract privateers (effectively licenced pirates) to attack enemy shipping during times of war. When treaties were signed, privateers were out of a job, but most continued to attack ships illegally. Privateers or merchant crews might also turn pirate after mutinying against their captains. Despite its reputation as a "Golden Age" for pirates, the careers of most reported pirates from this time were very short, ending in either capture and execution, or surrender when periods of amnesty were declared.
 Pirate politics
Internally, pirate gangs of this period were often surprisingly democratic. Captains were usually elected, and could be deposed if they became unpopular, while many crews drafted "articles of agreement" which served as mini-constitutions aboard their ships. Loot was shared among the gang, with officers getting only slightly more than their crews: usually two shares in the case of a captain. This contrasts with the sharp pay divisions aboard merchant ships, privateers and naval vessels, where captains' shares or wages were around ten times those of their sailors.
These egalitarian aspects of early modern piracy have drawn some attention from Marxist or revisionist historians in recent years, who suggest that these pirates were actively rebelling against and rejecting the economic and social restraints of landlubber society. Similarly the few recorded examples of female pirates have been a focus of feminist historians. There are also a few isolated references in contemporary sources to homosexuality within some pirate gangs, and this has led to some rather speculative suggestions that the pirate lifestyle offered a tolerant utopia for gay sailors.
 In popular culture
The familiar popular image of pirates, as represented in fiction such as the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, derives from pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy, though many of the associated clichés, such as buried treasure and walking the plank, are almost entirely fictional. Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1881) is the defining work of pirate fiction. Stevenson loosely based some of his characters and events on real pirates of the early eighteenth centuries, though he greatly exaggerated their exploits, and virtually all pirate-related novels and films since have drawn on his work to some extent. The pirate accent is a cinematic meme, originating in Hollywood actors' inability to perform a convincing English West Country accent for the character of Long John Silver.
 Modern piracy
There are now very few areas where law enforcement is lax enough for pirates to operate successfully, though there are still pockets of pirate activity, such as the Strait of Malacca, between Malaysia and Sumatra.
The most noted area for piracy at present is the coast of Somalia, where the collapse of effective government has let warlords and gangsters flourish. Somalian pirates have attacked or hijacked cargo ships and United Nations aid vessels, and often hold the crews as hostages for ransom.
 Copyright piracy
Piracy can also refer to illegal use, production or distribution of copyright-protected material, such as music, books or films, without the permission of the copyright-holder and the accompanying royalties. This meaning is actually surprisingly old, dating back to at least the seventeenth century. The dual meaning of piracy probably derives from the fact that sea pirates would sell their stolen goods, and people who sold books they didn't own the rights to were perceived to be profiting in a similarly dishonest manner. Copyright piracy is also often referred to as "bootlegging" which was originally a term for the unlicensed liquor trade. Copyright piracy is often called "theft", but from a legal point of view, that is unarguably inaccurate. From a moral point of view, it is theft only if it displaces purchases that would have been made otherwise.
Advances in consumer technology during recent decades have made copyright piracy increasingly easy, starting with home transfers on formats such as cassette and VHS, and becoming simpler still with digital formats. The Internet has broadened pirating opportunities immeasurably, allowing users to upload and download files with relative anonymity. Traditionally the distribution of content required people to set up servers from which users could upload and download content, Hotline being an example of this. Later protocols, such as BitTorrent, are distributed and more difficult to trace as the content is distributed through a web of interconnected users. The only truly static part of the Bit Torrent network would be the server acting as a directory of the available content - known as a Tracker. The Pirate Bay tracker is one of the more well known sites, and has attracted controversy while being protected by Sweden's copyright laws. Authorities and copyright-holders are attempting to crack down on this.
 See also
- Recording Industry Association of America They seem to really dislike piracy
- Motion Picture Association of America They too dislike piracy
- The Pirate Bay They don't share the sentiments of the above
- ↑ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBH4g_ua5es
- ↑ See examples quoted at Wikipedia's "pirate code" article.
- ↑ Most famously Mary Read and Anne Bonny, who sailed with Captain Jack Rackham (links are to Wikipedia).
- ↑ Most notably in Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition by Barry Burg. See review here.
- ↑ BBC News: Court jails Pirate Bay founders