The piratical is political

Virginia Crisp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

21 Downloads (Pure)


In early 2012 there was a wave of protests in the USA against the proposed introduction of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). These ranged from petitions and rallies to service blackouts and denial of service attacks. The proclaimed intention of the bills was to protect the rights of copyright holders, but they were heavily criticised for their potential to limit free speech and stifle creativity and innovation. By January 2013 activists were celebrating Internet Freedom Day to mark the anniversary of these protests, which had succeeded in stopping the controversial bills in their tracks. However, for many people there was little justification for these celebrations. They saw the protesters as radical anarchists defending their right to get something for nothing. Indeed, if official descriptions about copyright pirates and their actions and motivations were taken at face value we would be right to dismiss such protests as the actions of a radical fringe engaged in straightforward property theft. In my view debates about piracy should be considered as political discussions with far-reaching ramifications - they represent much more than conversations about the morality or illegality of the activities of a minority. Debates surrounding piracy have resonances beyond the issue of whether Western teenagers are able to access the latest episode of Glee or download World War Z. The debate is partly about the divide between those who are able to participate in a global society through their online access to cultural materials and those that are not. It is also concerns the way large corporations profit from intellectual property rights as commodities. And, increasingly, it intersects with issues of privacy: a number of activists and political groups have been vocal about the potential of legal changes ostensibly intended to curtail piracy to enable greater levels of surveillance and censorship. One of my main reasons for writing this article is to point out that, although SOPA is no more, this does not mean that further anti-piracy measures have not subsequently grown up in its place. And there is now a growing international movement to resist the creeping enclosure of culture by global corporations. Political pirate parties (on which more below) have sprung up across the world, and after a conference in Brussels in 2010 they joined together to form Pirate Parties International, an NGO that boasts 42 members. And a number of other organisations are also concerned with promoting the rights of individuals in the digital age, including the Open Rights Group in the UK and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the US.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-80
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • internet piracy
  • SOPA
  • digital copyright


Dive into the research topics of 'The piratical is political'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this