“Piracy is not a victimless crime,” as one inevitably must read at the beginning of most DVDs and downloaded movies. Well, who ever said it was? Did we imagine that Captain Kidd and Henry Morgan and Bluebeard—and Captain Hook and those sinister Somalis in the Indian Ocean, for that matter—didn’t prey upon victims when they plundered their loot? It seems needless to remind us that piracy takes two, one of whom is the pirate and the other is the victim.
Such a reminder is equivalent to those idiotic notices on reply envelopes telling us that the Postal Service will not deliver mail unless it has a stamp on it. Golly, I knew there must have been something missing on those naked envelopes I’ve been dropping into the letterbox. Next they’ll be telling us we have to put addresses on them, too.
Of course, my idea of a pirate is an unshaven man with an eye-patch, a peg leg, a three-cornered hat, a parrot on his shoulder, and a penchant for glugging rum and roaring, “Arrr, avast ye, matey!”
Nowadays, however, the entertainment industry has appropriated the word pirate to mean someone who downloads or otherwise acquires content without paying for it. And, of course, since the electronic pirate can’t see the victim, one might like to think that there isn’t one, when in fact hundreds of poor writers, actors, producers, and technicians (and a few wealthy ones, too) lose their royalties and residuals to a thief every time a film is viewed without paying for it.
Pirate first appeared in 1387, when the Benedictine monk Ranulf Higden’s history Polychronicon was translated from Latin to English by John of Trevisa. In it Higden speaks of Danish “sea thieves” or, in Latin, “Dani piratae.” The word’s origin is the Greek peiran, meaning to “attempt.”
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou set out to apprentice with a pirate—but there was some confusion and he wound up instead as assistant to a parrot. Unfortunately, the parrot had apprenticed with a poet, causing him to spew stuff like this:
A pirate who came from Penzance
Stepped into a hill full of ants.
But their stings he withstood
With his leg made of wood—So the ants took a chance in his pants.