In defense of Legitimate Piracy
a text for hackers and intelligent readers



August 13 2007
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Some friends from the industry have made efficient use of the press to blame and criminalize the children, youth and adults who share files through the Internet, doling out the same treatment that they give to those who engage in illegal commerce. Both groups have received the title of “pirates”. From our point of view, however, sharing is one thing, and commercializing is quite another.

We do not want to lay the blame on journalists, since we are aware that large-scale media does not live off of advertisements placed by little folks, but rather from that which comes from large firms. We realize it is not a matter of their choice.

We understand that there is some confusion today regarding sharing practices. What are “pirate products”? What does sharing via Internet mean? What is the difference between commercial activity and piracy? Who are the pirates? So, why not contextualize the problem in order to be able to answer these questions?

Our goal here is to provide a broader, more global view of the issues at stake, and to do so in a simple, direct and entertaining way. Let us begin by speaking a little about the pirates of the Caribbean, since these are the symbols most frequently referred to by our industry friends.

According to one friend of ours, the term “piracy” was used for the first time in reference to illegal trade by a publishing monopoly corporation in London called Conger. This goes back to the middle of the 18th century, at which time acquiring books at a fair price was unimagineable: the books sold by the aforementioned corporation cost almost three times the price of those that were published by their Scottish colleagues. Fortunately for all of us, Conger no longer exists. But the term “piracy” as applied to illegal trade remains

From the way “pirates” are treated in the press, they must be folks with few friends. We on the other hand think that they have many more friends than it may seem – besides kids. We bet that those who are reading this text will soon appreciate pirates even more. We who defend sharing have come here to cleanse their honor – which is in fact our own, since we are also referred to as “pirates”. Through a few examples taken from history, we are going to demonstrate that this is legitimate piracy. Intelligent readers will be able to deduce the rest.

A text for all kinds of hackers

We write for hackers. Who is a hacker? S/he is a person who loves to ask questions. S/he is not content to remaining in doubt and is always searching for answers. And from each answer, a new question can emerge. S/he wants to see how things “really work”. S/he is a far to be the typical subject who is a product of the majority of our educational systems – s/he likes to question!

Hackers love challenges! That is how they learn. Here we are not referring only to computer hackers, but to those dealing with Music, Letters, Sciences and Arts, since there are hackers in all these fields. If our reader is under the impression that a hacker is a criminal, let us explain: those who commit crimes are “crackers”. Hackers are good guys. (Take note here, journalist friends!)

The good scientist, for example, knows that it is interest in the unknown that fuels science. One must analyze, check into things, go further into depth. How about exploring uncertainties, considering that the answers that have been obtained are, at best, temporary? Thatīs the way hackers are. They are always after knowledge. And such knowledge is obtained through OTHERS. And when they discover something that is noteworthy, they make it known to the rest of the community. Hackers realize that if all people share what they know with the community, all stand to gain. In the end, we all help one another. And many innovations emerge. Therefore, the most appreciated hacker is the one who makes the greatest contributions to the community. That is how s/he creates. Good artists and scientists are thus very similar to hackers. They are attentive to all that is going on around them. They are always listening to or reading something and looking for new ideas. And they have to show what they are doing to OTHERS, since their fulfillment comes from the societal recognition that they gain.

OK, so what does this have to do with piracy? We will now see.

What does “pirate” mean?

The term pirate comes from the Greek peiratés (πειρατής), which in turn comes from the verb peiraoo (πειραω), meaning “to make effort”, “to attempt”, “to venture out”. The term peiraoo is also related to apeiratos which means “trying something out”.

Let us make a distinction here between buccaneers, freebooters and pirates. The former attacked ships, had unhealthy habits and generally stuck along coastal areas. Freebooters used lighter boats and lacked the means and knowledge to navigate the high seas. Pirates lived at high sea. Their ships were larger, adequate and equipped for longer trips. In order to travel long distances, advanced nautical and astronomical knowledge were necessary, as were detailed maps - which were rare, secret and expensive. Furthermore, strict discipline and planning were needed in order to face up to long trips and the inclement weather that could happen upon those navigating in unknown waters. It must not have been easy. Or was it?

Privateers (or corsairs) were pirates operating with “Letter of Marque” (or “Letter of Corso”). This document placing them under the protection of a State. Both among corsairs and pirates, crews were made up of people of several nationalities and origins, including free blacks and indigenous peoples. In general, each member of the crew had been selected on the basis of abilities. There were also musicians and painters on board. (Hey there hacker, if you were a captain, who would you put on your ship?)

How did pirates come about?

Letīs stick to the facts. There was an Empire that wanted to control the seas. Its fleet was known as “La Armada Invencible”. During the times of Felipe II, King of Spain. This Empire had built an outstanding commercial monopoly over the colonies and maintained control over main navigation routes. These were also the days of the Inquisition, that is, of the use of religion for purposes of expansion of power and appropriation. This empire used slave labor to extract and transport the wealth that it stole. And what did the “great nations” of the period do? Some were allied with the Empire meanwhile others were dominated by the fear. Felipe IIīs war machine was nourished through the pillaged wealth of the Americas.

This was the environment in which Caribbean piracy emerged. Over many decades, the only sea-bound resistance to the Spanish came from pirates and corsairs, who were supported by the free people of the coast.

Galleys and pirates

Pirates had many cunning to capture ships. One method was to navigate a long distance beyond any point where they could be seen by the vessel they were planning to attack, and wait days till the right moment to move in on it – such as a morning of dense fog – with lighter and speedier boats.

There were no slaves on Pirate ships. When they attacked, whether a colony or a galleon, whatever slaves they found were freed. Do you know one way of recognizing a pirate?
By the cry, “-SINK THE GALLEYS!”

Galley is the name for boats that were rowed by slaves. Galleon referred to a large galley. Large enough for a lot of stolen goods to be stored within. They were slave-propelled machines. When the slaves had outlived their utility, they were sunken at sea.

For a pirate, the right place of the galleys was at the bottom of the ocean!

A pirate ship was the light of freedom for those who lived in the galleys. That is why these folks were always on the piratesī side. The pirates had just to
board the enemy ship to commence the rebellion from below! And from the galley crews came great pirates ! (Did you get it, hacker? There are a lot of folks on our side!).

The Spanish referred to fugitive slave as “cimarrón”. That is the name given to the domesticated animal that rans away from its owner. The way Indians were treated was not much different! (Hacker, we are talking about the past here. Today, Spain is one of the countries where pirates have the most friends! Viva Espaņa!)

Free Blacks and Indians were great friends of the pirates. It was through their friendship with the Indians that pirates became acquainted with tabacco and acquired the habit of smoking a pipe. For the Indians, tabacco was sacred, had to be pure, and was not inhaled (That is, completely different from what is sold today, mixed with pesticides, fungicides and other addicting chemicals). Through tabacco smoke, they believed that they could cleanse themselves of bad energy and connect themselves to their ancestors and natural forces. This was what they taught to the pirates. Pirates also learned a few strange things with the Indians: they learned that there magical spirits in nature and that they could rely on the energy and power of animals. And pirates were really into serpeants, dragons and birds. So for pirates, just as for the Indians, everything was linked to nature (Energies and mythological beings... They even kind of sound like things Eastern, donīt they, hacker? Hey, hacker, you must be remembering that dragons are to be found even in Nordic mythology! And as the legend goes, a Chinese man who was rescued from the ocean was the one who taught them that an earring that had been pierced through a certain part of the earlobe could stimulate eyesight).

And that business about eye patches? Could they mean that all the one-eyed people of that time decided to become pirates? Do you believe in those stories? Be real! You must have already figured out that that eye patch was used to sharpen oneīs eyesight. And whatīs more, it was used to confound oneīs opponent during the fighting. Think about it, hacker: just one bodily movement or an ocean breeze was enough to lift that little piece of cloth!

In Indian villages and black communities, pirates were afforded a place to rest, repair their vessels, get provisions and prepare for their future ventures before going out again to spend weeks at sea. (Did anybody really think that pirates were peasants who planted manioc and bananas?) The free people of coast were a precious source of information on the movement of Spanish boats. People who have a lot of friends feel protected, havenīt you noticed? Mainly if you are against those who try to deprive your friends of their dignity. Treat them well, and when you need them, they will be there for you too. So as the saying goes, if you lived along the coast you would also lend the pirates a friendly hand, wouldnīt you? I bet you would! (Betting is typical from the pirates! And there are tons of folks who love to make bets, to this day. Just ask the English!)

Do pirates engage in commerce?

Pirates were into BARTER. Letīs keep that straight: B-A-R-T-E-R. That means exchange. Pirates were not merchants. Mercantile activity is not piracy. Commerce is commerce. Piracy did not involve money. At best, money was a mere means of measurement. I repeat, means of measurement. Because our minds need a measure in order to calculate and divvy up what is at hand.

And where do you think pirates deposited their money? Do you think there was a fiscal paradise in the Caribbean in those days? A pirate bank? Only if that meant under the ground, but of course, without interest rates, inflation adjustments – and with high risk that the address would never again be found!

Hey Hacker! Theyīve been fooling you all along! Has your conscience been bothering you lately? Donīt carry that weight around anymore! Keep this in mind:



Did you take notes? Youīre a smart fellow, youīll never forget this!

Those who engage in commerce canīt be called pirates. Legitimate piracy is exchange!

When someone calls a street vendor a pirate, you just tell them where to go! Hacker, what pirates do is exchange. So thatīs you!

Pirates shared. It is even sort of funny. In some European museums you can even see hachet- marked gold and silver pieces. That was the only way to split the big pieces! Just imagine what kind of whacks those were, that were able to break metal! Well, by the looks of things, sometimes they couldnīt manage!

Pirates divvied up what they took, in order to engage in other exchanges. And those who make their living from exchange must make things circulate. Pirate ships had to be light to allow for rapid navigation of the waters. And those who have many friends in different corners of the world may allow themselves the luxury of travelling light! Whereas the Empireīs galleons had to carry a heavy load, big ships where all the stolen goods would be able to fit. Furthermore, they had to be able to finance the wars they were getting themselves around the world (yeah, hacker, in those days there was no oil question!). Oh... so you must be thinking “Thatīs really good that there were pirates to teach those evil guys a lesson! They would have wasted all the fortune amassed!” That is true, but the problem is that at that time there was no one around to whup their behinds. Except of course, the pirates!


An Empire whose power was based on an enormous war machine and an economic monopoly that fed into eachother. In spite of the injustices, there was no nation able to confront it. Some, in fact, forged comfortable and shameless alliances with it. This is the context in which the pirates and their daring friends, in their quick, light boats, came forth. Wow, this would make a good film. And quite an up-to-date one at that!

Ok, the pirates did bad things, but today we live in times of peace and for making new friends. So letīs reach out to those who have problems with information pirates. The first group that we should invite on board are lawyers. Who knows, maybe our journalist friends could come next. After that, the politicians and the businessman. This is what sharing means: to outstretching a hand, from one to the next, making new friends.

Our lawyer friends are an intelligent bunch. Like the pirates, they like a safe port. They know  a good fortress may be built close to a safe port. They spend a lot of time making endless calculations based on laws and their dots and commas. They are really quite a smart bunch. And intelligent chaps like them adore challenges. So why not cross the ocean guided by the stars and the moonlight?

Can you imagine what a star-laden sky looks like from the high seas? Inspiring, isnīt it? Imagine navigating without headlights, radar, GPS and all the electronic etceteras? And what if a huge boulder emerges out of nowhere? It must be exciting, donīt you think so, hacker? Those folks were guided by the stars. And to where else could they have looked? Anyway, they had to be very clever, didnīt they? Do you really think a boozing, brawling, paunchy pack could deal with all that? Buccaneers would have to change their life in order to become pirates. Kind of like a cracker trying to act like a hacker. Come off it!

Those guys from Hollywood should think about it before making the next movie!

Sharing is really the only form of piracy

Commercial exchange of information exists due to monopolies that generate an artificial blockage of flow. The guy who sells CDs or films is probably just making the best out of some situation he didnīt create. What he sells is not a pirate product, but merely illegal copies. There is no such thing as a pirate product. Because pirates do not make “products”. There are such things as false products. But these are in fact not business of pirates. If a “pirate” is commercializing something, s/he is a fase pirate!

The rule is a simple one: if there is money involved, itīs not piracy. If we still havenīt convinced you, read this story about Granny.

Grannyīs delicious cake

oma Imagine a delicious cake sitting before you. Letīs say, dark chocolate with a nut filling. And all the more enticing, because it was made by whom? None other than Grandma! Thatīs right, that wonderful old lady who has always fawned over you. Grandma has plenty of time on her hands to spoil her grandchild. And she wants to be able to do all that she couldnīt as a mother. Itīs like “being a mother again”. Isnīt that the way they explain it?
So just imagine Grannyīs delicious cake. Made with all that care and concern that is hers alone. She knows just how to make the cake that you adore. Yummy. Makes your mouth water! Youīve been waiting all week for it. You even dreamt of it. The sweetness of the filling melting in your mouth...

You get to Grannyīs, and she is there making the cake. Imagine that wonderful aroma coming from the kitchen! Wow! Your stomach is growling. She tells you to have a little cookie or piece of fruit while you sit waiting in the living room. But you vehemently refure. Your stomach has stretched out a red carpet for the cake. It has to be that cake! Understandable, since youīve waited all week for that delicacy, and youīre not going to throw the “towel in now”, are you, hacker?

Time drags on. Your legs are shaking. Youīve already inquired three times, “Is it going to be much longer, Granny?” And then suddenly, you hear the old ladyīs sweet voice coming from the kitchen, “My dear, the cake is done” But before you are able to jump up from the sofa, Granny reminds you, “But wait for it to cool first. No tasting before itīs ready!”

The cake is solemnly waiting on the table. Its wonderful aroma has spread throughout the house and the neighborhood. Youīre almost going nuts. Your most primitive instincts threaten to erupt. But you keep a handle on yourself. After all, you are a good guy, a hacker, not a cracker! Hurt Grannyīs feelings... who could even think of such a thing!

You sit waiting patiently in the living room. And then quite shrewdly, some little scoundrel jumps over the wall, runs into the kitchen before anyone has a chance to notice, and ... ZAP! takes off with the cake!

Granny returns to the kitchen and...where is the cake? She goes into the living room and says to you, “You little rascal, what did you do with the cake? Didnīt I tell you to wait?”

Youīre shocked. Something serious has happened. With your voice shaking, you can only manage to stutter, “B-but it wasnīt me!” Granny, that old lady that used to clean your backside, knows you through and through. She knows youīre telling the truth. So she cries out, realizing what has happened, “It just canīt be!”

Panic and despair. Where is Grannyīs cake? It canīt be true! What a nightmare! Someone took Grannyīs cake! You and Granny run out onto the street. Imagine the scene, hacker: youīre almost at the end of your rope from having to wait for the cake, and someone does something so nasty! It can only be a cracker!

Some neighbors appear on the street. Someone screams: “Call the police! Grannyīs cake was stolen!”. “Give me back my cake, you scoundrel!”, Granny screams out hopelessly, using all her strength, looking from one side of the street to the other. (You see Granny? Thatīs social inequality for you. Imagine if everyone had a piece of the cake? Where are your ideals? Donīt you think the world can be changed anymore? And Granny thought that she could get away with any criticism in this story?! No way! We want you to lend your grandchild a helping hand, before they sue him for sharing files...).

Grannyīs cake is gone. What a traumatic experience? Hacker, arenīt you about to cry?

Now just imagine that someone jumps the wall, takes the cake, but, incredibly, the cake is still there! In the same spot, on the table! How can that be?! The cake was taken, but itīs still there!

Then someone else takes it. And another, and another, and people keep taking it. What kind of madness are you talking about?!

Thatīs what happens with information. The time has passed since the Spaniards, and before them, indigenous peoples lost their cake, I mean their gold. These are times of peace. Thereīs enough for everyone Information pirates donīt need to divvy up pieces with hachets, nor cakes with knives. The times when you had to stab someone to get what you wanted are over. Today, you can simply get a perfect copy without as much as taking a sliver away from the original in order to share with friends. And the cake remains where you left it! Thatīs a beautiful thing, isnīt it?

The Internet is a Network for Sharing

The Internet is a network for sharing. It was made for: a) sharing data banks; b) sharing broadbands; c) sharing data processing.

This means that when you use it, you are sharing. What else could be expected of a network made for sharing? It seems very obvious but a lot of folks havenīt caught on yet! Or perhaps they donīt want to. Can we be clearer about this?

If this is a network of sharing, how can we avoid that things are shared? By imposing useless barriers? Violating privacy? Starting lawsuits against thousands of young people?

Seventeen billions bits per second make their way through an optic fiber cable that is only as wide as a piece of hair. Itīs a torrent of bits. That is information flowing like light, colorful as a rainbow. Through that light, images, books and sounds are circulated. That is, human creativity. Is it hard to imagine why there are folks who insist on putting the debris of useless, inefficient and wasteful bytes in the way?

How can an artificial scarcity of bytes be sustained? It is flow that makes the Internet what it is. Legitimate piracy is Grannyīs cake for all! If Granny wants to sell it, thatīs her business. Pirates arenīt going to stop her, but since thereīs plenty to go around, theyīre not going to give up enjoying their share either!

OK, then, this discourse is cool. But what happens to authors?

Authors are very important. So important, in fact, that we can refer to them as “creators”. Nice isnīt it? But more honestly, we should refer to them as “co-creators”. That is, because no one ever creates entirely alone. We donīt live inside bubbles, do we? If we did, we would be no more than bubbles within bubbles. So if some artist believes in that, must just be a bubble-artist...

Thanks to OTHERS we are much more than self-contained bubbles. It is OTHERS who pass ideas on to us from the moment we are born. Or in fact, even before – from the time we are in our motherīs womb (just ask ma or grandma, hacker).

So who can an author be without OTHERS? Fortunately, we donīt have to pay for all the ideas we get from OTHERS! Just imagine having to quote them, name them and pay royalties to them all the time. Inconceivable! It would be intellectual impropriety. Goodness! What luck that there are OTHERS who pass ideas on to us. After all, there are so many fantastic things that we able to create through what we obtain from OTHERS!

Wouldnīt it be the author, or better put, co-creatorīs duty to return a bit of what s/he created thanks to OTHERS? Ha ha hacker! By now you must have realized that authors arenīt the problem. Well, maybe some of them are a bit in doubt, itīs true. But the problem is really that some of our friends like to speak in name of the author, when theyīre really just thinking about their own wallet.

And the OTHERS?

- Ah, but who is worried about OTHERS nowadays?

We information pirates are! That is why we propose sharing with OTHERS! We donīt know exactly who these OTHERS are, but we are grateful that they are out there. And we arenīt happy with the current situation. For the simple reason that “mine” and “yours” are getting in the way of creativity. This is the center of conflict.


To navigate and create in freedom. That is very important. We are living in times of peace and we ask our friends to stop trying to control or censor the Internet. They ought to concern themselves with common crime, illegal trade, and social and environmental issues. We suppose that our friends arenīt going to insist on doing nasty things such as violating peopleīs privacy. We wonīt steal anybodyīs Grannyīs cake. Itīs right there, all you have to do is look.

At this point, our friends have realized that creativity and knowledge depend on access to sources. They have realized that it is thanks to us, those of us who share without demanding anything in return, that the Internet is so fascinating. They have realized that sources must always remain accessible if creativity is to be kept alive. What would the Net be like if it had been drawn up by conservative lawyers? An infinite amount of authorizations, licenses, notices, warnings, anti-exchange mechanisms, obstacles and all sorts of bureaucracy? Cybercafés might be forced to function under legal tutelage. And if the Net had been put together only by corporations? One would only be able to navigate with credit cards. It would be like taking a taxicab. Not everyone would be able to come along for the ride.

What would the Internet be without the liberties we defend? Many of the innovations that offer pleasure and leisure might never have come into existence. Think about it: werenīt hackers the ones who put together a lot of the tools that you use the most?

The problem with the Internet is that is was put together to serve OTHERS. But people are no longer educated to serve OTHERS. We understand that the society cannot be organized in order that the individual can take the most advantage of OTHERS as possible, without give nothing in exchange. Whatīs worse, to appropriate that which belongs to OTHERS as if it were exclusively oneīs own. And what exactly are the rights of OTHERS? More and more, the OTHERS start to look like the people who lived in the galleys: a scarce few got rich off their work, while they were denied even fresh air to breathe.

In the past, there were armed galleons out there that didnīt have much affection for the pirates. Perhaps at that time there was no greater symbol of injustice than those huge ships loaded with stolen wealth, pushed by the muscle-power of slaves, making their way out of some sad port and heading towards Europe. Nonetheless, they were so loaded down that they were way too slow. Just a bit of fog and one pirate ships could move on in! The Empire was afraid of the pirates, since it knew that the galleys folk were on their side. Furthermore – from our point of view – with just a little bit of courage even the galleon sailor could change sides. Anyone was a potential ally, even the captain! All one had to do was to want to SHARE. But that was a language that they couldnīt understand. Why not? Because it hadnīt learned to SHARE.

Our friends are smart enough to realize that we arenīt against their commerce, but we just want to be able to carry on our free exchange with the little folks who live along the coast.

Although it is possible that some of our friends want to create new enemies in order to justify their attitudes, we insist that they stop trying. History has shown that the pirates couldnīt be submit by fear.

Way to go, hacker!!

*Member of Brazilian Pirate Party, contact: jorge(a)

Thanks to Júlio, Paula, Miguel and Felix for the comments.