Most Americans associate the term “pirate” with a peg-legged, eye-patched, bearded man from the seas of yore. Many picture these caricatured men as deniers of free trade and capitalism, out to take what they have not earned.
Jean-Philippe Vergne doesn’t see things that way. He believes pirates exist today in much wider arenas than the high-seas. He also believes that groups of said pirates form the foundations for the advancement of capitalism.
In The Pirate Organization: Lessons from the Fringes of Capitalism, co-authors Jean-Philippe Vergne and Rodolphe Durand define pirates as organized groups that operate in new and unchartered territories. These groups tend to establish a set of rules that challenge the laws and norms that governments and large corporations have created and, if successful, change them for good.
“Whether it’s on the high-seas in the 17th century or in cyberspace nowadays, what they want to do is contest that states should be the only providers of rules for those territories, and that’s why they influence how industries evolve,” Vergne tells The Daily Ticker.
Pirates of the 17th century established many rules that now govern democracies: they picked their captains by election, had multiple branches of leadership to allow for checks and balances, created forms of social welfare to aid ailing co-workers, and allowed women to participate in the workforce.
Today, pirates function in many realms but are mostly found in cyberspace. Groups and websites like Anonymous, 4chan, Reddit, and Wikileaks provide gathering grounds for those who want to challenge and change today’s society.
These groups have launched various successful campaigns to challenge companies ethical practices, government’s withholding of information, and government regulation of the Internet.
When the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was introduced in congress and threatened to use copyright law to change the shape of the Internet entirely, these organizations sprung into action. Wikipedia, Reddit, and many other websites organized around a blackout of service that proved to be quite effective — they launched attacks that would crash the servers of multiple pro-SOPA organizations.
Although these attacks didn’t operate within the accepted societal means of protesting congressional bills, they worked well and eventually public outcry led Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) to table the bill for the time being.
Pirate data-sharing sites like Napster also changed the face of capitalism. These sites changed the appetite of the public away from album-based musical consumption and towards single song consumption, paving the way for Apple’s iTunes.
The next crop of these innovative outsider groups will work to fight the rules government’s have established both for outer space and the human genome, Vergne says.
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