Don Marti

Tue 18 Nov 2008 06:05:17 PM PST

Not those pirates

Still haven't heard back about the Pirate Czar job. In the meantime, I just want to make it clear: not these pirates (via The Excellent Adventure).

Are these ambitious pirates really privateers? What they are is Global Guerrillas, a new generation of organized violent people. Global guerrillas can organize themselves as a social club, a public service operation, an organized crime gang, a terrorist group, a liberation movement, or even an army or police force, depending on what kinds of connections and resources they can get a hold or, and what opportunities are available. They're constantly changing their style of organization in order to protect themselves and make money.

John Robb, who coined the term, compares global guerrilla networks to open source projects. It's a good comparison. During the first Linux boom, projects spawned companies like an underground fungus popping up mushrooms. When most of the companies got garbage-collected, the projects persisted. Today, as a developer, you might work on the same project for several different companies. When one company implodes, the actual software doesn't become typical Valley abandonware. You just check out another copy from wherever you end up, and keep going. Global guerrillas work the same way. You can't "break the back" of their organizations. William S. Lind wrote, Insurgencies, like octopi, are invertebrate.

Anyway, pirates, privateers, whatever you want to call them. Do you really expect the Liberian navy to come to your rescue when pirates take your Liberian-flagged ship?

When you register your ship with a Flag of convenience, you're not really in a position to ask for help from the USA and other countries that actually enforce safety and labor standards, and, of course, collect taxes, on ships. When it comes to convenience-flagged ships, I'm for restoring the old 24-hour rule: if the pirates have the ship for 24 hours, and the Navy takes it, it's a lawful prize. The US Navy certainly needs to have ships on anti-pirate patrol, but as a US taxpayer myself I'm against free services for deliberate tax dodgers.

There's a related point on protection from infringing "pirates," which I plan to establish as part of my work as Pirate Czar. Just as you have a claim to the Navy's protection when you fly the US flag, follow US maritime law, and pay your taxes, you have a claim on the anti-piracy services of the FBI and the criminal justice system when you respect the principles of copyright law, including your audience's right to First Sale, Fair Use, and time and space shifting.

Some copyright holders try to rewrite the copyright bargain using End User License Agreements and Digital Rights Management systems. That's fine, but understand that when you apply a EULA or DRM system that goes beyond copyright, you're abandoning our flag, and the balance of copyright and speech rights for which, among other things, it stands. When you haul down the Stars and Stripes, and run up the colors of EULAstan (the flag looks gray from a distance but it's really all fine print), any criminal complaints from you are going to the bottom of the pile.

This doesn't mean that on my watch as Pirate Czar we just become the GPL Enforcement Police. Copyrighted works released with the conventional "all rights reserved" or "just like a book" terms are just as entitled to protection by the powers of the criminal justice system as freely or collaboratively licensed works. But if you want US law enforcement to enforce your copyrights, you will need to show respect for US copyright as our law defines it.