Piracy as a Gesture of Defiance
James Arvanitakis and Martin Fredriksson
Over the last few years, we have been researching piracy and will soon be releasing an edited collection of works called ‘Piracy – leakages from modernity’.
In many ways, the work is an anthology of piracy looking at the way that forms and acts of piracy emerge where we experiences failings in modernity: from bio-piracy to downloading of content, from illegal migrants selling ‘pirated’ goods to the piracy of Brazilian subtitles.
Pirates and piracy occupy an important area in contemporary pop culture: from the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (delivered in four parts) to the hacker culture of the group Anonymous. These images are framed around acts of defiance – and it is the way that piracy is a gesture of defiance that are the focus of this short blog.
One area of focus on the broader research project is the emergence of ‘pirate parties’: that is, political parties across the world that have formed to respond to the enclosure of property rights in the material and immaterial world. These have emerged as a response to attempts to enclose and commercialise the Internet, as well as moves for increased surveillance.
Pirate parties where founded in Sweden and now appear in Australia, United States, United Kingdom, Germany and many other nations. These are independent organisations but do sit under the umbrella of the Pirate Party International. Like the various Greens Parties around the world, however, they sit under a recognisable ‘brand’ – a brand that is clearly a gesture of defiance. For decades, the major film and media studios have compared the act of downloading a movie – an act of ‘Internet piracy’ – to the violence of snatching a handbag, the pirate parties have responded by using the symbol against those who wielded it and established this absurd comparison.
Members of the pirate parties perform many such gestures of defiance: from existing, to wielding the piracy symbol, from organising physical and virtual protests again attempts to enclose the Internet. These gestures exist both within the formal and informal spheres – from parliamentary corridors where members of pirate parties now occupy, to the promoting innovative BitTorrent technologies.
In this way the pirate parties reflect other social movements: they have attempted to create and occupy a space that challenges mainstream politics. In this case, the pirate parties challenge mainstream material and immaterial property rights. The gesture of defiance here actually confronts the very foundations of contemporary economic systems. This is because property rights are a foundational element of the modern, neoliberal economy. By problematizing property rights, the gesture of defiance is also a philosophical one.
Piracy is an emerging research area and many of us who research here are still working out the many layers of meanings and gestures involve. The ‘pirates’ themselves are unsure of their own position: they are uncertain if they are a reform or radical movement; they do not want to be defined left nor right; and, they often take contradictory positions around systems of governance.
There are many uncertainties here – but what we can be sure of is that gestures of defiance are at the vary basis of the various pirate parties.
- ‘Piracy – leakages from modernity’ will be launched by Litwin Books by end of 2013.
- James and Martin will be launching their new website – Piracy Lab – shortly.