The Pirate Function
Pirates who threaten to invert power relations through appropriating things less tangible than ships and bodies have become a growing concern for the managers of twenty-first-century economic globalization. Appropriating, modifying and sharing a range of less concrete but equally crucial objects, intellectual property “robbers” today traffic in images, music, and software. Although business analysts regard this as a novel problem, supposedly precipitated by the unprecedented importance of “knowledge” as a force of economic production, historians of science and law tell stories of intellectual property theft that predate the current IPR discourse by two centuries. Anti-piracy discourses now frequently intersect with anti-terrorist security discourses, where both pirates and terrorists function as threats to free markets and civilized nations. Clearly, even while it participates in a longer history, the current discourse of piracy is specific to our present historical and economic moment, and illuminates particular characteristics of the emerging forms of global informational capitalism.
What forms of globalized citizenship and personhood are being shaped via the emerging legal discourses of intellectual property, on both sides of the struggle for access to new forms of information? In this paper I read the 21st-century debate over “sharing,” “openness,” and “freedom” in software, music, and film not as an entirely unique and unprecedented moment, but rather, via a genealogical understanding of its legal, cultural, and political economic conditions of enunciation.
Kavita Philip is Associate Professor of History with affiliate faculty positions in Anthropology and Informatics at UCI, and a 2014-2016 Visiting Scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin. She has worked in environmental studies, colonial history, postcolonial studies, history of technology, global political economy, and science fiction studies. She is author of Civilizing Natures (2003 and 2004), and co-editor of four volumes, curating interdisciplinary work in radical history, political science, art, activism, gender, and public policy. She has a Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell, an M.S. in Physics from the University of Iowa, and a B.Sc. in Physics (with Chemistry and Mathematics minors) from the University of Madras, India.
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