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By | September 19, 2010 | Print This Post | E-mail This Post | 6 Comments

As a special treat for International Talk Like a Pirate Day Jack Faust has written an in-depth and thought provoking essay about piracy – what it is, what it means and what it could mean in the future.

Anticopyright: September 18th, 2010.

The following is the sole “intellectual property” of Jack Faust…but he doesn’t care what you do with it. Hell, you can even lie and claim that all of these ideas are your own. But if he catches you, he’ll probably make fun of you for a long time.

Biting the Hand that Feeds

Information was never intended to be free. Knowledge has almost always come with a price tag, though the price tag differed depending on which civilization you were a part of. One way or another, however, you’ve almost always been expected to pay for that knowledge. In the past, the reason for doing so was often a matter of prestige; access to privileged information lead to a “special status” to which the consensus thus granted power to in the form of authority. Of course, technology has now made it so that such status, privilege, and information might not last forever…

Some forms of piracy, on the other hand, will last forever. One might take the instance of Somalian pirates in recent years. Largely faced by a lack of economy, which has been made worse both by the recent Somali civil war, and the divestment of fishing territory by foreign corporations. Before one was to begin discussing the moral implications of such activities, it should be noted that the yearly per-capita income of a family in Somalia is $600, making it one of the poorest countries in the world.1

But let’s not mistake the above for what’s happening across the Internet. The first children of the 21st century and the last children of the 20th century are not occupying somebody else’s boat with guns, divesting them of their property, and then making off to sell it on the black market. Why, then, do we call the act of file sharing piracy?

Because it has happened before. And it will happen again. The culture war currently at hand is a very strange war – one without any landmass involved, lacking conventional weapons, and most likely with a very limited (if any) loss of life. But the problem is at least as old as the Gutenberg’s printing press, and that probably marks the first time that an activity would be branded piracy. Would it, perhaps, help us to know the meaning and the origins of the word piracy and what it’s meant in historical usage?


  1. an act of robbery on the high seas; also: an act resembling such robbery
  2. robbery on the high seas
  3. a: the unauthorized use of another’s PRODUCTION , INVENTION, OR CONCEPTION ESPECIALLY IN INFRINGEMENT OF A COPYRIGHT; b:the illicit accessing of broadcast signals.


Pirate (n.)

As can easily be seen above, between the mid 13th century and now there has been a linguistic drift, attaching matters of copyright (now “intellectual property”) to the word. What, one might ask, spurred this on?

This, I think, is a very good question. And whether or not they realize it, it also concerns most occultists. Who were these first pirates, and what were they doing that frightened people enough for them to denigrate the activity along the lines of a vicious assault, or attack? And what was this attack actually on?

Piracy & The Printing Press

Sometime around 1445 CE, Johann Fust arrived in Paris with an entire waggon-load of the first printed Bibles. By some accounts, as the Parisians began examining the books, they discovered that they were all exactly the same. The Parisian merchants, largely ignorant of the fact that movable type printing had existed and was being experimented on for six prior years, set upon Fust. They believed the printed Bibles he had brought them “were the work of the Devil.”

This brought an end to scribal culture, and the “economy of scarcity” in relation to the written word. It was now relatively (as compared to before) easy for a publisher to mass produce the work of an author; prior to this event, such a suggestion was unthinkable. The revolution of the printing press also represented something which presented a threat to ruling elite of Europe’s nations. In 1557 CE, Stationers’ Company of London was issued a Royal Charter giving them a monopoly on printed material within the British Isles and tasking them with dealing with those who did not abide by this edict. Thomas Dekker’s The Wonderfull Yeare , published in 1603 CE, pronounces a rather amusing curse upon those who would break the charter: “Banish these Word-pirates, (you sacred mistresses of learning) into the gulfe of Barbarisme: doome them euerlastingly to liue among dunces: let them not once lick their lips at the Thespian bowle, but onely be glad (and thanke Apollo for it too) if hereafter (as hitherto they haue alwayes) they may quench their poeticall thirst with small beere.”

This was not an isolated example, nor an isolated problem. All across Europe, Governmental regulations were put into effect in an attempt to control what was to be, and what was not to be, published. Speaking on this matter, Siva Vaidhyanathan of the University of Virginia states: “they made sure that the books that flowed through-out society were authorized. Were the authorized editions, but also were in control of the state.”2

Bob Darnton of Princeton University describes the book and information trade in Europe, specifically 18th century France, as a time of “censorship” and “privilege.” He notes: “what you have is a centralized administration for controlling the book trade using censorship. And also using the monopoly of the established publishers… You had a monopoly of production in the Book Seller’s Guild in Paris. It had police powers. And then the police itself had specialized inspectors of the book trade. So you put all of that together and the state was very powerful in its attempts to control the written word.”3

He continues: “… During the 18th century the printed word as a force is just expanding everywhere. You’ve got publishing houses, printing presses, that surround France in what I call a ‘fertile crescent,’ dozens and dozens of them producing books which are then smuggled across the French borders distributed everywhere in the kingdom by an underground system.”4

Owen Davies, discussing the subject in his excellent Grimoires: A History of Magic Books, writes:

For some, the Devil lay behind all these momentous events. Printing was described as a ‘black art’ and books as ‘silent heretics.’ The success of the [Protestant] Reformation was heavily dependent on the power of the printed page, with Martin Luther being the most published author of the era. For him and other Reformers printing was a ‘divine’ and ‘miraculous gift’.5

This was, of course, because the availability of the now relatively cheap commodity of printing and its ability to widely distribute ideas. But beside Martin Luther and his followers, there were other books which were distributed just as widely, and printed just as often: grimoires. The attempts by ecclesiastical and secular authorities to control what was and was not printed lead to a rise in what many have called a pirate distribution system. Historian Elizabeth Einstein notes that “the printers were the ones hunted down if they printed the forbidden texts… [the act of] Printing becomes associated with rebellion and emancipation.”

She quotes the Virginian Governor Berkley as saying: “thank God we have no printing in Virginia! And we shall never have it as long as I am Governor!”

Finally, discussing what books sold well, she notes that there is at least one Dutch printer she was aware of that compiled his list of books for sale based on the Vatican’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (list of prohibited books). Of course, the appetite for magical books and techniques was not limited to the Grimoires themselves. Owen Davies writes: “In 1528 the warehouse of one Seville printer contained amongst its stock 8,000 Nóminas, a thousand of which were hand colored. These consisted of prayers and names of saints used as protective talismans. Nóminas had circulated on paper and parchment, and their appearance in print at such an early date demonstrates how printers were quick to capitalize on ‘superstitious’ popular religion.”6

Napster and the Rise of File Sharing.

In 2000, the twin forces RIAA and Lars Ulrich (their puppet) brought the peer-to-peer file sharing program Napster to the attention of the world.7 Of course, some questions remain unanswered such as why Metallica, and Dre needed to file their own lawsuits after the RIAA had already filed against Napster on December 7th, 1999. It also might be beneficial to take a moment to make a point: file sharing on the Internet is not only the oldest common thread on the Internet, technically it is the very power that makes the Internet work. The ability to receive, copy, and then send bits is the very thing that makes that makes the ‘net “tick,” as it were. Without the copying and transmittal of bits, there would be no Internet. The real question is what you’re legally allowed to transmit. And this is the question that drives the debate.

While it’s always been possible to send files via the Internet, it was only the increase of broadband technology that allowed for large files to be sent without sapping too much bandwidth from a given network. All Napster did was provide the technical interface – the software – for transmitting files. When Lars Ulrich and Metallica discovered that the song I Disappear was being spread through Napster, all they actually managed to do was focus more attention on what the RIAA deemed “piracy.”

On 13-04-2000, Ulrich, Dr. Dre, and the RIAA began their war on “piracy.” The suit brought against Napster alleged “that Napster has violated three different areas of the law: copyright infringements, unlawful use of digital audio interface device, and the Racketeering Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).” This tactic wasn’t exactly new; speaking on the history of corporate industries accusing others of piracy, EFF spokesman Fred von Lohmann notes that most industry executives claimed “cable television in the 70s was a conduit for piracy.” And that: “the VCR was to the movie industry what the Boston strangler was to a woman alone.” He is not incorrect. However, neither the VCR nor Cable ever managed to destroy the MPAA, but that may be because of Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios in which the Supreme Court ruled that home video recording technology did not violate copyright laws, but instead constituted Fair Use.

In the case of Napster, nothing of the sort occurred. The act of attempting to legislate the network, however, had the unintended consequence of bringing it to the attention of the world. David Canton characterizes this activity as such: “The Streisand effect is what happens when someone tries to suppress something and the opposite occurs. The act of suppressing it raises the profile, making it much more well known than it ever would have been.”8

As an aside, Business Week‘s Chronicle of the Highs and Lows of Napster makes for interesting reading.

The effect was thus: as Napster ran out of lives, dozens of other file sharing programs sprang up. The effect of destroying Napster is what has created – by and large – today’s file sharing networks and the way today’s info pirates operate. Each step the RIAA and MPAA have taken to try to stem the tide of file sharing has increasingly made the way files are shared more decentralized, which means harder to find and virtually impossible to end. In 2005, the torrent emerged the current victor of such technologies, making the idea of a stable network unnecessary. At present, all that one needs to operate a “pirate smuggling ring” is a $150 computer and broadband Internet access (or a wireless ‘net card with which one could theoretically steal bandwidth from someone else…), and of course people that want your digital bits… Web space is completely optional.

Under the Black Flag

A few years ago, I was chatting with an infamous author of… a certain flavour about an up-coming work of his. He was promoting it by putting sections on the ‘net, and seeing how people responded to those sections. At the time he hoped to publish with a company that has since become largely unworthy of mention since its founder died. He did, however, make an odd comment to me. He said: “don’t worry, I’ll be sure to get a draft in your hands so you can distribute it to your friends.”

Wait, I found myself thinking, since when was I a pirate?

I suspect he was referring to a group of fellows I associate with who have done their best to maintain rather dubious positions on a variety of matters, and for whom the accumulation of certain occult information is considered the primary task of their generation. (The secondary task would be to put that information into practice and see what can be gained from doing so.) On the other hand, we’re hardly Digimob. If you pressed us to justify our nefarious doings, we’d probably smile and say Fair Use.

Which brings me to a few points about what Piracy is not:

  • I am not committing an act piracy if I download your text, and then turn around and buy it.
  • I am not committing an act of piracy if I buy your book, and loan it to a friend. This includes giving them an electronic copy. If I own your book, I own your book. Period. What I do with it is now my business, assuming that I don’t copy the contents out and then sell them or give them to anyone on the Internet.
  • I am not committing an act of piracy if I buy your book, and then download it to make use of a PDF file’s search function.

The problem with all of the discussions so far is that they’ve been convoluted. A clear line has not been drawn by occultists about what Piracy is and is not, and what Fair Use is and is not. Scarlet Imprint, in their blog entry titled “Tarnish,” raised my hackles a bit as they addressed the subject.

While it raised a good deal of points, there were a few that were more than a bit off. Some of the comments made don’t really make sense to me. These include: “Copying the work of a magician and then seeking to work with those spirits is quite frankly stupid.”

Stupid? I mean… Really? Let us, for example, take into account the The True Grimoire: The Encyclopaedia Goetica Volume 1 by Jake Stratton-Kent. They represent it as such: “the true grimoire comes from twenty years of study and spirit contact. This is the personal workbook of a practicing necromancer, written with both clarity and scholarly attention to detail. It places the grimorium verum at the heart of the grimoire tradition. A major practical contribution to goetic magic by an acknowledged expert in his field.” (Capitalized letters added by myself.)

The Grimorium Verum was published prior to the 20th century. Historians claim it was most likely written in the 18th century, on the other hand the “mythical” history of the book alleges that it may have been written as early as 1517 CE. However, the location where it was allegedly written was in ruins at that time, so a later date is likely. I have no idea what Mr. Stratton-Kent thinks about the book, as I haven’t read his book yet. I most likely will at a later date. But be that as it may, it was assuredly published by the pirate publishing system that evolved across Europe as the powers-that-be attempted to stomp down on such things.

Which means that the copies that Mr. Stratton-Kent used to study for his own book were pirated books, or their descendants. No Grimoire was legal to publish anywhere prior to the 20th century. Why has some obscene and terrible atrocity not be-fallen him yet? Is it because the author of the book is dead? How do the spirits make the distinction between “the right sorts” – who buy their books – and the “wrong sorts,” who don’t? I would love to see a channeled discussion on the matter from Lucifuge: as the Regent of Hell, I’m sure his analysis on the matter of piracy would be quite interesting. (Note to readers: Jack Faust would never tell you to do anything fool-hardy, like sell your soul to the devil, or invoke him. Only someone crazy would do that.)

But S.I. is actually lucky. If they were large enough to waste money fighting piracy in conventional ways, they’d undoubtedly waste more money then they presently are. What I mean is this: if they were large enough to afford dropping a law-suit on various pirates, they probably would. Which would – not unlike the blog mentioned above – invoke the so-called Streisand Effect. And thus more people would know of them – a few would purchase their books – and thus more piracy would occur. All the while they’d be wasting their money on a futile fight that cannot be won.

Trying to stop piracy on the Internet is like trying to stop a flood. It’s most likely impossible, as you’re fighting the architecture of the present Internet. Once the files are shared, they are shared. And the idea that: “If you have illegal files, delete them and buy the physical book.” That’s actually insulting. Equally insulting: “If you are exchanging files then you are making a serious magical mistake.”

In the situation where SI is being hit by sales being low due to mass-torrent activity, I find myself incredibly sympathetic. I feel similarly toward any of the small publishers out there, struggling to get by and hit hard by the present activity in these matters. Nonetheless, in this instance those words are poorly chosen, and without regard to the idea of Fair Use. If I was to buy a book and loan it to a friend – hoping they’d also buy that book – I’d be doing Scarlet Imprint a favor. They can’t seem to imagine that the same scenario could happen with an electronic copy.

And that’s the point at which all of this discussion breaks down, because the actual people they want to stop are the pirates and those making the downloads. I imagine that if the small publishers approached such groups and asked them to stop putting their works on torrents – directly asked – or to at least wait a year before they did so, the results might be different. (Dear pirates: please stop giving out what you have to everyone. The boys making these books need to buy food. So at least wait for a year. During that year, be sure just to give copies to your friends… Who should at least review the book, or bring attention to it somehow. That’d fall under Fair Use.)

But at present, the threat seems spectral and omnipresent. The natural reaction one might have is probably fear. But this isn’t the end of the world, or the end of the small book trade.

What this is? This is the point in history, so rarely seen this often prior to the 21st century, when a small group of brilliant individuals can successfully create new business models and incorporate the present technology into a system that hasn’t figured out how to yet. But it will happen; even the torrent will likely bend to the commercial market eventually, and when that happens a few people will become very, very rich. And then they’ll probably put everyone else out of business.

That is, of course, assuming that Google doesn’t do it first.

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  1. CIA Factbook: Somalia. Accessed 9.12.2010. [']);">Grimoires: A History of Magic Books, p. 44 [']);"> [back]

Jack Faust is a twenty-six year old sorcerer living in Sacramento, California. Most of his time is spent divided between having his head in some book or another, and doing stranger things. He daylights as a paralegal for an insane libertarian bankruptcy attorney. He blogs at

's website is


  1. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on the ACTA, if you’re in a writing mood =)

    Current score: 1
  2. Jack Faust says:

    @Pallas: The original version of this essay was actually around 15-17 pages in length, and I covered the ill effects of the DMCA and briefly mentioned ACTA. Insofar as the WTO’s agreements and use of ACTA go, I’m unsure of the full extent of such policies. However, I’ll be posting the extended version of this essay to in about a month, and I may even start focusing on ACTA in the “agreement” can be discussed at length. I hope that works as an answer?

    Current score: 0
  3. Khephra says:

    Well-reasoned contribution to the discussion and justifiable call for innovation. Still take issue with associating filesharing with “piracy”, though, because the etymology and denotation don’t correlate with this particular connotation. Information is a process, not a thing. Consequently, saying that filesharers are “stealing” ones and zeroes is, from my vantage, epistemologically problematic.

    Nonetheless, solid essay and I very much so appreciated the read.

    Current score: 0
  4. Gordon says:

    You’re a paralegal? I find that oddly attractive.

    Current score: 0
  5. Hieronimo says:

    I’m not a paralegal or even a webmaster anymore, but more than one webmaster has told me that it’s Fair Use to copy (as in Xerox) a print copy of book for purely private use. Even if you just checked it out of the library. And I always took that for granted.

    But as far as I can tell from reading library policies on the web, that’s not exactly correct: they quote U.S. statutes, and apparently it’s legal to copy for strictly private use only if the book is not available for a “fair price”. If it ever went to court a judge would decide what “fair price” meant. But such a case would not make it to court, not ever, in the U.S.A. at least, bearing in mind the strictly private usage.

    Trying to be law-abiders we must ask ourselves alone what fair price is, if, say, we don’t have any pelf except just enough to pay the bills and feed the kids and we’ll never get to study and actually learn the book if we don’t copy. Then copying is about as fair as it gets, IMO.

    Add digitality to the mix, it all just goes to Hell.

    I wonder, is it stupid to obey laws that are stupid? And that decrease my potential erudition? That keep me ignorant? What Would Captain Jack Sparrow Do (he seems a learned man)?

    Thank you, Jack (Faust), for bringing sanity and knowledge to this … discussion.

    Come November 5th, I’ll again be reading my (legal) copy of V for Vendetta. Maybe this year I’ll pour a libation to Guy Fawkes. Not a pirate, just a Martyr (IMO).


    Current score: 0