Aaaarrrrgggghhhh! Bilge-Sucking Pirates be everywhere!

Ed Seaford

Monday 19th September marks International Talk Like a Pirate Day where people around the world get to cuss, yell or mumble incoherently like a swashbucklin' scallywag o' th' seven seas.

What started off as a joke between friends, one of whom picked the 19th as the birthday of his ex-wife, has now become a huge global event.

Today, you can trade in your best pirate impression for a free Krispy Kreme donut and Google Search and Facebook both have the option to choose 'Pirate' as a language choice.

These days the term piracy lends itself to the illegal copying (streaming or downloading) of copyrighted materials from movies, music and other forms of digital content.

While seafaring pirates would play cat and mouse with Crown ships - crossing in and out of international waters to evade capture, modern day pirates use proxy servers and privacy walls, and host their data in countries with undeveloped copyright laws.

The pirate Blackbeard is perhaps the most notorious of the sea robbers who plagued shipping lanes off North America and the Caribbean in the early 18th century. He gained a reputation not only for amassing a small fortune from piracy, but also from his frightening appearance and violence when attacking ships.

Modern-day pirates aren’t as scary, but they still do their fair share of damage.

One high-profile alleged pirate was accused of costing the entertainment industry $500m through unlicensed content uploaded to an online site that had several millions of registered users.

More recently, another pirate alleged to be the ringleader of the world’s biggest online piracy site has been accused of distributing more than $1 billion's worth of illegally copied films, music and other content. Blackbeard could only manage $12 - $13m of booty in his lifetime, which is around $200m in today’s money.

Is piracy getting worse?

The number of requests Google receives asking for links to copyrighted materials to be removed has grown from a few hundred thousand links a week in 2011 to more than 20 million a week today.

The graph below shows the volume increase since July 2012.

Google graph

The most illegally downloaded film of 2015 was Interstellar, which was downloaded some 46.7 million times, followed by Furious 7 (44.8 million) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (41.6 million). In 2014, the top three movies were downloaded 90 million times. In 2015, this number rose to 140 million.

In an attempt to stop the rot, countries around the world are tightening their laws on piracy. For example, the UK government's Digital Economy Bill will target anyone who infringes copyright in order to make a commercial gain, and could see pirates jailed for up to 10 years. The success of this move and others as a deterrent to criminal activity remains to be seen.

So while modern-day pirates don’t have the same fear factor that the likes of Blackbeard may have had, they are nonetheless still causing big problems around the world. And for now at least, officials are having the same trouble trying to keep them at bay.