Ahoy! Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. While you should probably abstain from observing this holiday in court or in emails to opposing counsel, you can still celebrate with these three cases about pirates.
Captain William Kidd
William Kidd, born in Scotland in 1645, was tried and executed for piracy and murder. While we normally think of pirates as outlaws, Kidd’s case is interesting because he was hired by England’s Whig government to seize French ships (a practice known as privateering). After a hard first year and a mutinous crew, Kidd began attacking ships whose status may have been beyond the original scope of his contract. He surrendered in New York under the promise of a pardon, but was instead sent to London for trial, where he was found guilty and hanged in 1701. Listen to a Podcast about Kidd, from Stuff You Missed in History Class. Read the William Kidd trial transcript.
Anne Bonny and Mary Read
In male-dominated pirate history, Anne Bonny, from Ireland, and Mary Read, from England, stand out as famous female pirates. Bonny, while living in Cuba, met pirate Captain ‘Calico Jack’ and became his mistress. Read was the illegitimate daughter of a sea captain’s widow, and was disguised as a boy early in life. Posing as a man, Read served in the Dutch military. Her ship was taken by pirates and she was forced to join them. Eventually she made her way on to Calico Jack’s ship, where she met Bonny. In 1720, Bonny, Read, Calico Jack, and his crew were seized by the English off the coast of Jamaica. The entire crew was tried and sentenced to hang. Bonny and Read both escaped execution by ‘pleading the belly’, that is, claiming they were pregnant. Read died in prison, possibly during childbirth. Bonny disappears from the historical record, but is believed to have escaped a life in prison.
Trading high-speed sloops for high-speed internet, Jammie Thomas-Rasset’s case features a modern type of piracy: online file sharing. In March, SCOTUS declined to hear Capitol v. Thomas, in which Jammie Thomas-Rasset was sentenced to pay over $200k for downloading and sharing 24 songs using a peer-to-peer file sharing service. The RIAA has sued thousands of Americans for copyright violations for downloading MP3s using services like Napster and Kazaa. Thomas-Rasset was one of the few who went to trial with the RIAA after refusing to settle her case. SCOTUS has also declined to hear two other cases involving file sharing, one of which would have tested the ‘innocent infringer’ defense.
Have thoughts on the pirates above or want to share a different pirate case? Leave ye comments below, mateys!