With the recent spate of marine piracy off the coast of Somalia, culminating in the abduction and rescue of Captain Richard Phillips, it’s a bit disorienting to see the word “piracy” used to refer to, well, pirates. That’s because for the last few decades the word has been much more often applied to those who “pirate” intellectual property such as software, music, and videos. In fact, the use of the word in that context has a surprisingly long history: Daniel Defoe, in 1703, used the term to describe printers who made unauthorized copies of his work.
There’s an old urban legend called “the water engine,” which tells of the discovery of a way to turn water into fuel. There are variations to the story – sometimes it’s tap water, sometimes sea water; in recent versions it’s specified the fuel is nonpolluting – but the ending is always the same: the invention is suppressed by the oil companies, either by buying the invention and burying it or by forcing the inventor into ruin and suicide. One reason the legend has persisted so long – it’s been recorded as early as the 1950s, and probably dates to the first time someone grumbled about the cost of filling up his car – is because it confirms something we already believe, which is that the oil companies are evil and would rather murder a man and doom the world than sacrifice a dime of profit.
One of the most successful new shows of recent years is TLC’s Jon & Kate Plus 8. How successful? It consistently wins its time slot against all other cable competitors, including high-profile shows such as The Closer, and among the very desirable demographic of women between eighteen and thirty-four it outdraws broadcast network offerings Two and a Half Men, Heroes and 24. TLC has had a number of different identities over the years, and has become very nimble in responding to unexpected successes. Starting out with science programming, back when it was called The Learning Channel, the programming moved first into real-estate and home remodelling shows and then to programs such as The 750 Pound Man and It’s Not Easy Being a Wolf Boy. Among these was a pair of shows about unusual families, Little People, Big World and Jon & Kate Plus 8. When the latter became a runaway success the channel quickly capitalized on it, and now features several other shows about large families such as Table for 12 and 18 Kids and Counting.