Authors, Users, and Pirates: Copyright Law and Subjectivity

“Much has been said and written about the mutually constitutive relationship between authors, owners, and users within the copyright constellation. By adding the outlawed figure of the pirate to the mix, this book makes an original and important theoretical contribution to our understanding of copyright, not only as a body of law but also as a cultural practice.”

—Fiona Macmillan, Professor of Law, Birkbeck, University of London;

An examination of subjectivity in copyright law, analyzing authors, users, and pirates through a relational framework.

In current debates over copyright law, the author, the user, and the pirate are almost always invoked. Some in the creative industries call for more legal protection for authors; activists and academics promote user rights and user-generated content; and online pirates openly challenge the strict enforcement of copyright law.

In this book, James Meese offers a new way to think about these three central subjects of copyright law, proposing a relational framework that encompasses all three. Meese views authors, users, and pirates as interconnected subjects, analyzing them as a relational triad. He argues that addressing the relationships among the three subjects will shed light on how the key conceptual underpinnings of copyright law are justified in practice.

Meese presents a series of historical and contemporary examples, from nineteenth-century cases of book abridgement to recent controversies over the reuse of Instagram photos. He not only considers the author, user, and pirate in terms of copyright law, but also explores the experiential element of subjectivity—how people understand and construct their own subjectivity in relation to these three subject positions.

Meese maps the emergence of the author, user, and pirate over the first two centuries of copyright’s existence; describes how regulation and technological limitations turned people from creators to consumers; considers relational authorship; explores practices in sampling, music licensing, and contemporary art; examines provisions in copyright law for user-generated content; and reimagines the pirate as an innovator.

Product details

  • Publish Date: February 2018
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 9780262037440


In his inquisitive new book, James Meese reveals the messy, complex historical and sociological realities of copyright law lying underneath the overheated rhetoric of copyright stakeholders. His work serves to demystify the commonly accepted articles of faith about copyright law. Meese considers how the classic figures of copyright law—authors, users, and pirates—have been deconstructed and scattered in the digital age. He considers the waves of disruption wrought by successive digital technologies—search engines, peer-to-peer networks, torrents, social media, and streaming services. Meese provides a punchy and profound philosophical investigation into copyright theory and history. He offers a rich comparative survey of copyright law in practice in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Australia. Meese also provides a colorful gallery of courtroom clashes over copyright law and new technologies. This work is sure to be considered in future ages as a classic history of copyright law in the age of YouTube and BitTorrent.

—Matthew Rimmer, Professor of Intellectual Property and Innovation Law, Faculty of Law, Queensland University of Technology

  • PUBLISHED: 2018
Authors Users and Pirates Book Cover

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