The Dark Side of Capitalism: Pirates, Mavericks & Industry Renewal

In 2014, we began offering a new course on piracy at Ivey Business School (Canada). Here's why :

Piracy is all over the news. Broadly speaking, it concerns three categories of organizational actors: pirate organizations themselves (from Napster to Wikileaks and Anonymous), industry incumbents (from Sony to Louis Vuitton and PayPal), and government bodies (from regulators to the FBI and Supreme Court). 

The phenomenon, sometimes portrayed as the 'dark side of capitalism', lies at the crossroads of technology, business, law and politics. Pirates are described as major threats for incumbents in many industries, including music, cinema, fashion, software, defense, tech, pharma, biotech and entertainment. Furthermore, in the post-Snowden era, this threat is likely to overlap partly with that of 'state piracy', underpinned by country-level competitive intelligence capabilities.

The very nature of the actors involved makes piracy an immensely complex phenomenon. In fact, providing a robust definition of piracy is a challenge in and of itself. Unsurprisingly, no single academic discipline can claim to fully capture the pirate phenomenon. Movie piracy, for instance, is undoubtedly a business issue with far-reaching implications in terms of the economics of film production. But it is also a sociological phenomenon that underlies important questions: Why do millions of people sympathize with social movement organizations such as The Pirate Bay or Anonymous? How does society define and value creativity? While legal scholarship provides technical answers to some of these questions, the law typically fails to 'solve' the 'problem' because piracy, at a deep level, also involves political trade-offs. But not the usual kind of partisan trade-offs whereby left-wingers demand more government, and right-wingers less. Instead, pirate politics is unpredictable, and can bring Tea Party and Occupy activists to demonstrate, hand in hand, against certain features of government.

By its very nature, piracy questions the foundations of what we call 'capitalism'. More specifically, piracy questions the seminal notions of innovation, value, property, and government across a wide range of human activities. In an attempt to reconcile the diverse disciplinary lenses used to tackle the pirate phenomenon, it is crucial to put piracy in historical perspective and seek answers to the following questions: Who were the first 'pirates' and who called them so? Who or what are they against? What role did they play, if any, in the development of early capitalism? By looking back at history, there is much to learn about today's piracy, from Kim Dotcom to design counterfeiters, from 3D-printing aficionados to scientists accused of 'biopiracy'.

Given the magnitude and pervasiveness of the pirate phenomenon, today's leaders need to gain a deep understanding of what is at stake. This is the purpose of this course - the first of its kind - offered for the first time at Western University's Ivey Business School in 2014. So, to our incoming students: Welcome to 'the dark side'.

To view the syllabus and the line-up of real-world cases used in the course, click here.

To follow student teams on Twitter for the project 3D Printing: Anticipate the biggest threat ever to Intellectual Property, click here

Video Presentation of the Course