The current appetite in popular culture for the "pirates of the Caribbean" is paralleled by what appears to be a worldwide outbreak of intellectual piracy. What, if anything, links the classic Caribbean pirate to these latter-day phenomena? We argue that compelling parallels exist between the early modern conditions that produced Blackbeard and today's world of virtual monopolies. Out of this comparison, we attempt an anthropological definition of piracy. Pirate cultures are organizations of social bandits, in the Hobsbawmian sense, who appear on the scene as folk heroes when contradictions and inequalities built into a political economy peak to the breaking point.