Have you heard of the TV show Whale Wars? If not, it's a reality show on the Animal Planet channel that follows a group of hard-line environmentalists who are engaged in stopping whaling. These environmentalists have a ship called the "Sea Shepherd" and they go around making life difficult for Japanese whaling vessels.
When I say "making life difficult", I mean: they ram the whaler's ships with their own ship, they throw nets in front of the whalers to ensnare/damage their propellers, and they throw glass jars of acid at the whalers. You gotta admit, that's some pretty serious stuff.
So, obviously, the Japanese whalers aren't exactly thrilled with what's going on. Accordingly, the Japanese folks have sued the Sea Shepherd folks in federal district court, claiming that the acts of the Sea Shepherd and its crew amount to piracy, and are seeking an injunction.
The district court dismissed the piracy claim, and the Japanese appealed to the Ninth Circuit, who reversed the trial court. Here's how Judge Kozinski begins his opinion:
You don’t need a peg leg or an eye patch. When you ram ships; hurl glass containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate, no matter how high-minded you believe your purpose to be.
You can read the full opinion here. I love it, and he's exactly right. Just because you believe that you're acting in a principled manner and that you're on the side of the angels doesn't mean you get to throw acid at other ships and ram them. There's no exception for subjectively believing you have good intentions. If you do these thinigs, you're a pirate. Maybe you're not a very hard-core pirate, but you're still attacking another ship on the high seas.
Also, you know what didn't help the Sea Shepherd's lawyer? It's kind of hard to argue that your client isn't a pirate when this is their flag:
Seriously, counselor? That's your client's flag? And you're gonna sit there and tell me that your client isn't a pirate? Right.
Here's the thing: if you're going to go to the point where you throw acid at other ships, ram them, and intentionally try to damage their propulsion and steering capabilities with nets, why not go all in? If you're going to be a pirate - own it. Get some cannons, some torpedoes, and be serious about it. Or don't do it at all.
The only thing worse than a pirate is a half-assed pirate.