Paging Jack Sparrow

February 28, 2013 | By TONY FRANCOIS

As I am wont to say, things are what they are, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agrees: even a ‘public interest pirate’ is still just a pirate.

Judicial opinions are usually pretty stuffy affairs, full of long complex sentances and arcane vocabulary; the sort of prose that only lawyers could love. They also frequently have innocuous sounding titles: Institute of Cetacean Research v. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Sounds like it could be about anything. But then the opening paragraph by Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski grabs you:

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.

If you haven’t yet seen the Animal Planet show Whale Wars, then you may not be familiar with what Institute of Cetacean Research is all about: the controversial Japanese whalingresearch fleets that harvest whales in the Southern Ocean, and the controversial and dangerous tactics of Sea Shepherd in its efforts to stop them. Chief Judge Kozinski’s opinion provides an overview of the facts and legal issues involved, and provides an important cautionary tale: however passionate one is about an issue, the adversary can still have the law on its side.