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The Offshore World Justin Pickard

E Mare Libertas: Freedom, Piracy, and the Limit of the Offshore

'One word, love; curiosity. You long for freedom. You long to do what you want to do because

you want it. To act on selfish impulse. You want to see what it's like. One day you won't be

able to resist.'

- Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)

(images c/o Flickr users myrrh.ahn, misterbisson, and jilldoughtie)

Introduction

In Peterson's post-structuralist analysis of the global political economy, she suggests that the twin

forces of globalisation and technological progress have split the economy into three distinct (if

interdependent) realms - the productive, the reproductive, and the virtual. 1 This essay is concerned with the

'virtual economy'. While others have suggested that the virtual has superseded the real, information has

replaced the physical commodity, and the post-Fordist has supplanted the Fordist, Peterson argues that her

tripartite framing 'brings the conceptual and material dimensions of 'social reproduction,' non-wage labor,

and informalization into relation with the familiar but increasingly global ... 'productive economy,' as well as

with the less familiar but increasingly consequential 'virtual economy' of financial markets, commodified

1 Peterson, V. S. 2006. 'Getting Real: The Necessity of Critical Poststructuralism in Global Political
Economy', in de Goede (Ed.) International Political Economy and Poststructural Politics (New York:
Palgrave), p. 123.

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knowledge, and the exchange less of goods than of signs.'2 Rather than a linear progression from one type of

economy to another, Peterson's analysis rests on the coexistence of multiple economic spheres.

In the virtual economy, information and symbols are the commodity. As such, economic activity is

no longer 'subject to the same time and space constraints associated with material commodities' 3. With the

eclipse of restrictions on movement, data and capital becomes nomadic, free-flowing in a partially

deterritorialised landscape. Palan talks of the way in which this burgeoning mobility encouraged states to use

their sovereignty in the creation of 'special territorial or judicial enclaves characterised by a [relative]

reduction in regulations, including taxation.'4 Referring to this distinct regulatory space as an 'offshore

world'; the unintentional result of a series of '[d]iscrete and uncoordinated state policies [which] combined to

create new, intangible “shores,” marking off activities or territories in which the state's regulation and

taxation (but not the law) [were] fully or partially withheld.'5 In this way, the virtual and offshore economies

could be seen as co-constitutive.

Nomadic capital, however, is only one manifestation of the virtual. While existing analyses have

portrayed the offshore as in possession of a singular logic - that of symbolic/virtual money – the reality is far

more complex. It is, after all, 'not only money that has become more mobile ... the same is true for other

commodities, types of information'6. In this essay, I hope to redress the imbalance, focusing on those facets

of the economy in which 'information is the commodity: ideas, codes, concepts, knowledge are what is being

exchanged'7.

Can there, then, be an offshore for data; a comparatively less-regulated realm in which information

can be free? In search of answer, this essay first looks to the Principality of Sealand, an artificial island and

2 Ibid.
3 Peterson, V. S. 2003. A Critical Rewriting of Global Political Economy: Integrating productive,
reproductive and virtual economies (New York: Routledge), p. 116.
4 Palan, R. 1998. 'Trying to Have Your Cake and Eating It: How and Why the State System has Created
Offshore', in International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 42(4), p. 626.
5 Ibid.
6 Hudson, A. 2000. 'Offshoreness, globalization, and sovereignty: a postmodern geo-political economy?',
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 25(3), p. 280.
7 Peterson, V. S. 2006. pp. 130-1.

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short-lived data haven anchored in the North Sea, just off the English coast. Having investigated the

liberatory promise of the island in terms of data storage, this essay then examines the ways in which various

non-state actors have capitalised on the mobility and legal status of the boat to maximise their freedom in an

offshore context. Finally, I examine the comparatively recent emergence of file-sharing networks; a

development which appears to upend many of our previous assumptions about the offshore and, indeed,

economic activity in general.

In the peer-to-peer networks of copyright pirates, the past five years have seen a series developments

which may signify the birth of an entirely new type of space, free from the restrictions of national boundaries,

and beyond the reach of the state. This essay asks whether this 'smooth space' represents the future of the

offshore. The exploration of this emerging spatiality first requires a definition of 'smooth space'. For this, we

must turn to the work of Deleuze and Guattari.

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The Offshore World Justin Pickard

(images c/o Flickr users nunavut, tempophage, and mali mish)

Space and the Offshore

Deleuze and Guattari divided space into two distinct types; 'smooth' and 'striated'. Smooth space

referred to that which was unlimited, undivided, marked only by trails or traditional routes.' 8 Heterogeneous,

immediate and corporeal, smooth space 'goes in all directions, any point connecting with any other.'9

Examples of the smooth can be found in the unbounded spaces of ocean, the desert, and the skies. Striated

space, on the other hand, is defined by its bounded nature: '[C]risscrossed with virtual and horizontal grid

squares', this is a 'codified, ordered space, one that delimits a territory, defining it for a specific activity, and,

secondly, establishing different degrees of access to people, things and relations.'10

For Deleuze and Guattari, the unmapped ocean was 'a smooth space par excellence'11, and the subject

of 'a complex and empirical nomadic system of navigation based on the wind and noise, the colors and

sounds of the seas'12. While the maritime was ultimately striated, this was never as simple a process as the

abstractions of theory would suggest, with the ocean maintaining a latent 'smoothness', even in the wake of

mapping, through which attempts were made to transform the seas 'into a dependency of the land, with ...

8 Wood, M. 2003. 'Resistance and Revolt: reasserting the play of smooth space', in Radical Society, Vol.
30(2) pp. 25-6.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari. 1988. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (London:
Athlone Press), p. 479.
12 Ibid.

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fixed routes, constant directions, relative movements, a whole counterhydraulic of channels and conduits.'13

Striation, in this context, was a function of 'two astronomical and geographical gains: bearings, obtained by a

set of calculations based on exact observation of the stars and the sun; and the map, which intertwines

meridians and parallels, longitudes and latitudes, plotting regions known and unknown onto a grid.'14

To illustrate the full complexities of the relationship between smooth and striated space, even in the

aftermath of striation, Deleuze and Guattari turned to the example of Ming dynasty China, which 'in spite of

its very high level of technology in ships and navigation ... turned its back on its huge maritime space, saw its

commercial flows turn against it and ally themselves with piracy, and was unable to react except by a politics

of immobility, of the massive restriction of commerce, which only reinforced the connection between

commerce and the war machine.'15 Thus, even in the aftermath of striation, the sea 'reimparts a kind of

smooth space'16, inhabited by nomads. And premier amongst the nomads were the pirates of the Golden Age

(1680s-1720s) who, in the Atlantic ocean, formed a counter-hegemonic hydrarchy, as described by

Linebaugh and Rediker;

'As the strong hands of ... sailors made the Atlantic a zone for the accumulation of capital,
they began to join with others in faithfulness, or solidarity, producing a maritime radical
tradition that also made it a zone of freedom. The ship thus became both an engine of
capitalism in the wake of the bourgeois revolution in England and a setting of resistance, a
place to which and in which the ideas and practices of revolutionaries defeated and
repressed by Cromwell and then King Charles escaped, re-formed, circulated, and
persisted.'17

In this instance, piracy thrived in the period when the seas were rife with trade and commerce, but before the

sea had been entirely mapped and striated. A window of liminality, in which 'the North Atlantic was a smooth

space which had not yet been [fully] striated by the grids of naval control ... [and] the pirates, with their local

knowledge of the reefs, bays, islands, inlets and coasts of the Caribbean were able to escape detection'18 by the

13 Ibid. p. 387.
14 Ibid. p. 479.
15 Ibid. p. 386.
16 Ibid. p. 480.
17 Linebaugh, P. and M. Rediker. 2000. The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the
Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Boston: Beacon Press), p. 145.
18 Land, C. 2007. 'Flying the black flag: Revolt, revolution and the social organization of piracy in the

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colonial state. In this way, pirates were the ultimate nomad, inhabiting the last remnants of the original

smooth space.

Of course, from the perspective of the sedentary actor, 'the nomad may be considered to be a purely

parasitic form of life, raiding cities and villages, and stealing food and people.' 19 It is only in the act of

striation that the state can curtail this latent danger – limiting the raw hydraulic force of the nomadic to set

channels; constrained by gates and embankments.20 Here, smooth space is reconstituted as little more than

an adjunct to territorial authority; 'a means of communication in the service of striated space.'21

More recently, there are some spaces in which this relationship has been reversed. Here, the

territorial state has been subordinated to the nomads of smooth space; 'flows of symbols, information, and

communication through electronic and wireless transmissions that defy territorial constraints.'22 This is the

offshore; 'driven by the desire of individuals and firms to escape regulation, taxation and public scrutiny.' 23

Here, agents invoke the symbolic trappings of sovereignty - passports, territory, population – to project the

appearance of legitimate statehood, and the implication that 'external bodies (including other states) have no

right to intervene in [their] affairs'24.

While state-territoriality and sovereignty may be intangible abstractions, in the context of the

offshore they are transformed. As 'sovereignty is unbundled offshore, offshoreness is central to our efforts to

understand contemporary processes of socio-spatial change.'25 This 'offshoreness' is intrinsically linked to

the unbundling and commodification of sovereignty. In the offshore realm, the state is disassembled for parts

and reconstructed as a statehood of symbols; a film set sovereignty, hastily assembled from cardboard and

‘golden age’', in Management and Organizational History, Vol. 2(2), p. 184.
19 Munro, I. 2005. Information Warfare in Business: Strategies of control and resistance in the network
society (New York: Routledge), p. 38.
20 Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari. 1988. p. 363.
21 Ibid. pp. 385-6.
22 Peterson, V. S. 2006. p. 129.
23 Palan, R. 2003. p. 20.
24 Brown, C. 2002. Sovereignty, Rights and Justice: International Political Theory Today (Cambridge:
Polity Press), p. 79.
25 Hudson, A. 2000. p. 280.

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duct tape. It may look solid from a distance, but the edifice is hollow; a vessel for Eurodollars, stolen credit

card details, and pirated music files. In this realm, 'sovereignty is not, or is no longer, merely an ability to

control physical territorial space, but a gate-keeping capability' 26. The remaining agency of this reconstructed

state uses the promise of 'exclusive sovereign rights as bait to affect the trajectory of movement of nomadic

capitalism'27, while nomadic data and capital is free to deploy the principle of non-intervention, and – in

doing so – evade striation by an interventionist 'onshore'. In its current form, the relationship between

sedentary state and nomad is one of symbiosis.

Although earlier predictions, in fiction and elsewhere, had pre-empted many elements of the

contemporary offshore, the dominant assumption was that the nomadic multinational corporation would

bypass the state entirely. Take, for example, the 'dystopian fables' of cyberpunk, in which 'immense resources

and pervasive power enable[d] megacorporations ... to obtain their version of “justice” through the law,

despite the law, and in place of the law.'28 These corporate entities had no need for legitimate sovereignty.

Cyberpunk posits a world in which 'everything, from military technology to computerized immortality, is for

sale ... [and] nothing, from identity to allegiance to jurisdiction, is certain.'29

In this context, cyberpunk texts can illuminate our analysis of the contemporary offshore. Indeed, in

their analysis of the subgenre, Kitchin and Kneale comment on the ways in which these works held a mirror

to the emergent postmodern spatialities of the time, speculating on the socioeconomic implications of

contemporary developments in computing, and revealing the future possibilities of technology and society.

This was the twenty-first century as imagined by the 1980s, an anachronistic vision ultimately overtaken by

the relentless march of real time. Reordered by a combination of libertarian capitalism and social Darwinism,

and dominated by a few large multinational corporations, the cyberpunk world was portrayed as an

inevitable result of the concurrent forces of globalization and internationalization.30 Of course, these visions

26 Palan, R. 2003. p. 177.
27 Ibid.
28 Effross, W. 1997. 'High-Tech Heroes, Virtual Villains, and Jacked-In Justice: Visions of Law and
Lawyers in Cyberpunk Science Fiction', in Buffalo Law Review, Vol. 45(3), p. 946.
29 Ibid., p. 973.
30 Kitchin, R. and J. Kneale. 2001. 'Science fiction or future fact? Exploring imaginative geographies of the
new millennium', in Progress in Human Geography, Vol. 25(1), p. 25.

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of the future were rapidly overtaken by real events; the 1997 financial crisis made Asian-Pacific economic

hegemony increasingly unlikely, while the supposedly irreversible erosion of state sovereignty was

confounded by the events of 9/11, the aftermath of which saw a global increase in border security. That said,

we can definitely see reflections of cyberpunk in the contemporary offshore – a realm portrayed by its critics

as combining the worst elements of anarcho-capitalism and the Hobbesian state of nature.

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(images c/o Flickr users phault, atomicjeep, and octal)

Islands

Of particular relevance to the emerging notion of the 'offshore world', Bruce Sterling's 1988 novel,

Islands in the Net, portrayed a global order in which networked multinationals (including the aptly named

Rhizome Industries) had taken over the functions of the Westphalian nation-state; providing housing,

security, and healthcare for their employees. 31 This notion of corporation-as-state was not limited to the work

of Sterling; in Gibson's Neuromancer (1984), the novels protagonist is described as wondering 'briefly what

it would be like, working all your life for one zaibatsu. Company housing, company hymn, company

funeral.'32

As the novel's protagonist – Laura Webster - travels through Grenada, Singapore, Mali, and South

Africa, the reader gets a window into a series of 'outlaw' societies, a far cry from Laura's cradle-to-grade

corporate life. These societies are islands of resistance in a larger, pervasive network, sustaining themselves

'through marginal capitalist activities ranging from drug and data trafficking to money laundering and

extortion'33. But for Rhizome Industries, the islands represented the ultimate threat; a 'lack of corporate

control'34. As one of Laura's co-workers argues;

31 Akira, A. and A. Isozaki. 2001. 'The fabrication of anyplace', in G. Genosko (Ed.), Deleuze and Guattari:
Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers: Volume 3 (New York: Taylor & Francis) p. 1024.
32 Gibson, W. 1984. Neuromancer (New York: Ace Books), p. 37.
33 McCallum, E. L. 2000. 'Mapping the Real in Cyberfiction', in Poetics Today, Vol. 21(2), p. 358.
34 Ibid.

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“This isn’t politics. This is technology. It’s not their power that threatens us, it’s their
imagination. Creativity comes from small groups ... you don’t know what these people have
survived. They thrive on persecution, it unites them. It builds a class chasm between them
and society, it lets them prey on the rest of us without a twinge of conscience. No, we have to
let them grow, Laura, we have to give them a stake in our status quo”35

With the transnational corporation acting as a force of striation, it is resisted by the 'global islands' – a term

which includes 'all forms of information “hubs” from airports to island “states” like Grenada and Jamaica, to

offshore banks, clandestine food production on moving barges, pirates, crime networks and “rogue” nations

moving nuclear weapons like peas in a shell game.'36 In Islands, there are two different types of actors.

Firstly, there are corporate entities like Rhizome Industries which, in the wake of state decline, have reacted

to the decreasing capabilities of national law by imposing their own. Secondly, we have the 'global island'

states, held in thrall by the nomadic capital of criminals and millionaires, who “bought out” the functions of

statehood.

It is interesting to note that Sterling chose the island – a space 'both circumscribed and

disconnected'37 - as a key site of resistance in a broader political economy. In the island, there is a latent

tension between absolute control and absolute freedom, rooted in 'an oddity of power that in order to be

unbounded in social scope, it must be bounded in spatial area.' 38 Insulated from the rules and norms of

international society by the sea, the island is an isolated totality – drifting out of 'national-territorial space,

[and] into the limen of the Westphalian order'39, where anything goes. In this way, islands are places 'where

given structures are, in the manner of the carnival and The Tempest, overturned' 40, insulated from the

35 Sterling, B. 1988. Islands in the Net (New York: Arbor House), p. 47.
36 Slusser, G. 2005. 'Going Mobile: Tradition, Technology, and the Cultural Monad', in Yuen, Westfah and
Chan (Eds.), World Weavers: Globalization, Science Fiction, and the Cybernetic Revolution (Hong
Kong: Hong Kong University Press), p. 9.
37 Comaroff, J. 2007. 'Terror and Territory: Guantánamo and the Space of Contradiction', in Public
Culture, Vol. 19(2), p. 394.
38 Ibid. pp. 392-3.
39 Ibid. p. 395.
40 Ibid.

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outside world as 'potential laboratories for any conceivable human project'41 - from Utopia to Gulag.42

The idea of the island came to the fore in the post-modern geopolitics of the post-Cold War era. In

the aftermath of the tumultuous events of 1989, the world was promised a single economic universe. Prior to

1989, the First and Second Worlds had struggled for influence over a non-aligned Third World. In the

aftermath of Communist collapse, heralds proclaimed the absolute triumph of liberal democracy and free

market capitalism; to quote Fukuyama, an 'End of History'43. Instead of three worlds, there would be one: a

single global universe, in which 'everyone would be set free to accumulate and speculate, to consume, and to

indulge repressed cravings in a universe of less government, greater privatization, more opulence, infinite

enterprise.'44 But this liberal empire proved as unrealisable as the fictions of cyberpunk, and we were instead

left with a veritable archipelago of competing regulatory regimes. Islands floating in an ocean of flows – of

people; of technology; of global capital; of images and ideologies.45

This was a world in which, to quote Hardt and Negri, 'the spatial divisions of the three Worlds (First,

Second, and Third) ha[d] been scrambled so that we continually [found] the First World in the Third, the

Third in the First, and the Second almost nowhere at all.'46 Developing this taxonomy further, Van der Velden

and his colleagues highlight the hidden existence of a Fourth and Fifth Worlds. In their taxonomy, the Fourth

World refers to aspirant states and nations, such as Somaliland, Chechyna, and Catalonia. Finally, the unseen

Fifth is 'the world of the micro- or experimental nation'47 – the post-modern island, of which the Principality

of Sealand is probably the best-documented example.

41 Baldacchino, G. 2006. 'Islands, Island Studies, Island Studies Journal', in Island Studies Journal, Vol.
1(1), pp. 4-5.
42 Baldacchino, G. 2005. 'Islands – Objects of Representation', in Geografiska Annaler B, Vol. 87(4), p.
248.
43 Fukuyama, F. 1993. The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Harper Perennial)
44 Comaroff, J. and J. Comaroff. 2000. 'Millennial Capitalism: First Thoughts on a Second Coming', in
Public Culture, Vol. 12(2), p. 316.
45 Appadurai, A. 1996. 'Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Political Economy', in Modernity at
Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalisation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press)
46 Hardt, M. and A. Negri. 2000. Empire (London: Harvard University Press), p. xiii.
47 Van der Velden, Clausmeyer, Kruk and Mellegers. 2005. 'The Discovery of the Fifth World: Stealth
Countries and Logo Nations', Sarai Reader 05: Bare Acts (Delhi: Sarai Media Lab), p. 99.

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While Palan comments that, on the whole, 'offshore economic activities do not take place on some

barge floating in the middle of an ocean'48, the Principality of Sealand is literally offshore; standing 'in 24 feet

of North Sea brine, 6 miles east of Felixstowe ... on the southeast coast of England.' 49 The peculiar origins of

Sealand rest in the final years of the Second World War, and a decision by the British military to establish a

series of naval bases on the limit of English national waters, to defend against German aircraft. 50 In the

aftermath of the war, the majority of these fortresses were dismantled but, unlike the others, HM Fort

Roughs was located in international waters, seven miles from the British coast, and well beyond the UK's

jurisdictional remit. Though abandoned, it was left intact.

In 1967, having recently been convicted of violating domestic broadcasting law, pirate radio operator

Paddy Roy Bates, famous for running Radio Essex, moved his operations to the abandoned naval fort. Bates'

pirate radio station never resumed broadcasting, but he and his wife stayed and – working on the

assumption that the naval platform constituted terra nullius, or 'unclaimed land' – proclaimed the base as

their own independent state; the Principality of Sealand. Shortly thereafter, the British navy sent a vessel into

Sealand's waters, intending to remove the Bates' from the fort. A retired army Major, Bates used one of the

fort's remaining guns to fire a warning shot against the boat, which retreated. For this act, he was called

before a court in Chelmsford, where he was charged with acting in contravention of British firearms law51.

Unexpectedly, the judge acquitted Bates, commenting that any British Act of Parliament could only

reasonably be applied 'within the ordinary territorial limits', and – importantly – 'on British ships'52. Since

'no one [had] suggested [to the judge] that Roughs Tower [was] a ship, nor indeed was [his] query as to

whether it was an island received with much enthusiasm'53, the judge could only conclude that the gun had

48 Palan, R. 2003. p. 2.
49 Garfinkel, S. 2000. 'Welcome to Sealand. Now Bugger Off', in Wired Magazine, Vol. 8(07).
50 Anderson, J. 2008. 'The Principality of Sealand: a design critique', on repeatPenguin, 15 April 2008
<http://www.repeatpenguin.com/2008/04/15/the-principality-of-sealand> (Accessed 23/04/2008)
51 The Firearms Act 1937, Chapter 12 (London: HMSO)
52 Chapman, Justice. 1968. Regina vs. Paddy Roy Bates and Michael Roy Bates, The Shire Hall,
Chelmesford, 25 October 1968, <http://www.seanhastings.com/havenco/sealand/judgement.html>
(Accessed 21/04/2008)
53 Ibid.

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been fired outside the jurisdiction of British law, which – at that time – extended three nautical miles from

the British coast. Interpreted by the Bates' as a tacit admission of their sovereignty, this decision was later to

form the cornerstone of the Principality of Sealand's claims to autonomy and independence.

In 1987, an Act of Parliament54 extended the reach of British territorial waters from three to twelve

nautical miles from the coast. Under this law, HM Fort Roughs would come under the jurisdiction of UK law.

However, if the Bates' argument that the 1968 court decision constituted a recognition of Sealand's

sovereignty by the British government, then this act of recognition could override the extension of territorial

waters. Any subsequent engagement by the British government – to confirm one way or the other - could

have been construed as an act of recognition. Instead, the government was forced to stay quiet; a state of

affairs which proved convenient for both parties.

It may have been this sense of legal ambiguity which, in 2000, led a group of American 'cypherpunks'

to approach the Bates' with a business proposal; to install the necessary electronic infrastructure needed to

set up Sealand as 'the world's first truly offshore, almost-anything-goes electronic data haven' 55. While – as a

result of globalisation – the 'the entities which we call islands [were] dissolving into a terrain-defying mesh of

global information networks'56, Sealand was the site of a bold plan to forge a 'physical sanctuary for

information, where there [would be] no knowledge or control of the service provider over the data kept by its

customers.'57

Combining the offshore and the online, HavenCo's business model rested on the disjuncture between

the increasingly nomadic nature of digitized information and the territorial nature of law. When a service is

based in a certain locale, the only laws which apply are those tied to that specific territory, regardless of the

location of those accessing the service. If, for example, '[i]nternet gambling is legal (or overlooked) in

Country A but not in Country B, you set up in A, and use the Web to send your site to B – and to the rest of

54 The Territorial Sea Act 1987, Chapter 49 (London: HMSO)
55 Garfinkel, S. 2000.
56 Hay, P. 2006. 'A Phenomenology of Islands', in Island Studies Journal, Vol. 1(1), p. 23.
57 Meta Haven Design Research. 2005. 'The Network Ruin'.
<http://www.metahaven.net/mhSRC/CONTENT.php?id=32&pid=21> (Accessed 29/02/2008)

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the world.'58 In one sense, HavenCo was offering freedom; specifically, 'the “freedom" to store and move data

without answering to anybody, including competitors, regulators, and lawyers.'59 For investors in the virtual

economy, this autonomy was of greater relative value than any raw materials, creating a space for:

[c]opyrighted songs and motion pictures, gambling and casinos, the most bizarre forms of
online sex ... No questions asked - strictly Swiss bank - but the contents of the data haven's
vault are available through the internet. In an attempt to compensate for its cynicism, the
data haven would also offer shelter to 'endangered species' such as the exiled government of
Tibet.60

Still, this was never a case of “anything goes”. HavenCo may have allowed for 'gambling, pyramid schemes,

adult porn, subpoena-proof email, and untraceable bank accounts', but it drew the line at 'anything that

would inspire law enforcement officials or ISPs to shut down HavenCo's mainland Internet connections.' 61

Again, it was a question of 'denial, evasion and disappearance. A data haven [remains] most effective when

nobody knows it's there.'62

In this sense, for as long as it survived, HavenCo represented an example of that which Hakim Bey

has referred to as the temporary autonomous zone. For those looking to escape striation, Bey posits that

'nothing but a futile martyrdom could possibly result now from a head-on collision with the ... megacorporate

information State'63. Under the conditions of post-modernism, he argues, the State is 'concerned ... with

simulation rather than substance'64; operating through policy, statistics, and the management of abstracted

populations. As such, the only real channel for resistance rests in non-engagement. This non-engagement is

the doctrine of the temporary autonomous zone: don't let them know that you exist. As a strategy, it may

'lack some of the advantages of a freedom which experiences duration and a more-or-less fixed locale'65, but it

is this bracketed duration that affords the zone its autonomy and capacity for resistance. As long as it

58 Garfinkel, S. 2000.
59 Ibid.
60 Meta Haven Design Research. 2005.
61 Garfinkel, S. 2000.
62 Meta Haven Design Research. 2005.
63 Bey, H. 2003. TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism (New
York: Autonomedia), p. 98.
64 Ibid. p. 99.
65 Ibid. p. 107.

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remains capable of rapid disassembly, the zone can keep moving, ready to 'reform elsewhere / elsewhen,

before the State can crush it.'66 So, for as long as total global surveillance remains the stuff of dystopian

nightmares, the international system will remain 'riddled with cracks and vacancies'67, host to embryonic

autonomous zones; camps of blank tents under the desert stars, interzones, hidden fortified oases along

secret caravan routes, “liberated” bits of jungle and bad-land, no-go areas, black markets, and underground

bazaars.'68 As these spaces are left ''relatively open, either through neglect on the part of the State, or because

they have somehow escaped notice by the mapmakers' 69, their nomadic inhabitants can capitalize on their

autonomy.

While HM Fort Roughs remains, in a very real sense, little more than a 'scrap-metal breakfast tray on

two concrete columns, built to protect all that [was] of value against ... the Thousand Year Reich' 70, while

playing host to HavenCo, the Principality of Sealand emerged as a fully-fledged temporary autonomous zone.

According to Ryan Lackey, however, the partial collapse of Sealand's data haven activities can be attributed

to “creative differences” between HavenCo and the Bates', rather than any integral flaws in the business

model.71 In this example, the temporary autonomous zone did not so much fall victim to the striating

influence of the state, but slowly collapse under its own weight. Following Lackey's dismissal in 2002, the

Principality has been left in a situation where it seems inevitable that 'the margins in which [the] data haven

can operate will shrink until all that's left is its myth.'72

66 Ibid. p. 99.
67 Ibid.
68 Ibid. p. 105.
69 Ibid. p. 101.
70 Meta Haven Design Research. 2005.
71 Lackey, R. 2003. 'HavenCo: What Really Happened', 3 August 2003,
<http://www.metacolo.com/papers/dc11-havenco/dc11-havenco.pdf> (Accessed 17/04/2008)
72 Meta Haven Design Research. 2005.

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The Offshore World Justin Pickard

(images c/o Flickr users Karen Horton, Contando Estrelas)

Boats

Although the island may be able to host a temporary autonomous zone, it can never be one. The

sedentary island is incapable of rapid diassembly and will never be ready, in Bey's words, to 'reform

elsewhere / elsewhen, before the State can crush it'73. To escape the striating grasp of the regulatory state, 'it

is clearly not enough to be offshore: True freedom floats.' 74 Indeed, the mobility afforded by the ship has

'allowed groups ranging from cheerfully illicit pirate radio stations to socially committed abortion providers,

like Women On Waves, to avoid local laws.'75

In its usual manifestation, countries which register 'flags of convenience' are those which 'offer “easy”

registration, low or no taxes, and no practical restrictions on the nationality of crews.'76 For a registration fee,

practically anyone who does not directly threaten the register's national interest can run 'from taxation,

safety regulations, and trade union organization.'77 For Dr. Gomperts, however, the decision to sail under a

73 Bey, H. 2003. p. 99.
74 Mieville, C. 2007. 'Floating Utopias: The degraded imagination of the libertarian seasteaders', in In
These Times, Vol. 31(10). <http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/3328/floating_utopias/> (Accessed
01/03/2008)
75 Ibid.
76 Palan, R. 2003. p. 52.
77 Ibid. p. 52.

16
The Offshore World Justin Pickard

Dutch flag was part of a plan to create a space in which abortion was legal, as per Dutch law. Registering a

boat in the name of Women on Waves, a Dutch non-profit, pro-choice organisation, the mobility of the vessel

would allow greater access to an abortion for women in countries where abortion is either illegal or difficult

to obtain. In order to 'circumvent domestic law, [Gomperts] planned to perform abortions in international

waters ... [where, because] abortion is legal in the Netherlands and the law of the flag state applies in

international waters, the abortions would be lawful'78. Though initial attempt to offer abortions in Dublin, in

June 2001, were doomed to failure after comments by the Dutch justice minister that Gomperts' crew 'could

face jail time if they performed abortions without the [appropriate] medical license' 79, condemnations from

both conservative Dutch MPs and Irish pro-life activists were predicated on a real fear of Gomperts' success.

Another example of the use of a boat to avoid national law can be found in the activities of Seacode

Inc., a San Diego-based company planning to develop computer code on a former cruise ship anchored in

international waters. Because Seacode's operations would be based just outside the three-mile limit, they

would be exempted from Californian labour and environmental regulations80. The ship would be registered

under a foreign registry, meaning that the workers – predominantly from India and Eastern Europe – would

be free to work without visas, 'unlike foreign employees housed temporarily on U.S. territory.'81

Originally, 'flags of convenience' were used by shipping companies to avoid regulations that would

adversely affect their commercial activities. In 1992, almost half of all merchant vessels were registered with

flags of convenience.82 In the two cases given, registry with foreign flags has provided non-state actors with a

floating space which remains under the jurisdiction of one state, even when in close proximity of another.

When moored just outside of international waters, the geographical proximity of the ship and the other state

allows any actors with sufficient mobility to exploit the disjuncture in differing juridical systems.

78 Wolf, S. R. 2003. 'Making Waves: Circumventing Domestic Law on the High Seas', in Hastings
Women's Law Journal, Vol. 14(1), p. 113.
79 Corbett, S. 2001. 'The Pro-Choice Extremist', in The New York Times Magazine, 26 August 2001,
<http://tinyurl.com/3zn98j> (Accessed 24/04/2008)
80 Hiltzik, M. 2005. 'Shipping Out U.S. Jobs – to a Ship', in Los Angeles Times, 2 May 2005,
<http://www.latimes.com> (Accessed 17/04/2008)
81 Ibid.
82 Peters, H. J. 1993. 'The Maritime Financial Crisis', World Bank Discussion Papers, No. 220.

17
The Offshore World Justin Pickard

Perhaps the most dramatic example of an ocean-going operation can be found in plans for the

Freedom Ship, a floating city in which the principle of the 'flag of convenience' is stretched to its logical

conclusion. Upon completion, the mile-long ship will have 17,000 residential units, and could potentially be

home to more than 60,000 people.83 Construction on the Freedom Ship should have begun in 2000, ready to

set sail in 2003. Even now, five years later, the project lingers is 'less “speculative” than utterly fanciful' 84.

Nevertheless, it's perpetual cruise has struck a chord in the popular consciousness of a particular group of

'floating libertarians'; people for whom – according to Imbert – the project is a 'manifestation of [their] deep

desire for an island utopia cut off from moral turpitude, but linked to ports whenever the spirit moves it to

dock. '85

The offshore world has always been the site of contending discourses of morality, regardless of the

nature of its manifestation. Opponents have attacked the offshore as a 'hothouse for crime and corruption'86,

which 'distorts markets ... corrupts democracy ... destroys wealth and slows growth'87. In his critique of these

'floating libertarians', Mievillie comments on the way in which libertarian discourse grapples with the state as

a geographically literalized concept. The intent of those behind these boat-based enterprises, he argues, is to

'slip the surly bonds of earth not up but sideways, beyond literal borders.' 88 Their logic is rooted in a bizarre

syllogism; "I dislike the state: The state is made of land: Therefore I dislike the land."89 Here, the waters of

the ocean act as a solvent, 'dissolving "political" (state) power, leaving only "economics" behind.'90

83 Imbert, P. 2004. 'Globalization and difference: displacement, culture and homeland', in Globalizations,
Vol. 1(2), p. 201.
84 Mieville, C. 2007.
85 Imbert, P. 2004. 'Globalization and difference: displacement, culture and homeland', in Globalizations,
Vol. 1(2), p. 201.
86 Christensen, J. 2008. 'Dirty Money Flows Distort Our Economy and Corrupt Democracy', in The
Guardian, 30 May 2007. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2091098,00.html>
(Accessed 08/03/2008)
87 Ibid.
88 Mieville, C. 2007.
89 Ibid.
90 Ibid.

18
The Offshore World Justin Pickard

(images c/o Flickr users robertogreco, 7of666)

Gestalt

The Principality of Sealand maintained a semblance of autonomy and independence by keeping a low

profile and making the most of its 'quasi-legal halo'91. The pirates of the eighteenth century Atlantic avoided

capture by the colonial powers by clinging to the uncharted coves and islands of the Caribbean. Focusing on

the emergence of 'new forms of piracy in the interstices and smooth spaces of cyberspace, rather than the

Atlantic ... [positioned] economically in relation to the emergence of global, post-industrial capitalism' 92, it

becomes clear that – in contemporary copyright piracy – there may be the initial seeds of an incarnation of

the offshore which can transcend its reliance on the apparatus of statehood. Indeed, rather than embracing

the defensibility of the island or taking to the waves, contemporary proponents of file-sharing have achieved

freedom from state striation through a radical deterritorialization of their activities.

Take, for example, the events of May 2006, in which Swedish authorities seized servers belonging to

The Pirate Bay, a website which tracks and indexes links to unlicensed copies of copyrighted material,

including music, films, and television serials. Within three days, the site was back up and running, from

back-up servers based in the Netherlands. In January 2007, The Pirate Bay announced its intent to raise£65

million for the outright purchase of the Principality of Sealand, put on the market by Prince Michael,

91 Arenas, F. 2003. 'Cyberspace Jurisdiction and the Implications of Sealand', in Iowa Law Review, Vol.
88(5), p. 1181.
92 Land, C. 2007. p. 185.

19
The Offshore World Justin Pickard

following the partial collapse of HavenCo.93 Negotiations ultimately faltered, as the Spanish estate agent

overseeing the sale had pledged not to entertain a buyer who would act against the interests of the UK. As it

happened, the three Swedes who run the site found another way of avoiding state striation, and one far less

reliant on cooperation of a territorial entity. In an interview in February 2008, they claimed that a

decentralization of the site's infrastructure meant that The Pirate Bay was no longer in Sweden;

"It's a distributed system. We don't know where the servers are. We gave them to people we
trust and they don't know it's The Pirate Bay ... They then rent locations and space for them
somewhere else. It could be three countries. It could be six countries. We don't want to
know because then you'll have a problem shutting them down."94

Thus, in the aggregate actions of millions of Pirate Bay users, we have witnessed the birth of a gestalt

offshore; an exemplary smooth space in which data can flow freely, unrestrained by sovereign borders and IP

restrictions. Here, it is interesting that The Pirate Bay made a conscious decision to invoke the imagery of

piracy in its name and branding. For while the dominant cultural image of piracy has been commodified as

the froth of 'entertainment and fancy-dress ... a form of joyful play gliding along the surfaces of the society of

the spectacle'95, this act of naming draws on another, deeper history, invoking a 'proto-anarchist ideology of

autonomy, equality and community'96 in the name of resistance. The many-headed hydra - 'an antithetical

symbol of disorder and resistance, a powerful threat to the building of state, empire, and capitalism'97 -

returns in a new guise; that of the peer-to-peer network.

The peer-to-peer network was a radically decentralised system which 'use[d] the Internet to take

advantage of the potential of underutilised computing power and capacity distributed across space and

time.'98 These networks are ''contingent technological assemblages ... formed [of] the temporary connections

93 Anderson, N. 2007. 'The Pirate Bay hopes to buy its own country: Sealand', in ars technica, 15 January
2007, <http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070115-8618.html> (Accessed 24/04/2008)
94 Kravets, D. 2008. 'Pirate Bay Says It Can't Be Sunk, Servers Scattered Worldwide', Threat Level, 1
February 2008, <http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/02/the-pirate-bay.html> (Accessed
18/04/2008)
95 Land, C. 2007. p. 170.
96 Ibid.
97 Linebaugh, P. and M. Rediker. 2000. p. 2.
98 Leyshon, A. 2003. 'Scary monsters? Software formats, peer-to-peer networks, and the spectre of the
gift', in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Vol. 21(5), p. 548.

20
The Offshore World Justin Pickard

forged between the machines running the peer-to-peer program at the same time.' 99 Originally based around

a central index of available files, for as long as this index was based in a physical location, the network would

be vulnerable to the striating influence of the host state. With the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of

America) and RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) mobilising the striating capabilities of US

hegemony to convict those identified as complicit in copyright piracy, this weakness proved fatal to Napster,

which was shut down in July 2001.

In light of Napster's demise, the second generation of file-sharing applications abandoned the central

index. These were the first true peer-to-peer networks, which abandoned the hierarchical 'server-client ...

relations to create flatter, decentralised systems.'100 As an example, take the Kazaa client. Rather than relying

on a central index, Kazaa distributed its directories between the users' own computers, which were organised

into a network of nodes. Having found a file, the user would download it in a series of chunks, each from a

different source. There was, however, little incentive for those downloading the files to act as a host, which

led to a rampant 'free rider' problem. To get around this problem, the majority of current BitTorrent clients

have found a way to increase the download speeds for users who are willing to host – or 'seed' – files.

With the total deterritorialisation of The Pirate Bay's activities in early 2008, the file-sharing

networks of BitTorrent made the leap to that which Deleuze and Guattari referred to as a 'rhizomorphic'

structure. So, as 'a tree may be a tree, but a forest is a rhizome; a computer may have a centrally structured

memory and processor, but a network of computers can be decentralized and exchange information based on

a map.'101 For Deleuze and Guattari, the rhizome exists, if not as a binary opposition to, then distinct from the

structures of the tree. Rather than an ordered branching, 'any point of a rhizome can [and must] be

connected to anything other'102. The rhizome must be a decentralised network, with neither 'subject nor

object ... only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the

multiplicity changing in nature '103 Rather than permanent points, positions, or nodes, 'such as those found

99 Ibid.
100 Ibid.
101 Koh, C. 1997. 'Internet: Towards a Holistic Ontology', Diss. Murdoch University,
<http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/VID/jfk/thesis> (Accessed 18/04/2008)
102 Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari. 1988. p. 7.
103 Ibid. p. 8.

21
The Offshore World Justin Pickard

in a structure, tree, or root', the rhizome has 'only lines'104.

As described, the rhizome has more than a passing similarity to contemporary developments in

'mesh networking'. Take, for example, the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) programme, which has been

working on inexpensive laptop computer for children in the developing world. To maintain internet

connectivity in a place where there may not be much in the way of a network infrastructure, the OLPC

laptops have built-in Wi-Fi antennas, which will 'automatically create a "mesh network" with any other XO

computer within about one-third of a mile ... if any one of the linked computers has access to the Internet, all

of them will.'105 In this structure, any single node may be broken; the network can be 'shattered at a given

spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines.' 106 Deleuze and Guattari invoked the

example of social insects; '[you] can never get rid of ants ... they form an animal rhizome that can rebound

time and again after most of it has been destroyed.'107 The same applies the file-sharing networks of

BitTorrent, in which any single point in the network is expendable. The network is a perpetual autonomous;

a Deleuzian smooth defined by its

instability and tendency to metamorphosis, its resistance to regulation, its governing logic of access rather than
possession, the unknowability inherent to its vastness, its unmappability, and the tendency to engage with it as a
space of surfaces, to skim and glide over it, for our reading of it to be a question of our movement over its spaces
with the sense that, wherever we choose to pause, arrival at a final destination is always postponed.108

Now, although 'smooth spaces are not in themselves liberatory ... the struggle is changed or displaced in

them, and life reconstitutes its stakes, confronts new obstacles, invents new paces [and] switches

adversaries.'109 In the search for the rhizomorphic in the contemporary political economy; a smooth space

standing in contrast to the proprietary striations of commerce, then the current incarnation of the file-

sharing network is perhaps the closest thing there is.

104 Ibid. p. 8.
105 Lamb, G. 2007. 'A closer look at what '$100 laptop' will be', in Christian Science Monitor, 29 January
2007, <http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0129/p13s01-stct.html> (Accessed 24/04/2008)
106 Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari. 1988. p. 9.
107 Ibid.
108 Bayne, S. 2004. 'Smoothness and Striation in Digital Learning Spaces', in E-Learning, Vol. 1(2), p. 306.
109 Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari. 1988. p. 500.

22
The Offshore World Justin Pickard

In sharp contrast to the 'flows of information ... produced by known economic entities, regulated by

established nation states, and announced by published schedules of programming, the [network] is an

amorphous, myriad constellation of ever-changing locations and facilities that are subject to fundamental

alteration by anonymous, undesignated, unsalaried, and unauthorized users.'110 Precluding substantial

changes in the nature of international law, the perpetual flows of this rhizomorphic structure should be able

to perpetually elude the striating grasp of copyright owners (such as the MPAA and RIAA), intent on

enforcing their copyright on an international level. Although 'international agreements [may] attempt to

bridge these jurisdictional gaps and establish uniform enforcement of copyrights among trading partners,

data havens ... [and] anonymous P2P networks will guarantee that copyright infringement over the internet

will continue long into the future, with little or no legal recourse for copyright owners.'111

110 Poster, M. 2004. 'The Information Empire', in Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. 41(3), p. 320.
111 Fayle, K. 2005. 'Sealand ho! Music Pirates, Data Havens, and the Future of International Copyright
Law', in Hastings International and Comparative Law Review, Vol. 28(2), p. 248.

23
The Offshore World Justin Pickard

(images c/o Flickr users Nick Humphries, joshp)

Conclusions

The motto of the Principality of Sealand is 'E Mare Libertas', 'From the Sea, Freedom'. Freedom is,

however, a highly loaded word. Mieville described a landscape of cruise liner cities, millionaire

entrepreneurs, and offshore platforms, occupied by those who had 'recast their most banal avarice - the

disinclination to pay tax - as a principled blow for political freedom.' 112 However, the activities of Women on

Waves are equally as reliant on the regulatory bifurcations of the offshore as the activities of tax evaders, an

example in which the sea has been able to offer a freedom of far greater ambiguity. Finally, there's HavenCo's

offer to host the website of Tibet, shielding it from the striations and censorship of the People's Republic of

China. These examples, amongst others, illustrate that the offshore is never simply a space of pure economics

and unfettered capitalism, but a realm in which appeals to freedom have assumed a variety of forms.

As we have already seen, the sea can only ever offer a limited freedom. The island may be insulated

by international waters but, by virtue of sovereignty, it must be a member of the international community.

This limits the island's potential for freedom. If the island contravenes international norms, then it could

very easily fall victim to the striations of another state. The mobility of the boat may allow it to keep moving,

but there are physical restrictions on that which can be achieved while anchored in international waters, as

Rebecca Gomperts – amongst others – has discovered. We must concede that freedom, in any meaningful

sense, is not going to come from the sea.

112 Mieville, C. 2007.

24
The Offshore World Justin Pickard

In the absence of maritime salvation, the internet appeared – seemingly from nowhere – as another

space with seemingly liberatory potential. While the internet as a whole may have proven just as vulnerable

to striation as the oceans of the eighteenth century, in the aftermath of Napster, the pirate networks have

proven remarkably resilient. As a manifestation of the offshore, however, the p2p networks diverge from

Palan's taxonomy at a fairly fundamental level. The files which are exchanged by copyright pirates are not

subject a comparatively lax regulation, but a space which is totally unregulated. There is no onshore to this

offshore; no terra firma to the networked ocean. Files are being exchanged in smooth space, but this is

constitutive of a gift economy, not an offshore economy. As such, the conclusion must be that, while this

particular manifestation of the liberatory rhizome may promise freedom, this freedom cannot be a future

foundation for the informational offshore.

25
The Offshore World Justin Pickard

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