In legal usage, piracy can mean either:
1) crimes such as robbery, kidnapping, or similar violent and destructive activities on the high seas. The trial and punishment of such pirates may be under international law, or under the laws of the particular nation where the pirate has been captured. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Article 101 defines piracy as: “any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew of the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft. . . on the high seas against another ship or aircraft. . . [and] any act of voluntary participation [in a pirate ship].” The United States incorporates UNCLOS Article 101 in criminalizing piracy in 18 U.S.C. § 1651, which states “[w]hoever, on the high seas, commits the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations, and is afterwards brought into or found in the United States, shall be imprisoned for life.” As a case example, an 1820 Supreme Court decision, U.S. v. Furlong, affirmed the conviction of an Irishman for piracy because he murdered an English subject aboard an American shipping vessel.
[Last updated in December of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]