THERE was a time when piracy meant hairy men with eye patches raiding ships for stolen booty. At least then you knew where you stood.

These were men of low moral fibre, and no mistake. Arrrrrrrrr!

In the 21st century, things are a little more complex. Electronic piracy is a shadowy world of grey areas, clashing ideologies and desperate attempts by the establishment to keep up with rapidly changing habits and even more rapidly changing technology.

Various industry-supported bodies are keen to scream figures in our faces about how much piracy costs.

One recent American study by the Institute for Policy Innovation estimated that music piracy costs the US economy 12.5 billion dollars per year, and results in the loss of more than 70,000 jobs and 2 billion dollars in wages.

And that’s before we’ve even mentioned movies, games and books. Shiver me timbers. But, ahoy there matey ... I’m sceptical.

These studies seem to involve a lot of “estimates” (read: assumptions) based on who-knows-what. This particular study assumes that 20 per cent of the 20 billion illegal downloads worldwide would have been legitimately purchased if piracy did not exist.

So, if a teenager on a very limited income downloaded 20,000 MP3s illegally, in, say, six months (easy enough to do), this study would estimate that they would otherwise have spent (using iTunes’ 79p per track pricing as a basis) £3,160 on music.

When I was a teenager and piracy was virtually non-existent, there would have been no hope of me spending £3,000 on CDs in six months. Furthermore, there are other studies by people who share my scepticism.

One by the Swiss government found that a third of their citizens aged over 15 download pirated music, movies and games, but they have constant entertainment budgets and don't spend any less money as a result.

A Dutch study found that lesser-known bands profit most from file-sharing, using it as a free viral marketing tool.

One could postulate that the real losers to piracy are not artists but the record company and film production bosses who are used to many years of exerting supreme control over their industries, but are now seeing that control slip through their fingers.

I must apologise in advance to readers who thought I was working up to a profound or meaningful answer when I ask: so why are industry bosses so worried about piracy? Because they arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.