DOKK Library

Sealand, Havenco, and the rule of law

Authors James Grimmelmann

License CC-BY-3.0

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                                                                      James Grimmelmann*

         In 2000, a group of American entrepreneurs moved to a former
   World War II antiaircraft platform in the North Sea, seven miles off
   the British coast. There, they launched HavenCo, one of the strangest
   start-ups in Internet history. A former pirate radio broadcaster, Roy
   Bates, had occupied the platform in the 1960s, moved his family
   aboard, and declared it to be the sovereign Principality of Sealand.
   HavenCo’s founders were opposed to governmental censorship and
   control of the Internet; by putting computer servers on Sealand, they
   planned to create a “data haven” for unpopular speech, safely beyond
   the reach of any other country. This Article tells the full story of
   Sealand and HavenCo—and examines what they have to tell us about
   the nature of the rule of law in the age of the Internet.
         The story itself is fascinating enough: it includes pirate radio,
   shotguns, rampant copyright infringement, a Red Bull skateboarding
   special, perpetual motion machines, and the Montevideo Convention
   on the Rights and Duties of State. But its implications for the rule of
   law are even more remarkable. Previous scholars have seen
   HavenCo as a straightforward challenge to the rule of law: by threat-
   ening to undermine national authority, HavenCo was opposed to all
   law. As the fuller history shows, this story is too simplistic. HavenCo
   also depended on international law to recognize and protect Sealand,
   and on Sealand law to protect it from Sealand itself. Where others
   have seen HavenCo’s failure as the triumph of traditional regulatory
   authorities over HavenCo, this Article argues that in a very real sense,
   HavenCo failed not from too much law but from too little. The “law”

      * Associate Professor of Law, New York Law School. I presented earlier versions of this Arti-
cle at the Bits Without Borders conference at Michigan State University, to the Information Society
Project at Yale Law School, and to faculty workshops at New York Law School and Fordham Law
School. My thanks for their comments to the attendees there, to the readers of the Volokh Conspiracy
blog, and to Aislinn Black, Claude Aiken, David Auerbach, Robert Blecker, Andrea Casillas, Michael
Froomkin, Jean Galbraith, Nathaniel Gleicher, Peter Hirtle, Molly Land, Jan Lewis, Dominic Mauro,
David Post, Harry Surden, Berin Szoka, and Christopher Wong. Nate Anderson generously shared
the Sealand-related fruits of his research for his forthcoming book, The Internet Police. William Mills
at the NYLS library helped track down numerous sources. Geoffrey Weg and Katie Baxter provided
research assistance. This Article is available for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
U.S. license,

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406                      UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                              [Vol. 2012

      that was supposed to keep HavenCo safe was law only in a thin, for-
      malistic sense, disconnected from the human institutions that make
      and enforce law. But without those institutions, law does not work, as
      HavenCo discovered.

                                   TABLE OF CONTENTS
I.   INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................. 406
II.  SEALAND ...................................................................................................... 412
     A. 1942: Roughs Tower ........................................................................... 413
     B. 1966–1967: Roy Bates ........................................................................ 414
     C. 1967: Roy Bates vs. The United Kingdom .......................................... 418
     D. 1967–1968: The Principality of Sealand ............................................ 421
     E. 1968–1978: Grand Schemes ............................................................... 424
     F. 1978: Civil War .................................................................................. 427
     G. 1978–1990: Pirate Broadcasting Redux ............................................. 430
     H. 1987–2011: Recent Developments...................................................... 434
     I.   Life on Sealand ................................................................................... 437
     J.   Other Sealands ................................................................................... 439
     K. Themes ................................................................................................ 443
III. HAVENCO..................................................................................................... 445
     A. “Data Haven” .................................................................................... 445
     B. Rise ..................................................................................................... 449
     C. Fall ..................................................................................................... 453
IV. THE RULE OF LAW........................................................................................ 457
     A. National Law ...................................................................................... 459
          1.    HavenCo and National Law ...................................................... 460
          2.    The Rule of Law As Self-Government ........................................ 463
     B. International Law ............................................................................... 465
          1.    Sealand and International Law ................................................. 465
          2.    The Rule of Law As Formal Legality ......................................... 473
     C. Sealand Law ....................................................................................... 476
          1.    The Rule of Law As Restraint on Government ........................... 476
          2.    HavenCo and Sealand Law ....................................................... 477
     D. Connections ........................................................................................ 479
V. CONCLUSION ................................................................................................ 481

                                          I.     INTRODUCTION
     Sealand is stranger than fiction. A pair of concrete legs supporting
a 120-foot by 50-foot platform, 60 feet above the North Sea, this “small-
est country on earth” sits 7 miles off the British coast. Built during
World War II for antiaircraft defense, it was occupied in the 1960s by
Roy Bates, a former pirate radio operator who declared himself ruler of
the new Principality of Sealand. Boosting his claim, a British court ac-
quitted him in 1968 on firearms charges because Sealand stood outside of
British territorial waters. He made Sealand into his family’s home:
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No. 2]          SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                              407

promulgating a constitution; issuing stamps, coins, and passports; and
generally adopting the trappings of nationhood. Sealand has even had a
coup and countercoup: in 1978 a German lawyer seized control of the
platform, only to be taken prisoner by Bates in a daring helicopter land-
ing a few days later.
      Sealand’s moment of greatest fame came in 2000, when it offered
the ultimate in literally offshore data hosting. The Internet startup
HavenCo built out Sealand as a data center, moving in computer servers
and connecting them to the Internet. The idea was that HavenCo would
be a data haven, which would store content that was illegal in other coun-
tries. Online casinos, subpoena-proof corporate records, good old-
fashioned pornography—HavenCo would host it all, safely beyond the
reach of any other country’s courts. The company launched to massive
press coverage (including a cover story in Wired1), promising unfettered
free speech to the masses while extending a raised middle finger to cen-
sors and control freaks around the world.2
      This much is familiar to scholars.3 Talk to any Internet-law scholar

      1. See Simson Garfinkel, Welcome to Sealand. Now Bugger Off, WIRED, July 2000, at 230.
      2. See, e.g., Around the Globe, 27 COMPUTER L. & TAX REP. 16, 16 (2000); Mara D. Bellaby,
An Internet “Mouse that Roars” Pops up off Britain, HOUS. CHRON., June 25, 2000, at 10; Steve
Boggan, Americans Turn a Tin-Pot State off the Essex Coast into World Capital of Computer Anarchy,
INDEP. (Eng.), June 5, 2000, at 3; David Canton, Creating a Country to Avoid Jurisdiction, LONDON
FREE PRESS, June 16, 2000, at D3; David Cohen, Offshore Haven: Cold Water Poured on Sealand Se-
curity, GUARDIAN, June 6, 2000, at 24; Anne Cornelius, Legal Issues Online Firms Set to Take Refuge
in Offshore Fortress, SCOTSMAN, June 15, 2000, at 26; Peter Ford, Banned on Land, but Free at Sea?,
CHRISTIAN SCI. MONITOR, June 23, 2000, at 1; Dan Gillmor, Data Haven May Be a Step in the Right
Direction, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, June 6, 2000, at 1C; Carlos Grande, Island Fortress’s “Data Ha-
ven” to Confront E-Trade Regulation, FIN. TIMES, June 6, 2000, at 2; Ann Harrison, Data Haven Says
It Offers Freedom from Observation, COMPUTERWORLD, Nov. 13, 2000, at 50; Bob Low, Techlife:
Tiptoing Through the Web, DAILY REC. (Scot.), July 1, 2000, at 42; John Markoff, Rebel Outpost on
the Fringes of Cyberspace, N.Y. TIMES, June 4, 2000, at 14; Wade O’Leary, Pirates Board the Net,
DAILY TELEGRAPH (Austl.), June 7, 2010, at 57; Edward Sherwin, A Distant Sense of Data Security,
WASH. POST, Sept. 20, 2000, at G8; Europe Acts on Net Tax Loophole, ACCT. AGE, June 8, 2000, at 3;
Internet Exiles, NEW SCIENTIST, June 17, 2000, at 1717; Internet “Island” Set Up in the North Sea: Data
Haven with Gun Guards and Radar, BIRMINGHAM EVENING MAIL (U.K.), June 6, 2000, at 17; Internet
Secrets Safe at Sea, COVENTRY EVENING TELEGRAPH (U.K.), June 6, 2000, at 17; Rebel Sea Fortress
Dreams of Being “Data Haven,” WALL ST. J., June 26, 2000, at C21A; Safe Platform to Dock Your Da-
ta, AUSTRALIAN, June 13, 2000, at C2; Tiny Principality Offers Internet Free of Government Regula-
tion, FLA. TIMES-UNION, June 25, 2000, at A18; Christine Whitehouse, The Data Haven, TIME
WORLD, (July 17, 2000),,2056176,00.html; Declan
McCullagh, A Data Sanctuary Is Born, WIRED (June 4, 2000),
news/2000/06/36749; Declan McCullagh, Sealand: Come to Data, WIRED (June 5, 2000), [hereinafter McCullagh, Sealand: Come to Da-
ta]; Theo Mullen, A Haven for Net Lawbreakers?, INTERNETWEEK (June 19, 2000),; CNN Worldview: Sealand Evolves from Offshore
Platform to High-Tech Haven (CNN television broadcast June 12, 2000); World News Tonight: Man
Starts Own Country Off Coast of Britain (ABC television broadcast June 6, 2000).
JURISDICTION 40–46 (2005); Ronald J. Deibert, The Internet and the “Borderless” World, 3 ISUMA
CAN. J. POL’Y RES. 113 (2002); Trevor A. Dennis, The Principality of Sealand: Nation Building by In-
dividuals, 10 TULSA J. COMP. & INT’L L. 261, 296 (2002); Kevin Fayle, Sealand Ho! Music Pirates, Data
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about this “cyberlaw textbook author’s dream”4 and the odds are good
that he or she will be able to tell you something like the story above.
What’s more, scholars also have a story to tell about why Sealand and
HavenCo matter: they perfectly symbolize a spirit of apocalyptic conflict
between the Internet and national authority. Like John Perry Barlow or
Napster, HavenCo stands for a “government-free vision of the Internet.”5
As Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu put it, “HavenCo was the apotheosis of
the late 1990s belief in the futility of territorial government in the Inter-
net era.”6

Havens, and the Future of International Copyright Law, 28 HASTINGS INT’L & COMP. L. REV. 247, 262–
63 (2005); Jeremy N. Geltzer, The New Pirates of the Caribbean: How Data Havens Can Provide Safe
Harbors on the Internet Beyond Governmental Reach, 10 SW. J.L. & TRADE AMS. 433 (2004); Jonathan
Zittrain, Be Careful What You Ask For: Reconciling a Global Internet and Local Law, in WHO RULES
eds., 2003); Jeffrey D. Kramer, Note, Seafaring Data Havens: Google’s Patented Pirate Ship, 2010 U.
ILL. J.L. TECH. & POL’Y 359. Sealand and HavenCo also have brief walk-on parts in many articles
whose chief concerns lie elsewhere. Almost all of these articles take HavenCo’s claims at face value
and see only its challenge to traditional notions of law and jurisdiction. See Susan W. Brenner, The
Privacy Privilege: Law Enforcement, Technology, and the Constitution, 7 U. FLA. J. TECH. L. POL’Y,
123, 179 (2002); Paul D. Callister, The Internet, Regulation, and the Market for Loyalties: An Economic
Analysis of Transborder Information Flow, 2002 U. ILL. J.L. TECH. & POL’Y 59, 78; Anupam Chander,
Trade 2.0, 34 YALE J. INT’L L. 281, 308 (2009); Lance Clouse, Virtual Border Customs: Prevention of
International Online Music Piracy Within the Ever-Evolving Technological Landscape, 38 VAL. U. L.
REV. 109, 119 (2003); Arthur J. Cockfield, Transforming the Internet into a Taxable Forum: A Case
Study in E-Commerce Taxation, 85 MINN. L. REV. 1171, 1195–96 (2001); Debbie Collier, Freedom of
Expression in Cyberspace: Real Limits in a Virtual Domain, 16 STELLENBOSCH L. REV. 21, 31 (2005);
Erin Suzanne Davis, A World Wide Problem on the World Wide Web: International Responses to
Transnational Identity Theft via the Internet, 12 WASH. U. J.L. & POL’Y 201, 224 (2003); Graeme B.
Dinwoodie, The Development and Incorporation of International Norms in the Formation of Copyright
Law, 62 OHIO ST. L.J. 733, 745 (2001); Jonathan A. Franklin & Roberta J. Morris, International Juris-
diction and Enforcement of Judgments in the Era of Global Networks: Irrelevance of, Goals for, and
Comments on the Current Proposals, 77 CHI.-KENT L. REV. 1213, 1233 (2002); Bernhard Grossfeld,
CyberCorporation Law: Comparative Legal Semiotics/Comparative Legal Logistics, 35 INT’L LAW.
1405, 1416 (2001); Debora Halbert, Two Faces of Disintermediation: Corporate Control or Accidental
Anarchy, 2006 MICH. ST. L. REV. 83, 87; Michael J. Listner, The Ownership and Exploitation of Outer
Space: A Look at Foundational Law and Future Legal Challenges to Current Claims, 1 REGENT J.
INT’L L. 75, 93 (2003); Julien Mailland, Freedom of Speech, the Internet, and the Costs of Control: The
French Example, 33 N.Y.U. J. INT’L L. & POL. 1179, 1202 (2001); Abbey L. Mansfield, Cyber-Libelling
the Glitterati: Protecting the First Amendment for Internet Speech, 9 VAND. J. ENT. & TECH. L. 897, 913
(2007); Viktor Mayer-Schönberger & John Crowley, Napster’s Second Life: The Regulatory Challenges
of Virtual Worlds, 100 NW. U. L. REV. 1775, 1776 (2006); Michael J. Mellis, Internet Piracy of Live
Sports Telecasts, 18 MARQ. SPORTS L. REV. 259, 266 (2008); Roda Mushkat, The International Legal
Personality of Macau, 24 HONG KONG L.J. 328, 328 (1994); Bridget A. O’Leary Smith, NTP, Inc. v.
Research in Motion, Ltd.: Losing Control and Finding the Locus of Infringing Use, 46 JURIMETRICS
437, 452 (2006); Richard L. Reinhold, Some Things that Multilateral Tax Treaties Might Usefully Do, 57
TAX LAW. 661, 678 (2004); David E. Sorkin, Technical and Legal Approaches to Unsolicited Electronic
Mail, 35 U.S.F. L. REV. 325, 381 (2001); Steven R. Swanson, Google Sets Sail: Ocean-Based Server
Farms and International Law, 43 CONN. L. REV. 709, 712 (2011).
      4. Zittrain, supra note 3, at 17.
      5. ZITTRAIN, supra note 3, at 40.
      6. GOLDSMITH & WU, supra note 3, at 66; see also Frank B. Arenas, Cyberspace Jurisdiction
and the Implications of Sealand, 88 IOWA L. REV. 1165, 1167 (2003) (“Sealand demonstrates in practi-
cal terms what the Internet has long been doing: making notions of geographic jurisdiction a meaning-
less tool for dealing with a digital environment.”).
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No. 2]          SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                              409

      This makes HavenCo and Sealand sound like simple pirates, who
never met a law they liked. The truth, however, is more complicated. To
see why, consider a simple question—why Sealand? Why did HavenCo
set up shop there, rather than, say, trying to hide within an existing coun-
try? What did Sealand bring to the table? The answer is obvious, so ob-
vious that its implications are easy to overlook. Sealand claimed to be a
sovereign state, or at least close enough to play one on TV. Sealand of-
fered HavenCo the protection of its laws.
      Thus, the conventional wisdom is wrong—or at least incomplete—
to see Sealand and HavenCo only in terms of their opposition to national
law. HavenCo also relied on Sealand’s willingness to enact permissive
Internet laws, and both HavenCo and Sealand relied on international
law’s willingness to recognize Sealand as a sovereign state. They weren’t
anti-legal, just selectively legal.
      The conventional wisdom is also wrong—or at least incomplete—in
another, subtler way: it relies on an impoverished view of Sealand’s his-
tory.7 Everyone knows the story above, but there’s more, much more
than this potted version of events. Did you know, for example, that
when Sealand caught fire in 2006, a British rescue helicopter and fire-
fighting tug came to the rescue?8 Or that the dot-com crash did more to
cut off Sealand’s network links than any national government?9 Or that,
when HavenCo’s business faltered, Sealand allegedly nationalized the
company?10 There is something more interesting here than just a tiny na-
tion with a data haven.
      This Article aims to fill both of these gaps. Its first major task is to
give a more complete account of Sealand and HavenCo’s history, from
Sealand’s construction during World War II to the Red Bull skateboard-
ing special filmed there in 2008. It draws upon a wide range of previous-
ly unexamined sources, including unsealed files from the United King-
dom’s National Archives,11 contemporary newspapers, HavenCo’s
corporate documents, the HavenCo founders’ postmortem examinations
of their experience, and archives of long-lost webpages from Sealand’s
friends and foes.
      The Article’s second major task is to use this history to map
HavenCo’s tortured relationship with law and the rule of law. There are

      7. The one notable exception is an article by an English historian, written with access to closed
files held by the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and published as this Article was in
the editorial process. See Grant Hibberd, The Last Great Adventure of the Twentieth Century: The
Sealand Affair in British Diplomacy, in 4 BRITAIN AND THE WORLD 269 (2011); see also Grant
Hibberd, The Sealand Affair: The Last Great Adventure of the Twentieth Century?, FOREIGN &
COMMONWEALTH OFF. (Nov. 19, 2010) (downloaded using iTunes).
      8. See infra Part II.D.
      9. See infra Part III.C.
     10. See infra Part III.C.
     11. Throughout this Article, references to documents held by the U.K. National Archives will be
indicated with “UK-NA” followed by the National Archives code for the file containing them. Com-
plete copies of all cited files are on file with the author.
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at least three different bodies of law at work: the national law that
HavenCo helped its clients evade, the international law under which
Sealand claimed statehood, and the permissive Sealand laws that guaran-
teed HavenCo’s freedom of action. HavenCo stood in strikingly differ-
ent relationships to them, and this Article argues that those relationships
reflect different theories of the rule of law:
         National law: HavenCo’s entire purpose was to help individuals
         circumvent national laws restricting freedom of speech on the In-
         ternet. As such, HavenCo’s existence depended on denying both
         the legitimacy and enforceability of such laws. This put
         HavenCo on a collision course with a vision of the rule of law as
         self-government: the ability of a political community to choose
         collectively the rules it will live under. If HavenCo had truly had
         its way, no nation would have been able to choose for itself to
         have restrictive intellectual property, privacy, or gambling laws.
         International law: If Sealand had been subjected to the jurisdic-
         tion of the United Kingdom, HavenCo would have had to com-
         ply with British law. As such, HavenCo’s existence also also de-
         pended on Sealand’s status as a sovereign state under
         international law. Here, HavenCo represents a vision of the rule
         of law as formal legality: evenhanded application of general, pro-
         spective rules. In court, Sealand allies argued that it was invio-
         late because it had a “territory,” a “population,” and a “govern-
         ment,” as those terms had been defined under international law.
         Sealand law: As a company operating within Sealand and requir-
         ing access to computers physically located there, HavenCo was
         subject to the authority of Sealand’s royal family. As such,
         HavenCo’s existence also depended on the permissiveness of
         Sealand law. Here, HavenCo requires a vision of the rule of law
         as restraint on government: protection of individuals against arbi-
         trary governmental action. HavenCo needed promises that
         Sealand’s laws would continue to be tolerant of its activities and
         that its property wouldn’t be expropriated.
      Juxtaposing these three theories of the rule of law allows us to see
that there is something deeply anomalous in HavenCo’s simultaneous re-
jection of national self-government and embrace of formal legality and
restraint on government. Having started from the premise that the polit-
ical systems of existing nations could never be trusted to protect free
speech, HavenCo needed a place outside of them to stand while it
beamed its bits their way and undermined their national Internet laws.
That place needed to be able to stand up to annoyed nations, which led
HavenCo to seek Sealand, with its colorable claims to sovereignty. And
once HavenCo had chosen a protector with power, it also needed to be
protected from the abuse of that power. HavenCo expected internation-
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No. 2]          SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                              411

al law to protect it from the rest of the world and expected Sealand law
to protect it from Sealand itself.
      As the fuller history shows, however, it’s unclear that either interna-
tional law or Sealand law could bear the weight HavenCo needed to
place on them. Externally, Sealand’s history doesn’t exactly paint a pic-
ture of a self-reliant and independent polity: very few people have ever
lived aboard, and they have never been self-sufficient. Nor have its at-
tempts to obtain legal recognition in the community of nations borne any
significant fruit. Internally, Sealand, with its violent and checkered histo-
ry and its minuscule population, lacked political and social institutions.
Sealand “law” was never much more than a formality or a tacit agree-
ment, and when things on Sealand deteriorated, HavenCo found itself
boxed into a corner, precisely because it had rejected national and inter-
national authority over what happened on Sealand. In the end,
HavenCo failed not from too much law, but too little.
      This Article focuses on legal history and the jurisprudence of the
rule of law, but these are hardly the only places where Sealand and
HavenCo’s story may prove instructive. Certainly, their experience
holds valuable lessons for others who dream of escaping the existing or-
der of things by setting up their own jurisdictions, including
micronations,12 seasteads,13 and space colonies.14 It bears, too, on basic
questions about the Internet’s interaction with offline law,15 Internet gov-
ernance,16 the nature of law in virtual worlds,17 and the creation of new

Adam Clanton, The Men Who Would Be King: Forgotten Challenges to U.S. Sovereignty, 26 UCLA
PAC. BASIN L.J. 1 (2008); Lawrence M. Frankel, International Law of Secession: New Rules for a New
Era, 14 HOUS. J. INT’L L. 521 (1992).
book_beta/full_book_beta.pdf; Brad Taylor, SEASTEADING INST., Governing Seasteads: An Outline
of the Options (Nov. 2010),
     14. See generally Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and
Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, Jan. 27, 1967, 18 U.S.T. 2410;
GOVERNANCE OF SPACE SOCIETIES (1986); William J. Brennan, Jr., Space Colonization and the Law,
3 HARV. J.L. & TECH., Spring 1990, at 7; Dmitry N. Feofanov, Luna Law: The Libertarian Vision in
Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, 63 TENN. L. REV. 71 (1995); Barton Beebe, Note, Law’s
Empire and the Final Frontier: Legalizing the Future in the Early Corpus Juris Spatialis, 108 YALE L.J.
1737 (1999); Charles Stross, Space Cadets, CHARLIE’S DIARY (Aug. 2, 2010, 9:25 AM), http://www.
(2007); Orin S. Kerr, The Problem of Perspective in Internet Law, 91 GEO. L.J. 357 (2003); Joel R.
Reidenberg, Lex Informatica: The Formulation of Information Policy Rules Through Technology, 76
TEX. L. REV. 553 (1998).
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online political communities.18 Sealand’s experiment with turning itself
into a data haven sheds light on some nations’ experiments with turning
themselves into tax havens—and on other nations’ attempts to fight
back.19 The same could be said about offshore banking.20 Thematically,
the issues of territory, political community, and legal institutions have
obvious connections with constitutional, administrative, international,
and immigration law. In the interests of getting the history and the juris-
prudence right, this Article can do little more than gesture at these other
important issues and content itself with laying a useful foundation upon
which others may build.
      The Article proceeds in three parts. Parts II and III tell the full his-
tory of Sealand and HavenCo, respectively, from Sealand’s construction
in 1942 through HavenCo’s rise and fall six decades later. Part IV then
explores their relationship to law using the tripartite framework of na-
tional, international, and Sealand law. By bringing out HavenCo’s im-
plicit theory of law, it will shed new light on the causes and implications
of HavenCo’s failure. Finally, the Conclusion emphasizes the basic les-
son of Sealand and HavenCo: law is made by people, for human purpos-
es. Even in an Internet age, law cannot be decoupled from the all-too-
human institutions behind it.

                                        II. SEALAND
    Before we begin with the history, a note on terminology. Roughs
Tower is the original name of the antiaircraft platform that Roy Bates
and his family occupied in 1966–1968. Sealand is the name he gave to it,

INTERNET GOVERNANCE (2010); A. Michael Froomkin, Habermas@Discourse.Net: Toward a Critical
Theory of Cyberspace, 116 HARV. L. REV. 749 (2003).
ONLINE WORLDS (2010); Jack M. Balkin, Virtual Liberty: Freedom to Design and Freedom to Play in
Virtual Worlds, 90 VA. L. REV. 2043 (2004); James Grimmelmann, Virtual Worlds As Comparative
Law, 49 N.Y.L. SCH. L. REV. 147 (2004); Michael Risch, Virtual Rule of Law, 112 W. VA. L. REV. 1
(2009); Nicolas Suzor, The Role of the Rule of Law in Virtual Communities, 25 BERKELEY TECH. L.J.
1817 (2010).
CYBERSPACE (2009); Neil Weinstock Netanel, Cyberspace Self-Governance: A Skeptical View from
Liberal Democratic Theory, 88 CALIF. L. REV. 395 (2000); Ruth Wedgwood, Cyber-Nations, 88 KY.
L.J. 957 (1999–2000).
     19. See generally Reuven S. Avi-Yonah, Globalization, Tax Competition, and the Fiscal Crisis of
the Welfare State, 113 HARV L. REV. 1573 (2000); Allison Christians, Sovereignty, Taxation and Social
Contract, 18 MINN. J. INT’L L. 99 (2009); Charles R. Irish, Tax Havens, 15 VAND. J. TRANSNAT’L L. 449
(1982); Diane M. Ring, What’s at Stake in the Sovereignty Debate?: International Tax and the Nation-
State, 49 VA. J. INT’L L. 155 (2008); Adam H. Rosenzweig, Why Are There Tax Havens?, 52 WM. &
MARY L. REV. 923 (2010).
     20. See generally C. Todd Jones, Compulsion over Comity: The United States’ Assault on Foreign
Bank Secrecy, 12 NW. J. INT’L L. & BUS. 454 (1992); Elana Marty-Nelson, Offshore Asset Protection
Trusts: Having Your Cake and Eating It Too, 47 RUTGERS L. REV. 11 (1994); Bernhard F. Meyer, Swiss
Banking Secrecy and Its Legal Implications in the United States, 14 NEW ENG. L. REV. 18 (1978); Stew-
art E. Sterk, Asset Protection Trusts: Trust Law’s Race to the Bottom?, 85 CORNELL L. REV. 1035
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No. 2]          SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                           413

or, more formally, The Principality of Sealand. Since 1978, a group of
Germans have claimed to be the rightful government of Sealand; this Ar-
ticle will describe them as the German Sealand. Finally, HavenCo is the
Internet colocation company launched in 2000 by a group of Americans
whose principal place of business was Sealand. This Article uses “na-
tion” to refer to any political entity that claims independence, “state” to
refer to a nation that is sovereign under international law, and “country”
to refer to one that fits the layperson’s mental model of a nation-state
with substantial territory, significant population, stable government, and
shared national identity.

                                A.     1942: Roughs Tower

      Roughs Tower, which would become Sealand, was one of four plat-
forms built by Britain in the Second World War at the seaward end of
the Thames Estuary, where it opens out into the North Sea: Sunk Head,
Knock John, Tongue Sands, and Roughs Tower.21 The four were collec-
tively known as the Maunsell Sea Forts, after their designer, and they
were built to provide antiaircraft defense and radar coverage for the ap-
proach to the Thames Estuary.22 Each of the platforms consisted of a
120-foot by 50-foot deck, resting atop a pair of cylindrical concrete tow-
ers, each twenty-four feet in diameter and sixty feet high.23 The towers,
in turn, rest on a concrete pontoon, permanently flooded so that it pro-
vides a stable base on the seabed.24 The deck originally held a two-story
superstructure, taking up about one-third of the platform. The upper
story housed a small control tower; the lower story had a long hallway
with a galley and officers’ quarters on one side and bathrooms on the
      Roughs Tower, the furthest out to sea of the four, was built at a
wharf in Gravesend. On February 11, 1942,26 it was towed into position

    21. Sources sometimes refer to it as “Rough Tower” or “HMF [His Majesty’s Fort] Rough.”
Rough Tower, OFFSHORE RADIO, (last visited Jan. 23,
2012). It takes its name from the sandbar on which it stands. See Public Warning of Internet Hoax:
“Principality of Sealand,” PRINCIPALITY SEALAND,
htm (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
(2005) (describing construction of forts). Britain also built several larger complexes, the Maunsell
Army Forts, each of which consisted of seven separate towers, standing on legs above the sea, and
connected by walkways. See id.; Red Sands Sea Fort and Shivering Sands Fort, UNDERGROUND KENT, (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
    23. See GERRY BISHOP, OFFSHORE RADIO 121 (1975) (pillar dimensions); Scott Simon, Week-
end Edition: Profile—Sovereign Principality of Sealand (Nat’l Pub. Radio broadcast Aug. 11, 2001)
(deck dimensions).
    24. See Sealand Radio—Part 1, BOB LE-ROI,
RadioOne/SealandRadio_1.html (last updated Feb. 3, 2011).
    25. See Welcome to Sealand, BOB LE-ROI,
ThisIsSealand.html (last updated Jan. 7, 2010) (providing an original plan of the main deck).
    26. Sealand Radio—Part 1, supra note 24.
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414                    UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                       [Vol. 2012

at 51º 53’ 40.8” latitude north, 1º 28’ 56.7” longitude east,27 about seven
miles from the nearest coastline, the port of Felixstowe.28 At 4:30 PM,
the pontoon was flooded and within fifteen minutes, Roughs Tower had
settled into place on the seabed.29 During the war, Roughs Tower housed
approximately 120 men who lived in cramped quarters in the concrete
legs.30 The British government abandoned the Maunsell Sea Forts in
1948, and they sat vacant for the next decade.31

                                  B.     1966–1967: Roy Bates

      Enter Paddy Roy Bates. In the words of one of his employees,
         Roy was a throwback. He should have been born in the time
   of the first Queen Elizabeth and sailed with Drake. If ever there
   was a true buccaneer, it was Roy. A tall, burly man, with a ruddy
   face and the kind of high, hectoring voice which afflicted so many
   of his generation who had been to private schools. He had been at
   one time, the youngest Major in the British Army, and he ran his
   household and his business along more or less, army lines. In addi-
   tion, as I was to find out later, he was the kind of man who had
   creditors everywhere, but it never seemed to bother him.32
      A World War II veteran and former major,33 Roy Bates fought in
North Africa and Italy,34 and was wounded in action several times.35 On
his return, “he made a fortune in factories, a fishing fleet, and other busi-
nesses.”36 One of those businesses, though perhaps not the most profit-

     27. See id.
     28. I have marked the location on a custom Google Map. Sealand, GOOGLE MAPS, http:
(last visited Jan. 23, 2012). Roughs Tower is technically slightly closer to English territory than that
distance might suggest because it stands opposite the channel into Felixstowe, where the Orwell and
Stour rivers emerge from their estuaries into a wide channel. The tower is between five and six miles
seaward of the datum line marking the mouth of that channel. See Regina v. Bates, [1968] (UK-NA:
LO 2/1088) (transcript of the shorthand notes of Hibbit and Sanders).
     29. See Sealand Radio–Part 1, supra note 24.
     30. See Simon Sellars, Sealand: On the Heap, SIMONSELLARS.COM (Dec. 10, 2007), http://www.
     31. Elwyn Jones & Dingle Foot, Continental Shelf Roughs Tower Fort (Aug. 21, 1967) (UK-NA:
LO 2/1088).
KNOCK JOHN FORT 25 (2005).
     33. Marjorie Miller & Richard Boudreaux, A Nation for Friend and Faux, L.A. TIMES, June 7,
2000, at A1.
     34. See id.
     35. See Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 235. In 2004 Bates told a reporter for the Independent that he
had been captured by the Italians during the war and tried to escape so often that he was sentenced to
death, winning a reprieve only at the last possible instant, as the firing squad raised its rifles. See Mark
Lucas, Sealand Forever! The Bizarre Story of Europe’s Smallest Self-Proclaimed State, INDEPENDENT
(ENG.), Nov. 27, 2004, at 33.
     36. Miller & Boudreaux, supra note 34; see also Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 235 (a “30-boat fish-
ing fleet”); Adela Gooch, Storm Warning, GUARDIAN, Mar. 28, 2008, at 38 (“the nation’s largest in-
shore fishing fleet”); Jack Gould, Radio: British Commercial Broadcasters Are at Sea, N.Y. TIMES,
Mar. 25, 1966, at 83 (“Mr. Bates, who once sold British seaweed to florists in New York”).
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No. 2]           SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                                  415

able, was pirate radio. In the mid-1960s, the British Broadcasting Corpo-
ration (BBC) held a legal monopoly on radio broadcasting; anyone else
transmitting radio signals to the public faced prosecution. Since the BBC
saw itself as having a civilizing mission, it aired far less rock and popular
music than the British public generally was interested in hearing, creating
an opportunity for musical arbitrage.37 Roy Bates and other entrepre-
neurs figured that by transmitting from ships outside of Britain’s three-
mile territorial waters, they could avoid the reach of the radio laws. The
best-known of the pirate stations was Radio Caroline, on whose story the
recent movie Pirate Radio is based, albeit rather loosely.38 Between 1964
and 1967, a kind of mild anarchy ruled the airwaves;39 even as parts of
Her Majesty’s government sought ways to shut down the pirate stations,40
businesses and barons purchased advertising on them.41
     In 1965, Roy Bates founded an offshore station, Radio Essex, on the
Knock John platform, the closest in of the Maunsell Sea Forts.42 He
wasn’t the first to have the idea; he set up shop on Knock John only by
driving off the staff of the competing Radio City.43 Unfortunately for
Roy Bates, Knock John, while offshore, wasn’t quite offshore enough.
At one and one-half miles from the coast, it was comfortably inside Eng-
land’s three-mile territorial limit.44 The government had at first stood by

INFORMATION AGE 27–30, 79–85 (2011).
     38. See BISHOP, supra note 23, at 23–43; ROBERT CHAPMAN, SELLING THE SIXTIES: THE
PIRATES AND POP MUSIC RADIO 60 (1992) (“Anyone who can remember anything at all about pirate
radio in the 1960s can usually remember two names: Radio Caroline and Radio London are synony-
mous with the offshore era.”); see also STEVE CONWAY, SHIPROCKED: LIFE ON THE WAVES WITH
RADIO CAROLINE (2009) (giving personal history of Radio Caroline from 1987 to 1991).
     39. See generally BISHOP, supra note 23; CHAPMAN, supra note 38.
     40. See CHAPMAN, supra note 38, at 32–42 (discussing political reaction to pirate radio).
     41. See T-Shirts and Foreign Crews Are Stations’ Weapons, TIMES (ENG.), July 29, 1966, at 1
(“Lord Thomson of Fleet, whose wares are advertised on Radio 390, Radio 270 and Radio Scot-
land.”); see also BISHOP, supra note 23, at 26 (listing pirate radio advertising rate cards); id. at 29 (es-
timating Radio Caroline South revenue at £15,000 per week in 1965); CHAPMAN, supra note 38, at 84–
90 (discussing advertising on pirate radio stations); id. at 110 (estimating Radio London’s 1966 adver-
tising gross at over £1,000,000); see also Letter from T. Scott, Private Sec’y to the Postmaster Gen., to
P.D. Nairne, Private Sec’y to the Sec’y of State for Def., Mar. 17, 1967 (UK-NA: DEFE 13/658) (com-
plaining that members of the armed services had been thanking the pirate stations for running free
advertisements for their units).
     42. BISHOP, supra note 23, at 56–57. The “shoe-string” Radio Essex took its name because
“[g]ood reception was only possible in south-east Essex.” CHAPMAN, supra note 38, at 160. Later,
Bates changed the name to Britain’s Better Music Station, or BBMS. Id. at 161.
     43. See BISHOP, supra note 23, at 56 (“Eventually [Bates] ‘persuaded’ them to leave . . . .”);
CHAPMAN, supra note 38, at 168 (“As the fledgling Radio Essex project also had an interest in this site
it turned out to be the cue for several months of aggressive raids and counter-raids on the fort.”);
JOHNS, supra note 37, at 176–77.
     44. The case against some of the offshore broadcasters depended on how far they were from
land, which in turn depended on whether the relevant baselines were to be drawn at high tide or could
include sandbars exposed only at low tide. See R. v. Kent Justices ex parte Lye, [1966] 2 W.L.R. 765
(Q.B.) (holding 2-1 that the Red Sands fort was within the three-mile territorial limit as measured
from the “low-tide elevation” as defined by a 1964 Order in Council). One Radio Essex DJ would
later write:
         Naval “experts” were produced to demonstrate that on a full moon, if you killed a chicken while
   facing east, the moon’s influence on the tides would cause mid-sand to dry and therefore extend the
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416                   UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                      [Vol. 2012

as the pirates challenged the BBC’s monopoly, but public sentiment
shifted in the aftermath of the heavily publicized (indeed, sensational-
ized45) shooting of one pirate radio entrepreneur by another.46 Following
the shooting, the government stepped up enforcement of the Wireless
Telegraphy Act, which forbade unlicensed broadcasts.47 Roy Bates was
served with a summons for breach of the Act on September 28, 1966.48
According to government files, Radio Essex was causing interference as
far away as Hungary.49 The Magistrate’s Court found him in violation of
the broadcasting law on November 30 and fined him £100.50 Bates ap-
pealed, but lost in January of 1967.51
      Bates, however, was already gone. On Christmas Day of 1966, he
shut down broadcasts from Knock John52 and moved further out, to
Roughs Tower.53 He evicted the two Radio Caroline staff currently oc-
cupying Roughs Tower and claimed it as his own.54 Bates and his son

   mainland, and that the square of the hypotenuse, multiplied by Harold Wilson’s affairs with his secre-
   tary, produced the effect of drawing the fort nearer to shore.
SINCLAIR & LE-ROI, supra note 32, at 73.
     45. See JOHNS, supra note 37, at 217–18.
     46. The killing grew out of the June 1966 struggle for control of Shivering Sands, one of the
Maunsell Army Forts. In a 3:00 AM raid on the 20th, a team of seamen sent by Oliver Smedley, the
entrepreneur behind Radio Atlanta, boarded and took control of the fort from the Radio City DJs
then occupying it. See id. at 189–97. The ostensible reason for the occupation was a dispute over the
ownership of a transmitter Smedley had supplied to Radio City, but it was more immediately rooted in
the breakdown of negotiations for a Smedley-led group to purchase Radio City. When Reg Calvert,
the owner of Radio City, planned to sell instead to a rival group, Smedley swung into action and seized
the fort. Id. at 178–89. The next day, Calvert, having threatened to remove the Smedley party with
means up to and including nerve gas, went to Smedley’s home in Essex. Id. at 198–212. Calvert be-
came involved in an altercation with Smedley’s housekeeper, and Smedley shot Calvert dead. Id. at 1–
8. Smedley was tried for manslaughter but acquitted. Id. at 230–32; see also BISHOP, supra note 23, at
     47. See JOHNS, supra note 37, at 227–28, 232.
     48. See British Widen Fight on Pirate Stations, N.Y. TIMES, Sept. 29, 1966, at 74; Sealand: The
Mystery Solved (documentary film 2003), available at
     49. See Interference to Broadcast Reception (Dec. 22, 1966) (UK-NA: HO 255/1243).
     50. See Radio Station in Thames Estuary on Air After Owner Is Fined £100, TIMES (Eng.), Dec. 1,
1966, at 11.
     51. See Appeal of Paddy Roy Bates, Essex Quarter Sessions (Jan. 17, 1967) (UK-NA: HO
255/1243) (concluding that “Knock John Tower is within internal waters”). More precisely, Bates
linked his appeal to the contention that Knock John was outside the territorial limit. Id. The Quarter
Sessions disagreed, holding: “[T]he Knock John Tower . . . lies a little over a mile and a half on the up-
river side of that measured line.” Id.
     52. See BISHOP, supra note 23, at 57; SINCLAIR & LE-ROI, supra note 32, at 73–74.
     53. Bates had previously also made an attempt to broadcast from Tongue Sands, but abandoned
it after the structure “threatened to disintegrate during a storm.” See Sixties Radio: Offshore Pirate
Radio, SIXTIES CITY, (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
Tongue Sands collapsed completely in 1996. See Tongue Sands, OFFSHORE RADIO, http://www. (last visited Jan. 23, 2012). See also SINCLAIR & LE-ROI, supra
note 32, at 57–59.
     54. See Felix Kessler, The Rusty Principality of Sealand Relishes Hard-Earned Freedom, WALL
ST. J., Sept. 15, 1969, at 1 (claiming that Bates “persuaded them they wanted to leave”); Lucas, supra
note 35 (claiming that the Radio Caroline disc jockeys were celebrating Christmas aboard the platform
and left without a struggle); THE SEALAND ADVENTURE (Bob Le-Roi, 2010) (documenting the Forts
radio stations in a sixty minute audio “programme”). But see Sealand Radio—Part 1, supra note 24
(claiming that the platform was unoccupied at the time).
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No. 2]         SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                         417

Michael, only fourteen but a “tough young cookie,” moved the radio
equipment aboard Roughs Tower in the cold of a North Sea winter.55
      This first occupation failed. Bates left four men aboard to guard the
Tower, but only three days worth of food for them. After seventeen
days, they were rescued by a British lifeboat from nearby Walton-on-the-
Naze.56 Radio Caroline moved back to the now-empty platform in early
April of 1967, cutting away the control tower to create a helipad.57 It ap-
peared that Radio Caroline was setting up a legally safer resupply station
for its ships, one that would itself be supplied from Holland.58
      Bates then retook the platform with either remarkable cunning or
good improvisation. Having entered into some kind of joint operating
partnership with Radio Caroline,59 Bates brought a boat on April 17 out
to relieve one of three Caroline men on the Tower, replacing him with
Michael Bates and a Bates employee, David Barron.60 On April 19,
while loading more supplies aboard, one of the two remaining Radio
Caroline men received a severe rope burn; he and his partner went
ashore, leaving the platform entirely under the control of Bates’s crew.61
On April 20, Barron refused to let a replacement crew from Radio Caro-
line aboard again.62 Bates was back in control.
      Radio Caroline didn’t go down without a fight. It sent a boarding
party by boat on April 27; David Barron and Michael Bates repulsed
them with an air rifle and flaming bottles of paraffin.63 Defiant, Bates
painted his name on the side of the platform in large white letters.64 Ra-
dio Caroline tried again, more dramatically, on June 27. Bates and com-
pany again fought off the attackers with petrol bombs. When they with-
drew, one man was left dangling from a ladder for three hours until the
Walton-on-the-Naze lifeboat rescued him.65 There may have been other
such battles, but details are sketchy and clouded by Bates’s exaggera-

     55. See Sealand Radio—Part 1, supra note 24. One source claims that the platform was briefly
abandoned. Michael Bates would never return to school. THE SEALAND ADVENTURE, supra note 54.
     56. SINCLAIR & LE-ROI, supra note 32, at 74.
     57. See Heliport on Roughs Tower May Supply “Pop” Pirates, E. ANGLIAN DAILY TIMES, Apr.
12, 1967 (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
     58. See id.
     59. See 100GNS Health Trips to Sea Fort, TIMES (Eng.), June 29, 1967 (UK-NA: LO 2/1088).
Ronan O’Rahilly’s actual plans for the tower are obscure. He claimed that it would be used as a
“health resort.” Id. A few sources also claim that O’Rahilly had been working on his own nation-
formation plans. See id. (quoting Tom Lodge on “Ronan’s concept” to “create a nation on that tow-
er”); SINCLAIR & LE-ROI, supra note 32, at 77 (“He’d brought in people like Mick Jagger and John
Lennon, only to find Roy Bates had jumped in and stolen both the idea and the intended country
Roughs fort.”).
     60. Statement by Mr. Simser (May 1, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
     61. Id.
     62. Id.
     63. Id.
     64. See Words in White Paint Start New Takeover Rumors, EVENING STAR (May 19, 1967) (UK-
NA: HO 255/1037).
     65. See Andrew McEwen, Pop Fort Gets Switched on to Repel Boarders, DAILY MAIL (Eng.),
June 29, 1967 (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
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418                   UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                    [Vol. 2012

tions.66 Bates was also linked, somewhat ambiguously, to a plan to seize
the Shivering Sands Maunsell Army Fort in the winter of 1967, which
may or may not have been a hoax.67
     By the fall of 1967, Bates was in sole possession of Roughs Tower.68
He brought aboard his family: his wife Joan (a former fashion model)69
and their children Michael and Penny.70 He was now ready to tangle with
a more formidable opponent: the United Kingdom.

                   C.     1967: Roy Bates vs. The United Kingdom

      The British government had been watching Roy Bates and the other
pirate broadcasters carefully, as the 1966 prosecutions showed. While
Bates was moving out to Roughs Tower, other pirates were laying plans
to broadcast from ships outside the three-mile limit. The government’s
principal response was the Marine Broadcasting Offenses Act (MBOA),
which was enacted in July 1967 and entered into force on August 14.71 It
forbade British citizens from participating in broadcasts from the high
seas,72 prevented anyone present in the United Kingdom from assisting in
such broadcasts,73 and prohibited advertising by means of such broad-
casts.74 The MBOA did not eliminate the pirates entirely—Radio Caro-

     66. See Lucas, supra note 35; Sea Fort Repels Boarders, TIMES (Eng.), June 30, 1967, at 2 (quot-
ing Roy Bates as claiming one raid involved thirty attackers “in foreign-looking boats, rather like
Dutchmen, armed with knives and guns,” and that “[s]ome tried to swim with snorkels but they were
spotted and given short shrift with a flame thrower”).
     67. See JOHNS, supra note 37, at 233–36; see also SINCLAIR & LE-ROI, supra note 32, at 73 (“The
Bates team had earnt a fearsome reputation for skulduggery, as ‘the hard bastards of the North Sea,’
mainly due to their recently developed quaint habit of going out at weekends and stealing equipment
from other stations, especially those on the forts who even had their lights taken!”). A year later, in
March of 1968, two of Bates’s men tried to set up their own state on Shivering Sands but found them-
selves marooned without sufficient food and in need of rescue. See Two Rescued from Estuary Fort,
TIMES (Eng.), Mar. 21, 1968, at 3.
     68. See Genie Baskir, The Bates Family Is Trespassing: Here Is the Legal and Factual Proof!,
     69. See Sealand Radio—Part 2, BOB LE-ROI,
RadioTwo/SealandRadio_2.html (last visited Jan. 23, 2012) (including a photograph of Joan modeling
     70. See Sealand Radio—Part 1, supra note 24; see also Britain’s Better Music Station, BOB LE-
ROI, (last updated Nov. 8, 2011);
Sealand Fort, YOUTUBE.COM, (last visited Jan. 23,
     71. Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offenses) Act (MBOA), (1967) c. 41 (Eng.). For a discussion of
the politics leading up to the passage of the MBOA, see CHAPMAN, supra note 38, at 176–96; JOHNS,
supra note 37, at 232–29, 236–37. Ironically, the struggles between Bates and Radio Caroline for con-
trol of Roughs Tower may have contributed to the parliamentary sense of the pirate radio operators as
dangerous buccaneers, thereby speeding the passage of the Act. See id. at 250.
     72. MBOA § 3.
     73. MBOA § 4.
     74. MBOA § 5(3)(e).
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No. 2]           SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                              419

line would broadcast from ships outside the three-mile limit for another
two decades—but it did manage to drive most of them off the air.75
      The three-mile limit, however, was a potential fly in the ointment.
The news that a boarding party had taken over Roughs Tower in De-
cember 1966 did not escape Whitehall’s notice.76 Attention became
alarm in April 1967, as Radio Caroline’s activities strongly hinted at unli-
censed broadcasting.77 Broadcasts carried out by non-British citizens,
supported and supplied entirely from abroad, would fall outside the
MBOA’s ambit, and the uneven pace of ratifications of a European
broadcasting treaty meant that it would be difficult to act against them.78
The Postmaster General, whose office had authority over the airwaves,
demanded the immediate destruction of Roughs Tower.79
      Bureaucracy ensued. The Prime Minister assented to the plan, as
long as all of the affected departments concurred.80 The Home Secretary
quickly agreed,81 but the Foreign Office began to raise practical con-
cerns.82 The Ministry of Defense suggested putting the matter to the Of-
ficial Emergencies Committee, but the Cabinet Office concluded that an
“ad hoc meeting of the Departments concerned” would be a more ap-
propriate venue.83 That meeting took place on May 10, 1967, with the
roster having expanded to include also the Treasury, Customs and Ex-
cise, the Board of Trade, and the Treasury Solicitor.84 The Ministry of
Defense agreed to “make the fort uninhabitable . . . without at the same
time making it into a danger to navigation,” but only if the “‘civil power’
will first remove from the fort anyone who may be occupying it.”85 Un-
fortunately, given the jurisdictional issues, this last question was thorny,
and after some further discussion, the matter was referred to the Law Of-
ficers.86 They concluded that a detailed opinion would be needed “in

     75. See JOHNS, supra note 37, at 232–33 (discussing difficult financial straits of Radio Essex fol-
lowing the MBOA ban on advertising); SINCLAIR & LE-ROI, supra note 32, at 69–70 (discussing Radio
Essex’s inability to make payroll in the fall of 1966); Sealand Radio—Part 1, supra note 24. On the
later history of pirate radio in the United Kingdom, see generally JOHN HIND & STEPHEN MOSCO,
REBEL RADIO: THE FULL STORY OF BRITISH PIRATE RADIO (1986). For the U.S. version, see general-
The definitive pop-culture treatment is the 1990 Christian Slater movie. PUMP UP THE VOLUME (New
Line Cinema 1990).
     76. See, e.g., Memorandum from R.W. Story (Jan. 27, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
     77. See Minute from Postmaster Gen. Edward Short to the Prime Minister (Apr. 14, 1967) (UK-
NA: HO 255/1037).
     78. Id.
     79. Id.
     80. See Letter to T. Scott, Esq. (Apr. 17, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
     81. See Letter from Home Sec’y to Postmaster Gen. (Apr. 19, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
     82. See Minute from Mr. Mulley to the Postmaster Gen. (Apr. 24, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037)
(“If, of course, anyone is on the fort there will presumably be no question of destroying it.”).
     83. See Minute from C.E. Lovell (Apr. 25, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
     84. See Notes of Meeting Held at Post Office Headquarters at 10:30 AM on May 10, 1967, to
Discuss Action to Be Taken As a Result of the Ministerial Decision to Destroy Roughs Tower (May
17, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
     85. Minute from C.E. Lovell to Postmaster Gen. (May 11, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
     86. Id.
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420                 UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                [Vol. 2012

view of the difficult legal questions which appear to arise.”87 A formal
case was submitted for their opinion in late July.88
      By this point, however, Bates was hurling petrol bombs at Radio
Caroline raiders, and members of Parliament were asking questions
about it in the House of Commons.89 The matter was considered urgent
enough to be discussed at a meeting in the Cabinet Office.90 The at-
tendees were concerned how to “dislodge” Bates’s men, and agreed that
since the various Ministers had “not had before them a fully concerned
memorandum prepared by officials of all the Departments concerned,”
another meeting would be held “in order to arrange for the preparation
of such a memorandum.”91 The Ministry of Defense took the lead, draw-
ing up a plan called “Occupation Callow,”92 and the Prime Minister
signed off on it.93
      The idea was simple: officials would call on Roy Bates, tell him that
the fort belonged to the Ministry of Defense, and demand that he leave.94
If necessary, they would assist him in removing his property and provide
an “exgratia payment” of a few thousand pounds. A party of Royal Ma-
rines would occupy the fort as soon as Bates and his men departed, so
that no one else could move in before the Ministry of Defense destroyed
      Things did not go as intended. Roy Bates, offered five thousand
pounds, demanded ninety thousand instead.96 When approached by
boat, “the occupants of the tower made clear—firmly, though politely—
that they were unwilling . . . to consider the possibility of giving up pos-
session.”97 The press, meanwhile, discovered that the Royal Marines
were on standby and quickly ran stories about the plan to storm the
fort,98 despite the government’s best efforts to downplay the matter.99
      For the rest of August, the government cast about for legal options
to oust Bates. One official suggested an action against Bates for keeping
the fourteen-year-old Michael out of school.100 Customs thought it might
be possible to force Bates to forfeit his boat “for non-compliance with

    87. Letter from W.L. Dale to B.B. Hall, Esq. (June 27, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
    88. The Treasury Solicitor, The Roughs Tower, Case for the Opinion of the Law Officers of the
Crown and Treasury Counsel (July 21, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
    89. See 749 Parl. Deb., H.C. (5th ser.) (1967) 191W (U.K.); id. at 268W.
    90. See Note of a Meeting Held in Sir Burke Trend’s Room, Cabinet Office, Whitehall, S.W.1,
on Monday (July 31, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
    91. Id.
    92. See Occupaton of Roughs Tower, Operation “Callow,” Operational Instructions (UK-NA:
DEFE 13/1658).
    93. See Letter from P.D. Nairne to A.N. Halls, Esq. (Aug. 4, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
    94. See Brief for Mr. W.A. Sweby, Sunk Head Fort (Aug. 9, 1967) (UK-NA: DEFE 13/658).
    95. See Letter from P.D. Nairne to A.N. Halls, Esq. (Aug. 4, 1967) (UK-NA HO 255/1037).
    96. See Report on Operation Callow by W.A. Sweby (undated) (UK-NA: LO 2/1088).
    97. See Letter from P.D. Nairne to A.N. Halls, Esq. (Aug. 7, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
    98. See Commandos Set to Seize Fort, TIMES (Eng.), Aug. 8, 1967, at 1.
    99. See Memorandum from C.P.R. to FUS (Army) (Aug. 7, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
   100. Letter from Phillip Rogers to C.E. Lovell, Esq. (Aug. 14, 1967) (UK-NA HO 255/1037).
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our requirements.”101 At the end of the month, the Law Officers re-
turned an opinion arguing that while criminal jurisdiction over offenses
committed by British citizens would extend to Roughs Tower, a civil ac-
tion for possession of it “would be likely to fail for lack of jurisdiction.”102
Meanwhile, the Post Office was doggedly trying to collect its costs from
Bates’s unsuccessful appeal of his prosecution for broadcasting from
Knock John.103 It was at this point of bureaucratic irresolution that Roy
Bates struck again.

                     D.    1967–1968: The Principality of Sealand

      On September 2, 1967, Roy Bates declared an independent Princi-
pality of Sealand on Roughs Tower, with himself as Prince.104 The idea
came from Joan Bates and several friends, over drinks at a pub.105 The
Ministry of Defense denounced the declaration, stating, “This is ludi-
crous. Mr. Bates is trespassing and it now looks as if he is being very
foolish.”106 Behind the scenes, the search for a way to oust Bates intensi-
      Customs tried first. Bates’s boat sprang a serious leak while in
Harwich harbor on February 14, 1967.107 Customs then refused to clear
him for departure from the harbor, as the boat lacked a “load line” cer-
tificate of seaworthiness.108 Roy and Joan Bates promptly went to the
press, claiming that their children had been “marooned” on Sealand.109
Official statements that “[a]ll Mr. Bates has to do is hire another boat if
his own does not conform to the regulations[]” did not stem the tide of

    101. Letter from Dorothy Johnstone to R.J. Harding, Esq. (Aug. 18, 1967) (UK-NA: HO
255/1037). But see Letter from C. Bamfield to H.F. Ellis-Rees, Esq. (Feb. 23, 1968) (UK-NA: 255-
1037) (“[T]he offenses of which Bates might be found guilty are of such a technical nature that any
penalty imposed . . . would be derisory.”).
    102. Jones & Foot, supra note 31. Cf. Letter from Basil Hall to Sir William Dale (Aug. 8, 1967)
(UK-NA: LO 2/1088) (arguing that action for possession would lead only to a writ of possession to the
county sheriff, which would be useless since the property in question did not lie within any county of
    103. See Letter from J. Hodge to H.M. Postmaster-Gen. (Sept. 4, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1243).
    104. The Principality of Sealand (Jan. 12, 1971) (UK-NA: FCO 33/1300); Sealand—Ex-“Pirate”
Radio Chief Claims Fort Is New State, SOUTHEND STANDARD, Sept. 7, 1967 (UK-NA: HO 255/1243);
see also Secret Government Sealand Revelations, IPSWICH STAR (Dec. 31, 2008), http://www. The reason for estab-
lishing it as a “principality” rather than a “kingdom” is unclear. See Simon, supra note 23 (suggesting
that the choice of a “principality” was at the advice of lawyers).
    105. See Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 236; Miller & Boudreaux, supra note 33; Simon, supra note 23.
But see SINCLAIR & LE-ROI, supra note 32, at 77 (claiming that the idea came from Radio Essex em-
ployee Dick Palmer).
    106. Independent Isle “Ludicrous,” TIMES (Eng.), Sept. 3, 1967, at 3.
    107. See Letter from N.H. Parsons to Mr. Hay (Apr. 4, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
    108. See Letter to Paul Channon, Esq. (Apr. 1968) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037); Letter from C.
Bamfield to H.F. Ellis-Rees, Esq., supra note 101.
    109. Radio Man’s Children “Marooned,” TIMES (Eng.), Mar. 7, 1968, at 3 (UK-NA: HO
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422                  UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                 [Vol. 2012

press coverage,110 and Customs quietly relented.111 Roy and Joan Bates
also alleged that Customs harassed them by opening their tins of food
whenever they came ashore to resupply.112
      In a more bizarre turn of events, the same David Barron, alias Da-
vid Belasco, who had been one of Roy Bates’s first men aboard the Tow-
er, approached the Ministry of Defense, offering “to obtain possession of
the Fort ‘in a non-violent manner[]’” and turn it over to the Ministry.113
The Ministry considered this “implausible” and told Belasco that it
would not encourage any action on his part, but was “prepared to take
the Fort over[]” if Belasco did obtain possession.114 Belasco, however,
swore out an affidavit claiming the Ministry had asked him to take over
the platform by force,115 which became the subject of accusations by
Bates, a story by the Daily Telegraph,116 and a question in Parliament.117
All the while, the Post Office was still trying to get Bates to pay his ap-
peal costs, without substantial success.118
      The next line of attack was the Law Officers’ opinion that English
criminal jurisdiction against British citizens extended to Roughs Tower.
In December 1967, someone on the Tower fired shots at a survey mine-
sweeper, but due to a lack of damage and good evidence, the Director of
Public Prosecutions decided it would make a poor test case and the inci-
dent was ignored.119 On May 6, 1968, the Trinity House120 ship Egeria was
working on a buoy northwest of Roughs Tower when Michael Bates
opened fire across its bow with a .22 pistol.121 At the direction of the Di-
rector of Public Prosecutions, Bates was summoned to court the next
time he went ashore.122 He and Michael were indicted for violations of
the Firearms Act, including possession of a firearm without the proper
certificate and possession of a firearm with the intent to endanger life.123

   110. Children “Not Marooned,” TIMES (Eng.), Mar. 8, 1968, at 3 (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
   111. See Letter from C. Bamfield to H.F. Ellis-Rees, Esq. (Oct. 25, 1968) (UK-NA: LO 2/1088).
   112. Miller & Boudreaux, supra note 33.
   113. Letter from H.F. Ellis-Rees to H.L. Lawrence-Wilson, Esq. (Oct. 8, 1968) (UK-NA: LO
   114. Id.
   115. See Affidavit of David Joseph Belasco (n.d.) (UK-NA: LO 2/1088).
   116. See Kenneth Clarke & James Allan, Ministry Planned to Seize Sea Fort, DAILY TEL. (Eng.),
May 30, 1968 (UK-NA: LO 2/1088); see also Peter Deeley, The Prince and His Prisoner, OBSERVER,
Sept. 10, 1978, at 3.
   117. See 775 PARL. DEB., H.C. (5th ser.) (1968) 377W (U.K.).
   118. See Letter from C.E. Lovell to E.H. Rose (Nov. 20, 1967) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
   119. See Confidential Report by R.L. Waddingham (May 30, 1968) (UK-NA: DEFE 13/658).
   120. Trinity House is the lighthouse authority for England. See R.H. Coase, The Lighthouse in
Economics, 17 J.L. & ECON. 357, 360–72 (1974) (describing the history, economics, and policies of
Trinity House).
   121. Regina v. Bates [1968] (transcript of the shorthand notes of Hibbit and Sanders) (UK-NA:
LO 2/1088); see also Statement by Lt. Cmdr. C.E.K. Robinson (UK-NA: LO 2/1088) (stating that
Bates did not aim at crew members).
   122. See Radio Essex Man Summonsed, TIMES (Eng.), June 29, 1968, at 4.
   123. Bates, [1968]. A fourth charge, “the only case alleged to have been committed on dry land,”
was dropped by the prosecution. Sea Tower Outside Court Limit, TIMES (Eng.), Oct. 22, 1968, at 3.
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“It was decided not to take advantage of Mr. Bates’ attendance in Court
to try and occupy the Fort, as this smacked of sharp practice.”124
       To the government’s disappointment, however, the court rejected
its theory of jurisdiction in October 1968,125 holding that that Parliament
had never extended admiralty jurisdiction far enough to cover the
Bateses.126 The matter was promptly escalated back up to the Cabinet
Office. A November 5 meeting came to a pragmatic conclusion:
          Mr. Bates’ continued occupation of the Tower was undesir-
    able, because of the shooting incident and the possibility of further
    violence, and also because of the small but continuing threat that
    the Tower could be used for some illegal activity not at present
    foreseen. Nevertheless, he was doing no actual harm, so far as was
    known, and the Ministry of Defense had no need of the Fort them-
    selves. There were no pressing reasons for evicting Mr. Bates, cer-
    tainly none that would justify the use of force or the passage of spe-
    cial legislation.127
       Thus, although the Law Officers held to their prior position about
criminal jurisdiction, “it was not proposed to apply to the courts for a
declaration that Roughs Tower belonged to the Crown.”128 The Law Of-
ficers drew up proposed legislation that would have explicitly given the
Crown criminal and civil means to retake possession of offshore struc-
tures it had constructed, but in keeping with the decision to ignore Bates
unless he caused trouble, it was never enacted.129 For the next two years,
Trinity House vessels passing near Roughs Tower were given armed
guards in case of incident, but otherwise Bates was left alone.130 Similar-
ly, while the Ministry of Defense prepared contingency plans for occupy-
ing Roughs Tower if necessary, none were ever put into action.131
       In keeping with this reasoning, the United Kingdom cautiously
avoided forcing the question of Sealand’s status for the next two decades.
Official policy reflected a pair of negatives. On the one hand, Sealand
was not part of the United Kingdom, but on the other, the government
did not regard it as a state.132 What it was has never been entirely clear.

   124. Letter from H.F. Ellis-Rees to E.M. Rose, Esq. (July 25, 1968) (UK-NA: LO 2/1088).
   125. See Harold Jackson, Complex Legal Affair of State, GUARDIAN, Oct. 22, 1968, at 3.
   126. Bates, [1968]. The case is discussed in more detail infra Part III.B.1.
   127. Minutes of Meeting Re: Roughs Tower (Nov. 5, 1968) (UK-NA: CAB 130/355).
   128. Id. at 2.
   129. See Forts–Draft Provisions for Legislation (Mar. 22, 1968) (UK-NA LO 2/1088).
   130. See Ministry of State for Head of Naval Home Division, Roughs Tower: Proposed Use As a
Survey Reference Point (Feb. 25, 1972) (UK-NA: DEFE 69/234) (discussing “Operation Proclaim Al-
pha”). Survey ships kept their distance, as well. See Letter from Head of Naval Home Div. to Flag
Officer Medway (Mar. 15, 1972) (UK-NA: DEFE 69/234) (“[N]o ship of the Squadron should enter an
area of Radius ½ mile around the Tower.”).
   131. See Occupation of Roughs Tower by Force, Operation Order 1/68 (May 28, 1968) (UK-NA:
DEFE 13/658) (detailing plans either to bring a frigate alongside the tower or to land a boarding party
from two helicopters). The Ministry continued to plan for possible military reoccupation as late as
1983. See Hibberd, supra note 7.
   132. See, e.g., Letter from Pat Ransford to Herr Hans Fuhr (July 8, 1981), http://www.principality- Cf. Letter from Illegible to M.R. Bates (Oct. 1, 1984) (on file
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Grant Hibberd describes the FCO’s policy as “keep[ing] things as vague
as possible.”133

                             E.     1968–1978: Grand Schemes

      Almost immediately after declaring independence, Prince Roy be-
gan trying to develop Sealand economically. In January 1968, he told a
Post Office Solicitor that he planned to use the “large profits” from sell-
ing Sealand stamps to pay off his debt from the Radio Essex case.134 The
first actual stamp set—famous explorers—was issued in 1969, and subse-
quent stamps have included ships, fish, and a portrait of Joan.135 Alt-
hough Bates planned to apply to the Universal Postal Union,136 Sealand is
not a member, so its stamps are not legal postage in other countries.137
Sealand has issued coins since 1972, in various denominations;138 the
Sealand dollar is nominally pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of SX $1 to
US $1.139
      Sealand also began seeking foreign partners and potential investors.
In 1969, it linked up with a group of Belgians and Frenchmen. They ap-
proached the Belgian government in the hopes of establishing diplomatic
and commercial ties, and pressed the British government to confirm
Sealand’s sovereign status.140 This particular diplomatic offensive seems
to have continued into 1971;141 British officials assured their Belgian
counterparts that the Chelmsford firearms decision from 1968 was not an
act of recognition, but ignored the direct inquiries from Sealand’s repre-
sentatives.142 Sealand’s growing earnestness is also evident in a promo-
tional brochure that starts appearing in the files at about this date.143 The

with author) (stating that Michael Bates was not required to pay contributions to Britain’s social secu-
rity system for the times during which he was resident on Sealand).
    133. Hibberd, supra note 7.
    134. See Memorandum by Basil Corcos (Jan. 22, 1968) (UK-NA: HO 255/1037).
    135. The Principality of Sealand, REHAM.DE,
(last visited Jan. 23, 2012); Sealand Shopping Mall, PRINCIPALITY SEALAND, http://www.sealandgov.
org/stamps-and-coins (last visited Jan. 23, 2012) (offering historical stamp sets for sale).
    136. See Kessler, supra note 54.
    137. See Member Countries, UNIVERSAL POSTAL UNION,
member-countries.html (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
    138. Early issues featured Princess Joan on the obverse and the Sealand coat of arms on the re-
verse. A more recent “Treasures of the Sea” collection features the Sealand coat of arms on the ob-
verse and an orca on the reverse. See 1994 Sealand Silver Dollar (coin on file with author). The Ger-
man Sealand, see infra Part I.G, has also issued its own coins, a SX$100 bearing the head of Prime
Minister Sieger on the obverse and the Sealand Arms on the reverse. Sealand, IMPERIAL
Jan. 23, 2012).
file.html (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
    140. See generally The Principality of Sealand, supra note 104.
    141. See Restricted Memorandum, Principality of Sealand (Mar. 18, 1974) (UK-NA: FCO 33/
    142. Id.
    143. See The Principality of Sealand, supra note 104.
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Tourism section declares, blandly, “It is planned to build an [sic] Ho-
      Sealand then seems to have gradually shifted to dealing with a
group of Germans, who started making another push for Sealand’s status
in 1973.145 In addition to pressing their case with the British Embassy in
Bonn, they began approaching numerous other countries. They sent let-
ters seeking recognition in 1974 to Scotland, Morocco, and the Federal
Republic of Germany.146 In 1976, they asked the Australian Embassy for
visas in their Sealand passports,147 went to the Sri Lankan Embassy with a
briefcase containing 100,000 DM to request a visa to set up a five-million-
dollar gem exhibition,148 and approached the Indonesian, Senegalese,
Irish, and Nigerian embassies with similar requests.149 At the end of 1976,
they also wrote to the International Frequency Registration Board, ap-
parently seeking to reserve some radio frequencies for Sealand’s use.150
To bolster their case, they obtained a legal opinion from a Dr. Walter
Leisner in 1975, claiming that Sealand was a state under international
law, and a second opinion from Professor Bela Vitanyi in 1978.151
      They also cast about for banking services for the Principality.152
Sealand’s increasing commercial ambitions from this period are evident
in a much extended version of the promotional brochure—now primarily
in German—containing diagrams showing plans for a massive expansion
of Sealand to include a port, office towers, park with golf course, and air-
port.153 A refinery and tanker port would be connected to the British
mainland by a pipeline, and Sealand itself would be joined by a bridge to
the coast.154 These plans, typically with a price tag of thirty-six million
pounds or more, make regular appearances in the press coverage of
Sealand over the subsequent decades: Sealand is always about to start
development later in the year.155

   144. Id.
   145. See Letter from D.J. Kammerer to British Embassy (Mar. 6, 1975) (UK-NA: FCO 33/2705)
(referring to previous correspondence in the summer of 1973).
   146. See Restricted Memorandum, Principality of Sealand, supra note 141.
   147. Letter from D.M. Edwards to I.A. Roberts (Dec. 29, 1975) (UK-NA: FCO 33/2705).
   148. See Letter from J.R.S. Guinness to M. Williams, Marine & Transp. Dep’t (Aug. 6, 1976)
(UK-NA: DEFE 57/55).
   149. See Letter from A.C.D.S. MacRae to F.W. Willis, Esq. (Feb. 27, 1976) (UK-NA: DEFE
57/55); Letter from D.J. Moss to F. Willis, Esq. (Mar. 4, 1976) (UK-NA: DEFE 57/55).
   150. See Letter from F.G. Perrin to G.E. Pütz (Feb. 4, 1977) (UK-NA: FCO 33/3355).
   151. See infra note 550 and accompanying text.
   152. See Letter from J. Ulv Baron v. Magnus to C.P. Carter (Apr. 11, 1975) (UK-NA: FCO
33/2705) (describing the request of bankers to serve as consuls). It is striking how many of the recipi-
ents of these approaches immediately referred the matter back to the British government for advice on
how to proceed.
   153. See SEALAND BROCHURE II (n.d.) (UK-NA: FCO 33/2705).
   154. Id.
   155. See, e.g., Guy Hatwin, “Prince” Plans to Float a New Business Empire, FIN. TIMES, Aug. 12,
1978 (UK-NA: FCO 33/3355); Sealand Expansion Planned, E. ANGLIAN DAILY TIMES, Feb. 28, 1981
(UK-NA: HO 255/1244); How Fort-Unate, SUNDAY MIRROR, July 4, 1999, at 23.
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      In 1977, the Germans explored the idea of using Sealand as a tax
haven. Even without recognition and a tax treaty with Germany, they
hoped to take advantage of the tax treaty between the United Kingdom
and Germany.156 If Germany regarded Sealand as part of the United
Kingdom for treaty purposes, but the United Kingdom didn’t actually
levy taxes for activities taking place there, then German citizens would
be able to avoid paying taxes on Sealand income.157 Inland Revenue was
actually concerned about the issue,158 but the Germans neatly resolved
the matter by insisting that the location of Roughs Tower outside of Brit-
ish territorial waters meant that German taxes applied.159
      During these years, a new name starts cropping up in the reports.
Professor Alexander Achenbach was a German living in Luxembourg
and a “former diamond dealer,”160 but everything else about him is ob-
scure. He was involved in 1975 in what one British diplomat referred to
as “the Anglican Free Church affair,”161 which appears to have been an
illegal diploma mill.162 This may explain why Achenbach was living in
Luxembourg; it may also call into question his academic title. In any
event, he was the drafter of Sealand’s 1975 constitution, which drew
heavily on the West German one.163
      In 1976, Achenbach was arrested in Luxembourg for fraud in con-
nection with his Sealand activities.164 He attempted to raise Sealand’s
sovereignty as a defense. When this proved unavailing, Sealand (acting
through Achenbach, now the Minister of Foreign Affairs) acknowledged
the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice,165 then attempted

    156. See, e.g., Letter from Dr. Runge to G. Pütz & G. Paetsch (Mar. 9, 1977) (UK-NA: FCO
    157. This argument was not completely frivolous under the treaty in force at the time, which de-
fined the “United Kingdom” to include “any area outside the territorial sea of the United Kingdom”
as to which it exercised its continental-shelf rights. Roughs Tower was perhaps such a place; the catch
was that the United Kingdom’s Continental Shelf Act applied only to activities involving exploitation
of mineral resources. See Double Taxation Convention (1967), art. II(1)(a); Continental Shelf Act of
1964, ch 29.
    158. See Letter from Carolyn B. Hubbard to F.W. Willis, Esq. (Apr. 5, 1977) (UK-NA: FCO
    159. See Letter from Runge to Gernot Ersnt Pütz (June 14, 1977) (UK-NA: FCO 33/3086).
    160. Minute from S.J. Charlton on Roughs Tower (Apr. 28, 1978) (UK-NA: DEFE 57/55).
    161. See Letter from H.N.P. Harrison to C.C. Bright, Esq. (Aug. 21, 1978) (UK-NA: FCO
    162. See Wo Sind Sie Geblieben, Die Vielen Zeugen . . . ? [Where Are They, the Many Witness-
es . . .?], HAMBURGER ABENDBLATT [HAMBURG EVENING PAPER], Sept. 14, 1976 (Ger.); Dr. Heilpr
[Dr. Healer], DER SPIEGEL, Mar. 6, 1978 (Ger.).
    163. Chronology, PRINCIPALITY SEALAND,
e.html (last visited Jan. 23, 2012); CONSTITUTION OF 1975 (Sealand),
pdf/constitutions.pdf (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
    164. See Letter from John M. Crosby to Frank W. Willis, Esq. (May 20, 1976) (UK-NA: DEFE
    165. See Minister of Foreign Affairs, Declaration Recognizing As Compulsory the Jurisdiction of
the Court (Jan. 26, 1977) (UK-NA: FCO 33/3355).
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(unsuccessfully) to file a complaint against Luxembourg.166 Ultimately,
the charges were reduced to much lesser ones of selling (Sealand) stamps
and coins without a license,167 and on July 7, 1978, Achenbach and his two
codefendants were found guilty and fined roughly five hundred pounds
     At roughly the same time, Achenbach decided to push the question
of Sealand’s sovereignty in another forum.169 He petitioned the city of
Aachen to terminate his German citizenship on the grounds that he was
now a citizen of Sealand.170 The city denied his request, so Achenbach
appealed the decision. On May 3, 1978, the Administrative Court of Co-
logne rejected Achenbach’s claim, holding that Sealand was not a state.171
Within months of these legal setbacks, he would try his hand at self-help:
a coup d’état.172

                                   F.     1978: Civil War

      In early August 1978, Professor Achenbach told Prince Roy he
could connect him with a group of investors173 and invited Roy and Joan
Bates to Austria for a meeting, leaving Michael alone on Sealand.174 On
August 10, a group of men led by Gernot Pütz, Achenbach’s lawyer from
the citizenship lawsuit, arrived at Sealand on a helicopter.175 They had a
forged telegram from Roy Bates176 and claimed a deal had been struck to
transfer Sealand.177 It was a trick, just as luring Michael’s parents to Aus-
tria had been. Michael let them land, but when he went inside to get a
whiskey for one of them who claimed to be ill, Pütz slammed the door on
him and locked him inside.178 Pütz held Michael for a few days, then put
him on a fishing boat headed to the Netherlands.179 Pütz stayed on the

   166. See Letter from Dr. A.L.C.M. Oomen to the President of the Int’l Court of Justice (Jan. 25,
1978) (UK-NA: FCO 33/3355); Letter from A. Achenbach, Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Gov’t of
U.K. & N. Ir. (May 19, 1978) (UK-NA: FCO 33/3355).
   167. See Letter from David Herbert to David Broad, Esq. (June 14, 1978) (UK-NA: FCO 33/
   168. See Letter from David Herbert to David Broad, Esq. (July 10, 1978) (UK-NA: FCO 33/
   169. See Letter to Gernot Pütz (Sept. 23, 1976) (Ger.) (UK-NA: FCO 33/3355).
   170. Raum für Roy [Room for Roy], DER SPIEGEL (July 10, 1978),
   171. In re Duchy of Sealand, 80 I.L.R. 683 (Admin. Ct. Cologne 1978) (Ger.). The decision is
discussed in more detail infra Part IV.B.1.
   172. See Letter from H.N.P. Harrison to C.C. Bright, Esq., supra note 161.
   173. McCullagh, A Data Sanctuary Is Born, supra note 2.
   174. See Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 236.
   175. See Alexander Achenbach, Declaration of August 10, 1978 (UK-NA: FCO 33/3355); Sealand
Prepares to Repel Boarders, LEADER, Sept. 7, 1979, at 16 (UK-NA: HO 255/1244).
   176. See My Four Days in Captivitity at the Hands of Foreign Invaders, COLCHESTER EVENING
GAZETTE, Aug. 30, 1978 (UK-NA: HO 255/1244) [hereinafter My Four Days in Captivity].
   177. See Simon, supra note 23.
   178. See My Four Days in Captivity, supra note 176.
   179. Id.
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platform, along with two men variously described as Dutch business-
men180 and Dutch mercenaries.181
     Undeterred, Roy and Michael Bates met up again in Southend.182
Roy called in favors and launched his own helicopter assault on Sealand
with a team of five.183 Roy’s friend John Crewdson, “who had flown heli-
copter stunts in James Bond films,”184 was the pilot.185 Attacking at dawn
on August 15, 1978, they took Pütz’s party by surprise.186 When Michael
accidentally fired his sawn-off shotgun, the junta surrendered,187 and it
was Pütz’s turn to be locked up on Sealand.188
     Roy put the prisoners on trial, appointing one of his men to repre-
sent the defendants while he presided.189 The two Dutchmen admitted
they had “done wrong” and were released.190 Pütz, however, held a
Sealand passport, leading Roy to consider executing him for treason.191
In the end, he was fined 75,000 DM and held prisoner until it was paid,192
and in the interim, made to “wash the loos and make coffee.”193
     It took several weeks for news to trickle out, but once it did, the
British government had another unwelcome Sealand-related crisis on its
hands. Prompted by Achenbach, the Dutch government inquired on
August 24 about Hans Lavoo, one of the two Dutchmen. The Dutch
minister asked whether it was “feasible to think of a Dutch patrol vessel
‘passing by’ the Fort and somehow happening to take appropriate ac-
tion,” to which his British counterpart replied it would be “unlikely to
reduce the embarrassment caused to the British Government by the pre-
sent situation.”194 Lavoo, however, had already been released, resolving
that dilemma.195

   180. See, e.g., Emerging Nations: Prince Valiant, NEWSWEEK, Aug. 28, 1978, at 40 (UK-NA: FCO
   181. See Lucas, supra note 35.
   182. See My Four Days in Captivity, supra note 176.
   183. See Sealand Radio—Part 2, supra note 69 (photograph of group, with names).
   184. See Simon, supra note 23.
   185. See Sealand Radio—Part 2, supra note 69.
   186. See My Four Days in Captivity, supra note 176.
   187. Lucas, supra note 35.
   188. See My Four Days in Captivity, supra note 176.
   189. Simon, supra note 23.
   190. Id.
   191. Id. (quoting Roy Bates as saying, “I’ve killed a lot of Germans in my time. Another one
wouldn’t have made much difference, but I didn’t want to kill anything else, really.”). But see
CONSTITUTION OF 1975 § 19.4 (Sealand), http://principality-of-sealand.en/pdf/constitutions.pdf (last
visited Jan. 23, 2012) (“There is no death sentence.”).
   192. See Minutes of Trial of Gernot Pütz, Special Court Convened in Sealand on August 30, 1978
(UK-NA: FCO 33/3355). The discrepancy in the dates—the official document is dated eleven days
later than what Michael told the press in September—is just one of the many irregularities in the his-
torical record around the coup.
   193. Miller & Boudreaux, supra note 33 (quoting Joan Bates).
   194. Letter from A.E. Furness to Clarke (Aug. 24, 1978) (UK-NA: FCO 33/3355).
   195. Id.
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No. 2]         SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                        429

       In the face of Pütz’s imprisonment, the German government was
more insistent. The Embassy investigated,196 sending the head of its legal
department to Sealand by helicopter, where he confirmed that Pütz was
“well and happy.”197 By telephone and by letter, the German Embassy
protested the detention of one of its nationals.198 The British govern-
ment, however, argued that the imprisonment was taking place “outside
British jurisdiction.”199 To this, the Germans shot back in a formal note
that it was “in a way an act of piracy, committed on the high sea but still
in front of British territory by British citizens.”200 Despite this “some-
what petulant Note,” the British government took no further action.201
The situation was resolved when Pütz was released on September 28, six
weeks after the attempted coup.202
       The matter also came back to the floor of Parliament. In December
1978, Lord Kennet asked the Minister of State for the FCO, “My Lords,
is it not the case that what this time may be a harmless and colourful es-
capade could next time, in law, be a moderately dangerous act by an un-
friendly foreign Power?”203 Lord Segal’s suggestion of towing the plat-
form inside territorial waters was dismissed as impractical.204
       Even at the time, it was unclear how much of the affair was a put-
up. The German Embassy eventually concluded that the incident was a
publicity stunt,205 but a journalist who knew Bates well confidentially told
the Consulate-General it wasn’t a stunt: Bates was “a reasonably honest
fool . . . [who] had ‘fallen among thieves.’”206 The most perplexing issue
is Pütz’s status. One bureaucrat wrote, “[H]is ‘imprisonment’ is not nec-
essarily entirely involuntary,”207 and another reported that Pütz’s fine was
“the precise value of some precious stones that are known to be in
[Pütz’s wife’s] possession.”208 Pütz told reporters that he was “lonely and
frightened” in early September,209 but at his release three weeks later, “it

    196. See Tiny Nation’s Capture of German Investigated!, L.A. TIMES, Sept. 5, 1978, at 1.
    197. Martin Wainwright, Sealand Keeps Its Prisoner, GUARDIAN, Sept. 6, 1978, at 3.
    198. See Letter to R.A. Hibbert, Esq. (Sept. 6, 1978) (UK-NA: FCO 33/3355).
    199. See Letter from R.A. Hibbert to Hans-Heinrich Noebel (Sept. 12, 1978) (UK-NA: FCO
    200. See Note from Embassy of the Fed. Republic of Ger. to the Foreign & Commonwealth Of-
fice (Sept. 12, 1978) (UK-NA: FCO 33/3355).
    201. See Letter from David Broad to C.C. Bright, Esq. (Sept. 15, 1978) (UK-NA: FCO 33/3355).
    202. See Lawyer Freed from Sea Fort, GUARDIAN, Sept. 29, 1978, at 4.
    203. See 397 PARL. DEB., H.L. (5th ser.) (1978) cc. 4–7.
    204. See id.
    205. See Wainwright, supra note 197.
    206. Letter from H.N.P. Harrison to C.C. Bright, Esq., supra note 161 (quoting Guy Hawtin
(quoting Roy Bates)).
    207. Letter from David Broad to Mr. Berman (Sept. 18, 1978) (UK-NA: FCO 33/3355).
    208. Letter from R.I. Clarke to Mr. Furness & Mr. Goodall (Sept. 1, 1978) (UK-NA: FCO
    209. See Barry Gardner, Lonely Life of the Prisoner of Sealand, EVENING NEWS (London), Sept.
7, 1978, at 8 (UK-NA: FCO 33/3355).
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430                  UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                    [Vol. 2012

was all smiles as . . . Putz shook hands with his ‘gaolers.’”210 When Joan
and Michael Bates went in January 1979 to the Netherlands to make out
charges against one of the Dutchmen, their lawyer was . . . Gernot Pütz.211

                     G.    1978–1990: Pirate Broadcasting Redux

      In the years following the restoration of the monarchy, Sealand
flirted with pirate broadcasting again. In early September of 1978, while
the hostage drama was ongoing, the Post Office’s radio enforcement
group began logging transmissions to and from Sealand.212 These weren’t
pirate broadcasts; they were point-to-point conversations, discussing such
matters as the condition of the prisoners, press coverage, the weather out
at sea, engine repairs, and grocery lists.213 The Post Office staff quickly
identified Roy Bates’s voice and traced the landward half of the trans-
missions to his flat and office in Southend.214 They obtained a search
warrant, raided the flat, and confiscated his homebuilt equipment.215
Although Joan Bates protested to the press that Sealand’s radio equip-
ment was “instrumental in rescuing at least ten fishermen or yachtsmen
each year,”216 Roy Bates ultimately pleaded guilty to unlicensed broad-
casting in June 1979 and paid a £250 fine.217
      In an ironic twist, Bates applied for a wireless license while the
prosecution was pending.218 The Post Office was ready to supply him
with a very high frequency (VHF) telephone link, but the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office (FCO) objected out of fear that it might be taken
as a form of recognition of some of Sealand’s claims.219 The matter was
ultimately resolved in July 1980, when the FCO dropped its objections,

   210. See Lawyer Freed from Sea Fort, supra note 202. The Times reported that Bates “appointed
Mr. Putz to be Sealand’s new ‘foreign minister,’ and had asked him to strengthen the island’s links on
the Continent.” German Is Freed from Sealand in North Sea, TIMES (Eng.), Sept. 29, 1978, at 4.
   211. See Jail Fear for Prince Roy’s Boy, EVENING ECHO, Jan. 22, 1979 (UK-NA: HO 255/1244).
   212. Log Extracts (Sept. 1–Oct. 3, 1978) (UK-NA: HO 255/1244).
   213. Id.
   214. See Report from R.E. Playle to R.S. Game on Illicit Radio Transmission (Sept. 1–Oct. 3,
1978) (UK-NA: HO 255/1244); Report from M.P. Hawkins to B. Ottaway on Illicit Transmitters
Southend on Sea Area (Sept. 11, 1978) (UK-NA: HO 255/1244); Affidavit of Michael Peter Hawkins
& Raymond Frank Cassell (Oct. 3, 1978) (UK-NA: HO 255/1244).
   215. See Investigation into Illicit Radio Transmitters Using Marine Frequencies, and Located in
the Borough of Southend (Oct. 3, 1978) (UK-NA: HO 255/1244); Investigation into Suspected Illicit
Radio Transmitter at No. 14 Wickford Road Southend on Sea Essex by Michael Peter Hawkins &
Raymond Frank Cassell (Apr. 30, 1979) (UK-NA: HO 255/1245); see also John Ezard, Police Raid
“King” of Sealand’s Home, GUARDIAN, Oct. 4, 1978, at 2.
   216. See Police Raid Sealand Man’s Factory, SOUTHEND EVENING ECHO, Mar. 28, 1979 (UK-NA:
HO 255/1245).
   217. See J.P. Wyllie, Roy Bates Unlicensed Use of Marine Radio (June 11, 1979) (UK-NA: HO
255/1244); see also “Sealand” Ruler Fined £250, GUARDIAN, Jun. 12, 1979, at 2.
   218. See Letter from J.L. Baker to D. Seymour (May 17, 1979) (UK-NA: HO 255/1246).
   219. The extensive correspondence can be found in the National Archives. See UK-NA: HO
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No. 2]          SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                            431

reasoning that it was better to have Bates broadcasting under a license
than running “an ungoverned radio station.”220
     A group of radio hams transmitted from Sealand on its fifteenth an-
niversary in 1982,221 and in 1986, Sealand announced that it would be tak-
ing bids for three independent radio stations to broadcast from the plat-
form.222 A pirate station, Radio Galaxy, was interested, but the project
never seems to have gotten off the ground.223 Instead, Sealand an-
nounced plans in 1987 for its own TV station, with a lineup of movies and
music videos.224 The venture was serious enough to print up a brochure
that promised programming from a studio in Ireland relayed through an
improbable one-thousand-foot mast on Sealand,225 and quoted advertis-
ing rates of ten thousand pounds for a thirty-second commercial.226
Sealand’s partner in the plans, an American named Wallace Kemper,
was wanted for extradition to the United States on fraud charges and was
arrested in the United Kingdom in connection with a three-million-
pound fraud: the Sealand TV plan seems to have fallen apart.227 Also in
1987, Michael Bates and a group of partners bought radio gear with the
intention of starting up Sealand broadcasts by retransmitting other sta-
tions, but shelved the project in light of Britain’s extension of territorial
     Sealand was also implicated in a pirate radio venture on the other
side of the Atlantic. Allan Weiner, an American radio engineer who had
been in trouble with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
for unlicensed broadcasts as far back as 1971,229 set up a Honduran-
flagged fishing ship named the Sarah four and one-half miles off the

    220. Letter from J.L. Baker to G.N. Simpson (July 1980) (UK-NA: HO 255/1246).
    221. See Hibberd, supra note 7.
    222. See Sealand Boss Reveals Plans for Radio Stations, EVENING GAZETTE, July 31, 1986 (UK-
NA: HO 255/1245); Lisa O’Kelly, Diary: No Porn, but Sealand’s in the Family Way, CAMPAIGN, Aug.
7, 1987.
    223. See Letter from P.A.C. Baldwin to M. Coolican, Esq. (Sept. 3, 1986) (UK-NA: HO
    224. See, e.g., Victor Davis, Pirate Invaders Hit British TV, MAIL ON SUNDAY, June 7, 1987, at 14
(UK-NA: HO 255/1245).
    225. Id.
    226. See SEALAND TELEVISION, LTD CHANNEL 5 (n.d.) (UK-NA: HO 255/1246).
    227. See Memorandum from James Murphy on Sealand Television Ltd. (n.d.) (UK-NA: HO
    228. See Sealand Radio—Part 2, supra note 69; Rough Tower, supra note 21 (mentioning also an
aborted plan to relay MTV under the name “Star Channel”).
    229. See In re Application of Weiner Broad. Co. for a Constr. Permit for New Int’l Broad. Station
at Monticello, Maine, MM Docket No. 90-243, 6 FCC Rcd 4337, 4338 (1991) [hereinafter Application
of Weiner I], aff’d 7 FCC Rcd. 832 (1992) [hereinafter Application of Weiner II]. Although Weiner’s
application was denied, Application of Weiner II, supra, at 834, and even though he was apparently
involved in another pirate broadcasting operation near Charleston, see Pirate Radio Station Aboard
the Motor Vessel “Fury” Shut Down in Charleston, South Carolina, 1994 FCC LEXIS 303 (Jan. 21,
1994), he was eventually licensed in 1997, see FCC Broadcast Actions Report No. 44147, 1997 FCC
LEXIS 7192 (Dec. 30, 1997), and is now the owner of WBCQ in Monticello, Maine. See Contact,
WBCQ PLANET, (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
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432                     UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                          [Vol. 2012

coast of Long Island.230 He broadcast as “Radio New York Internation-
al” for five days in 1987 before the Coast Guard and FCC arrested him.231
Enter Sealand. In September 1988, Weiner had the Sarah towed back to
its station off Long Beach—but this time, he registered it under a
Sealand flag.232 (Sealand, for its part, received free advertising time.233)
The ploy failed. Although Weiner physically stayed off the Sarah and
used a shell company to operate it, the U.S. government obtained and
served a restraining order within three days after broadcasts began in
October 1998.234 After some further machinations, the Sarah was ulti-
mately sold to MGM, which blew it up for a scene in the action movie
Blown Away.235 Some of Weiner’s other business partners blamed
Sealand for their losses in dealing with him,236 seeking revenge on
Sealand in the British courts,237 and taking their anger to the web.238

    230. See generally Steven P. Phipps, Unlicensed Broadcasting in the US: The Official Policy of the
FCC, 34 J. BROAD. & ELEC. MEDIA 137, 143–47 (1990); Howard A. Bender, Note, The Case of the Sa-
rah: A Testing Ground for the Regulation of Radio Piracy in the United States, 12 FORDHAM INT’L L.J.
67 (1988) (describing the history of Sarah in the context of international radio regulation).
    231. Application of Weiner I, supra note 229, at 4342. The signals were picked up as far away as
Michigan. See Joseph Berger, Off L.I., a Pirate Radio Station Defies F.C.C., N.Y. TIMES, July 27, 1987,
at A1. Long Beach is on Long Island, a few miles to the east of New York City.
    232. Berger, supra note 321; Ryan Lackey, Defcon 11 Presentation (Aug. 3, 2003), video at 30:15.
    233. Lackey, supra note 232. It’s unclear why Weiner thought this scheme would work, since
Honduran registration hadn’t saved him from the FCC’s wrath the first time around. He also botched
the deal; in order to get the Sarah out of Boston harbor, he had registered it in Maine, an act sufficient
for a district court to conclude that it was a U.S. vessel. United States v. Weiner, 701 F. Supp. 14, 15
(D. Mass. 1988). To be more precise, Weiner acquired a four-dollar Maine fishing license, possibly for
a different ship, and left Boston harbor claiming the boat would be used for inland fishing in Maine.
See John England, The Ill-Fated Story of WRLI and WWCR, 5 J. MEDIA CULTURE, Winter 2003,
available at
    234. See Weiner, 701 F. Supp. at 17 (entering a permanent injunction based on a temporary re-
straining order), aff’d 887 F.2d 259 (1st Cir. 1989). HavenCo’s Ryan Lackey would later claim that the
Sealand registration had been “retracted,” leading to the ship’s seizure. Lackey, supra note 232.
    235. See England, supra note 233.
    236. In brief, a consortium of offshore radio entrepreneurs called MPLX was drawn into the mess
when Weiner took their money in a sham sale of the Sarah. Tracing back through the sordid story, the
MPLX investors unearthed Sealand’s role and tried to hold Sealand accountable for their losses to
Weiner. See id.; see also The Wonderful Radio London Story, WONDERFUL RADIO LONDON
COPYRIGHTS, (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
    237. See Paul John Lilburne-Byford, Occupation: Wonderful Radio London, S.J. MEDIA
CULTURE, Winter 2003, available at http://www.icce.rul/nl/~soundscapes/VOLUME05/Occupation_
WLR.shtml; Paul John Lilburne-Byford, Random Notes for Information Against Roy Bates, ROUGH
SANDS GAZETTE (Oct. 6, 2000),
    238. The MPLX veterans’ main outlet was an anti-Sealand website called Rough Sands Gazette.
See Baskir, supra note 68. It was at; pages are still available through the Internet
Archive. The following excerpt gives a sense of the Gazette’s tone:
         This sludge is being dredged from the natural land of this planet Earth, and it is this natural land
   to which the legal expression “the laws of the land” refers, and the kind of natural land that Michael
   Bates seems to lack—in addition to logic and a grasp of reality. Because he asked the Evening Star, in
   a hypothetical manner, about the extension of UK territorial waters from three miles to 12 miles,
   when he asked: “If Britain imposed itself on us in that way . . . ,” as if to say that the UK had not actual-
   ly performed this undertaking. But of course the UK did extend its territorial waters long ago in 1987,
   and the actions of Harwich Haven Authority are proof that the UK is maintaining its own territorial
   waters. The hypothetical world of Michael Bates is what every ordinary person would term reality. It
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No. 2]           SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                               433

     Over the years, other self-styled information pirates have cast a
longing eye towards Sealand. In 2007, the Pirate Bay, a Swedish website
with a devil-may-care attitude about copyright law,239 announced plans to
buy Sealand.240 It raised over twenty thousand dollars in donations
through a website at, well short of the ten-figure price
tag named by the royal family,241 and negotiations ultimately broke
down.242 Perhaps unknowingly, the Pirate Bay was echoing the 2001 ex-
perience of Matthew Goyer, who contemplated setting up an OpenNap243
server on Sealand.244 Nothing lasting came of it, or of an “amateur radio
day,”245 or of hints in 2007 that Sealand was in negotiations with Russian
venture capitalists to launch a communications satellite.246
     In addition to the regular drumbeat of stories about impending con-
struction, Sealand has had its share of other development plans, includ-
ing a 2004 Royal Bank of Sealand247 and a 2007 online casino.248 In 2007,
Sealand listed itself for sale through the Spanish firm InmoNaranja.249

   is time for Michael to come out of his dream: his dream which is in reality a nightmare involving vio-
   lence and illegal guns.
Id. It is also interesting that the Wikipedia pages relating to Sealand were the subject of a fierce edit
war in late 2004, in which the anti-Sealand side was argued by a user with the name MPLX/MH. See
Talk: Principality of Sealand/Archive 1, WIKIPEDIA: FREE ENCYCLOPEDIA,
wiki/Talk%3ASealand/Archive2 (last updated June 22, 2010) (archiving discussions from 2004 to pre-
    239. See generally Flora Graham, How the Pirate Bay Sailed into Infamy, BBC NEWS (Feb. 16,
    240. See Steve Inskeep, An Island Escape for Internet File Swappers, NAT’L PUB. RADIO (Jan. 15,
    241. See id.;, PIRATE BAY BLOG (Jan. 12, 2007),
(“The price for Sealand is probably about $2,000,000,000.”).
    242. See Woah, Overwhelming, BUY SEALAND (Jan. 24, 2007),
20070510143243/ The move is reminiscent of the claims that WikiLeaks was
moving its hosting to a former Cold War nuclear bunker—perfect publicity, whether or not anything
came of it. See Jonas Tjersland, Pentagon-Papirer Sikret I Atom-Bunker [Pentagon Papers Protected in
Nuclear Bunker], VG NETT (Aug. 27, 2010),
    243. OpenNap was a Napster clone, created after Napster experienced some minor legal difficul-
    244. See Gwendolyn Mariano, File-Swapping Services Seek Refuge Overseas, CNET NEWS (Mar. 5,
    245. Ryan Lackey, HavenCo: What Really Happened, Presentation to Defcon 11 Conference, at
slide 32 (Aug. 1–3, 2003), available at
    246. See Burke Hansen, Sealand Seeks Satellite and Movie Deals, REGISTER (Sept. 27, 2007), http:
// (calling Sealand “reality-challenged”).
    247. See RYAN ET AL., supra note 12, at 11.
    248. Sealand Launches Casino, EVENING STAR (Ipswich) (Aug. 1, 2007), http://www.eveningstar. (quoting spokesman as saying, “The Royal family of
Sealand’s high regard for the loyalty of its subjects is extended towards all Sealand Casino users, with
players gaining loyalty points each time they place a bet.”).
    249. “Smallest State” Seeks New Owners, BBCNEWS (Jan. 8, 2007),
hi/uk_news/england/6239967.stm; see also Principality Notice PN 033/07: Call for Inward Investment in
the Principality, PRINCIPALITY SEALAND (Jan. 5, 2007), available at
pn03307.html. It is unclear whether InmoNaranja, which claims to specialize in selling private islands,
has ever had any other real estate listings—although one can still buy Sealand stamps through them.
See INMONARANJA (last visited Jan. 23, 2012). That didn’t stop
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434                   UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                       [Vol. 2012

The price tag was a modest €750,000,000.250 Roy Bates also sometimes
tells reporters about an incident in which he was approached by an inno-
cent-sounding group seeking to do a business deal with Sealand, only to
send them packing when he realized they were a front for more sinister
doings. So far, Roy has told the story about drug smugglers,251 mercenar-
ies,252 Argentina,253 Libya,254 and the CIA.255

                         H.      1987–2011: Recent Developments

      On October 1, 1987, the United Kingdom extended its territorial
waters from three to twelve miles, thus bringing Sealand within the zone
the United Kingdom claimed.256 Although it has never forced a confron-
tation, the United Kingdom has consistently maintained since 1987 that
Sealand is within its jurisdiction.257 This is not to say that the government
has been entirely clear on who has administrative or property rights over
the place, only that it is regarded as subject to English jurisdiction.258 For
its part, Sealand claims the extension had no effect on it, as it was already
a sovereign nation.259

the company from opening an office in the swank Second Life neighborhood of Tropical Audy. See
Carmelo J. Pérez, Second Life Llama a la Puerta del Sector Inmobiliario [Second Life Knocks at the
Door of the Real Estate Sector], EL MUNDO (Madrid) (July 6, 2007),
    250. “Smallest State” Seeks New Owners, supra note 249.
    251. See Deeley, supra note 116 (“American and Continental business consortia . . . proposals for
a drugs smuggling centre.”).
    252. See id. (“[A] base for the recruitment of mercenaries.”).
    253. See Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 236.
    254. See Sue Baker, Sealand “Island” Home to a Couple, SARASOTA HERALD-TRIBUTE, Dec. 26,
1982, at 6C.
    255. See Deeley, supra note 116 (quoting Bates as saying “An American Church from the Bible
Belt . . . asked if they could install a radio transmitter on Sealand to beam religious broadcasts to Rus-
sia. I was quite interested—they were offering a lot of money—until someone told me the Church was
a front for the CIA.”).
    256. Territorial Sea Act of 1987 § 1(a). One website claims that in late 2000, a judge at the Magis-
trate’s Court in Southend held that Roughs Tower was within its jurisdiction. See Baskir, supra note
68. This is plausible in light of the intervening extension of British territorial waters, but I have found
no independent confirmation.
    257. See, e.g., Neil Watson, Media and Marketing: A TV Pirate’s Platform for Debate–Essex Coast
May Be Sailing into Deep Water, TIMES (Eng.), Aug. 19, 1987 (quoting Department of Trade and In-
dustry spokesman in mid-1987 as saying that Sealand’s planned television station would be breaking
the law in light of Britain’s impending extension of territorial waters); Michelle Perry, Sealand Steps
Up Tax Fight, ACCOUNTANCYAGE.COM (June 15, 2000), available at
20031123165240/ (quoting Inland Revenue spokesman
as saying, “Sealand is under UK jurisdiction for tax purposes[]” in 2000).
    258. See Hibberd, supra note 7. Hibberd argues that the position of the United Kingdom was
driven by a game of bureaucratic hot potato. Each ministry tried to describe Roughs Tower in a way
that made it someone else’s problem. Thus, the Ministry of Defense considered it to be within the
Crown Estate’s ambit, and vice versa, with the Home Office also disclaiming responsibility on the basis
of statutory limits on police powers. Id. at 29–30. The Treasury took the position in 1997 that the
Tower was “a portable chattel which happens to be resting on the seabed.” Id. at 30.
    259. See Lucas, supra note 35.
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     In 1990, the Royal Maritime Auxiliary vessel Golden Eye was pass-
ing close to Sealand when Sealanders fired rifle shots to warn it away.260
According to Roy Bates, the shots were a warning that the Golden Eye,
which had not responded to radio calls, was passing too close.261 The
Golden Eye’s crew, thinking they might be under attack, called the
Thames Coastguard.262 A police investigation263 and perhaps a court case
in Felixstowe264 followed, but there is no clear report of the outcome.265
     Other alleged threats against Sealand over the years are harder to
substantiate. These include Belgian mercenaries,266 a Dutch plane,267 be-
ing stalked by German and Dutch vessels,268 and a U.S. helicopter “cov-
ered in rockets and heavy machine guns.”269 Roy Bates claims to have
“argued a company of royal marines out of staging a helicopter inva-
sion.”270 Michael Bates has said that a military helicopter tried to land
marines on the platform, until he opened fire on them.271 “‘Then when I
came back to Southend,’ [Bates] finished indignantly, ‘they put me in
prison, the buggers.’”272
     In 1999, Prince Roy’s fading health led him to appoint Michael as
Prince Regent and Sovereign pro tempore.273 Roy and Joan Bates have
moved off of Sealand.274 By 2000, they had a “pied-à-terre” in Essex.275
They looked for a place to live in Florida,276 but eventually retired to
Spain.277 The Bateses have dual nationality but no longer use their
Sealand passports when they travel.278 Michael Bates, for his part, has a
“Hollywood-style bungalow” in Essex,279 where he runs a business,
“Fruits of the Sea,” that harvests sea fern and cockles.280

   260. See James Cusick, Shots Fired in Sealand’s Defence of a Small Freedom, INDEPENDENT, Feb.
24, 1990, at 6.
   261. Id. Whether that was “too close” for its own navigational safety or the comfort of the
Sealanders is not specified.
   262. Id.
   263. Id.
   264. See Secret Government Sealand Revelations, supra note 104.
   265. The most I have found is in Welcome to Sealand, supra note 2, which says only that “the mat-
ter was quickly dropped.” Garfinkel, supra note 1.
   266. See Deeley, supra note 116 (quoting Joan Bates as saying, “We’ve heard that a Belgian is
going around offering £2,500 a head to mercenaries who will join in an attack to seize Sealand back off
   267. Id.
   268. See Lucas, supra note 35
   269. Id.
   270. See Kessler, supra note 54.
   271. See Lucas, supra note 35.
   272. Id. (quoting Michael Bates).
   273. See History of Sealand, PRINCIPALITY SEALAND, (last
visited Jan. 23, 2012).
   274. See Simon, supra note 23.
   275. See Miller & Boudreaux, supra note 33.
   276. See Simon, supra note 23.
   277. Lucas, supra note 35.
   278. See Simon, supra note 23.
   279. Lucas, supra note 35.
   280. FRUITS OF SEA, (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
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436                    UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                        [Vol. 2012

       A serious fire broke out on Sealand on Friday, June 23, 2006.281 The
only person on Sealand at the time, a security guard,282 tried and failed to
put out the fire.283 Suffering from smoke inhalation, he had to be airlifted
out to Ipswitch Hospital on the mainland by a Royal Air Force helicop-
ter.284 More than twenty firefighters responded,285 from a mix of private
and governmental groups.286 A tug sprayed Sealand with water as smoke
billowed hundreds of feet into the air.287
       Michael Bates, who had been visiting his parents in Spain, moved
quickly to reoccupy the platform, boarding it with his sons James and
Liam on Sunday, June 25.288 The damage, however, was extensive, esti-
mated at half a million pounds.289 That total doesn’t include the costs of
putting out the fire, for which the rescue services decided not to charge
Sealand.290 Charred debris and rusted metal were everywhere, and large
quantities of water from the firefighting operation had pooled in the bot-
tom of one of the legs.291 Over much of the next year, work crews
cleaned out the mess, repaired the living quarters, and made Sealand

   281. See Sealand on Fire, EVENING STAR (Ipswitch) (June 23, 2006),
   282. See Sealand in Ruins After Blaze, E. ANGLIAN DAILY TIMES (June 24, 2006), http://www.
   283. See Sealand on Fire, supra note 281.
   284. See Rebecca Barry, The RAF Sea King: 2000 and Counting, BBCNEWS, http://www. (last updated July 16,
   285. See Sealand on Fire, supra note 281 (listing groups the Royal National Lifeboat Institution,
the Thames and Felixstowe Coastguards, and the national Maritime Incident Response Group).
   286. See Sealand in Ruins After Blaze, supra note 282.
   287. Id. Dramatic photographs of the blaze and its aftermath are available at Sealand on Fire—
Part 1, BOB LE-ROI, (last up-
dated Dec. 20, 2010).
   288. Sealand on Fire—Part 1, supra note 287. Extensive photographic documentation of the reoc-
cupation is available at Sealand After the Fire—Part 3, BOB LE-ROI,
ScrapBook/SealandFire_3/SealandFire_3a.html (last updated June 25, 2006).
   289. Sealand Will Take Three Months to Repair, EVENING STAR (Ipswich) (Nov. 12, 2006), http://
   290. Geates, EVENING STAR (Ipswich), Nov. 9, 2006. Reliance on national rescue and medical
services is a long-running theme in the story of pirate radio. See, e.g. BISHOP, supra note 23, at 29 (de-
scribing incident on July 27, 1964); id. at 34 (February 13, 1966); id. at 43 (March 3, 1974); id. at 63
(January 27, 1968); id. at 66 (June 2, 1970); id. at 71 (Feb. 24, 1965, Apr. 23, 1965, Aug. 20, 1965, and
Jan. 11, 1966); id. at 76 (July 18, 1958); id. at 77 (Feb. 12, 1962); id. at 86–87 (Apr. 10, 1971); id. at 88
(Nov. 22, 1971); id. at 91 (Dec. 25, 1960); id. at 98 (June 7, 1964); id. at 99 (Jan. 9, 1963); id. at 100
(June 19, 1966); id. at 102 (Oct. 28, 1965, Nov. 28 1965, Nov. 9, 1966, and noting that “Walton lifeboat
were prepared to take the men off, but stated that they were not a ferry service”); id. at 106 (Apr. 3,
1973); id. at 122 (Sept. 1, 1974, and including “considerable inconvenience” for the coast guard); see
also CONWAY, supra note 38, at 203 (“It took more than forty-eight hours, two huge salvage tugs, and
four Harbour Board crews to pull the battered radio ship, which refused to sink, off the Goodwin
Sands.”). Pirate radio ships sank with disconcerting frequency. See, e.g., id. at 187–204 (sinking of
Ross Revenge in 1991); BISHOP, supra note 23, at 32 (grounding of Mi Amigo in 1966); id. at 63
(grounding of Tiri in 1966); id. at 76 (grounding of Cheeta in 1958); id. at 106 (grounding of Nordeney
in 173). The Mi Amigo sank in heavy weather in 1980.
   291. Inside Out: Sealand Fort Offshore (BBC television broadcast), available at http://www.
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habitable again.292 A post-fire website, now offline, referred to an “exclu-
sive building contract,” and sought investors for the rebuilding for “busi-
ness ventures that are legal both in the UK and Sealand.”293

                                    I.     Life on Sealand

     Years of work have given the platform sparse but livable accommo-
dations in the legs and a few fairly comfortable rooms with couches on
the main deck.294 The living quarters now have double-glazed glass and
electric stoves,295 and the views are, unsurprisingly, “awesome.”296 Less
cheerfully, one caretaker explained, “I like being on my own . . . but one
couple spent a few weeks out here and went mad, leaving suicide notes
all over the place.”297 A journalist called it a “scrap heap,” a “rusting
heap of junk,” and a “decrepit hulk.”298 Although Sealand sports a heli-
pad, the main way on is by winch from the waves below.299 Reporters’
accounts of the experience are typically hair raising.300
     The nation has never supported much of a population. In 2002,
Sealand reported to the Summit of Micronations that it had a population
of twenty-seven.301 The number is almost certainly exaggerated. For
months in the late 1960s, Michael Bates and another man, Walter
Mierisch, were the only ones aboard.302 For much of the 1990s, Roy
Bates occupied it by himself.303 After HavenCo’s launch, the Sealanders
came aboard only for press visits; otherwise, it was occupied by one or
two HavenCo employees.304 When one reporter visited in 2000, the
“crew” consisted of two men.305 When another reporter visited in 2004,
“the crew” aboard Sealand consisted of two men, Mike and John, sup-
ported by a shore-based “Sealand Guard” of three more: Jez, Wayne,
and Sean.306

   292. Id.
   293. Thoughts from the Sealanders, CHURCH E., LTD.,
408/ (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
   294. Sealand Radio—Part 1, supra note 24.
   295. Miller & Boudreaux, supra note 33.
   296. Sellars, supra note 30.
   297. See id.
   298. Id. See also Lucas, supra note 35 (“claustrophobic”); Kim Gilmour, Wish You Were Here?,
offshore_data_haven.html (comparing Sealand to an industrial Amsterdam squat).
   299. See Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 235.
   300. Sealand requires visitors to sign liability waivers. See Sellars, supra note 30.
_of_sealand.pdf (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
   302. Lucas, supra note 35.
   303. See Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 236.
   304. Lackey, supra note 245.
   305. Garfinkel, supra note 1 (“Our boat, the Paula Maree, pulls away from the coast toting
enough canned food and drinking water to feed Sealand’s current two-man crew for another week.”).
   306. Lucas, supra note 35. Cf. Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 27:57 (“If you look at the photos,
you’ll see the same people all the time, and you can easily deduce how many people are there.”).
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438                   UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                      [Vol. 2012

      Sealand has a flag,307 a passport stamp,308 a national anthem,309 a coat
of arms,310 and a motto: e mare libertas (“from the sea, freedom”).311 It
also has a Facebook page,312 a Twitter account,313 and a YouTube chan-
nel.314 The 1975 constitution drafted by Professor Achenbach has been
replaced with a newer one, again a constitutional monarchy.315 The gov-
ernment gives its address as SEALAND 1001, but then invariably adds,
“c/o Sealand Post Bag, IP11 9SZ, UK.”316 For years, Sealanders would
present their Sealand passports when traveling,317 and accumulated
stamps from a fair number of nations.318
      Sealand has conferred honorary titles on various celebrities for their
support, such as TV presenter Ben Fogle,319 who devoted a chapter in a
book to Sealand, and automotive TV journalist Jeremy Clarkson, a
“proper bloke’s bloke” whom Prince Regent Michael would like to see
be Prime Minister of Sealand.320 The “Sealand Shopping Mall” sells the
opportunity to purchase a title of Sealand nobility, complete with a

    307. The flag is rectangular, with proportions of 5:3. The upper-left triangle is red; the lower-right
triangle consists of a white diagonal stripe above a black triangle. File: Flag of Sealand.svg,
Jan. 23, 2012). See also Deeley, supra note 116 (“Red for Roy, white for purity and black for our pi-
rate radio days.”).
    308. See Simon, supra note 23; Lucas, supra note 35.
    309. The anthem, by Basil Simonenko, Sealand, Principality of, NATIONALANTHEMS.INFO, http:// (last visited Jan. 23, 2012), can be heard in full (if synthetic) ar-
rangement. Anthem of Principality of Sealand, YOUTUBE,
euF8 (last updated Feb. 24, 2008).
    310. The coat of arms consists of a shield emblazoned with the Sealand flag, flanked by a pair of
merlions, surmounted by a crowned helmet and a mailed fist holding stylized lightning bolts, above the
motto. A merlion is creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish, best known as a national
symbol of Singapore.
    311. The Latin is irregular. Mare, maris is a third-declension i-stem noun, whose ablative form
therefore would be expected to end in –i rather than –e.
    312. Principality of Sealand, FACEBOOK, (last
visited Jan. 23, 2012).
    313. SealandGov, TWITTER, (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
    314. Sealand Video, YOUTUBE, (last visited Jan. 23,
    315. Fact File, supra note 139; see also SUMMIT MICRONATIONS, supra note 301 (dated an implau-
sible 1966).
    316. See, e.g., Principality Notice PN035/07: Restricted Visitation Arrangements, PRINCIPALITY
SEALAND (Apr. 22, 2007),
    317. Lucas, supra note 35.
    318. HavenCo cofounder Sean Hastings’s website has images of stamps and visas from countries
including Togo, Gabon, Senegal, Mongolia, and West Germany. Interestingly, some of these images
are from visas granted to Johannes Seiger, Prime Minister of the German Sealand. See generally Sean
Hastings, Confidential Report: The Principality of Sealand (Apr. 20, 2009) (on file with author).
    319. To watch Fogle’s conferral ceremony, see Sealand on the One Show 2011, YOUTUBE, at 4:10, (last updated Feb. 21, 2011).
    320. See Jeremy Clarkson for PM, Says Sealand “Prince” Michael Bates, THURROCK GAZETTE
(Nov. 23, 2009),
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“Deed of Individual Noble Title Ownership.” The price is £29.99 plus
£4.99 postage.321
      Sealand has a sporadic but active cultural life. A wedding was held
on Sealand in 1979.322 The Bateses sold their film story to a Hollywood
screenwriter for perhaps twenty thousand dollars.323 The energy drink
Red Bull sponsored a skating video filmed on Sealand in 2008.324 Pete
Wentz from the band Fall Out Boy at one point announced his interest in
playing a Sealand gig.325 Sealand also sometimes lends its name to ath-
letes. Martial artist Michael Martelle represented Sealand at the Festivel
Culturel Chinois de Québec;326 its National Football Team is a Danish
club in Vestbjergl.327 Slader Oviatt carried a Sealand flag to the top of
Muztag Ata, a 7546 meter peak in China.328

                                    J.     Other Sealands

     Sealand has a doppelganger: following his failed coup attempt, Pro-
fessor Achenbach established a government-in-exile in Germany. Ac-
cording to its theory of matters, Roy Bates “was declared dethroned on
account of his anti-constitutional behaviour and his intentions to sell
state-rights to a consortium, thereby robbing the citizens of Sealand of
their own chances.”329 In response, Sealand citizens engaged in an “un-
armed occupation of their state’s territory,” but Bates “repossessed the
island in an act of ‘piracy’ which violated all existing laws.”330 At that
point, the “still constitutional government of Sealand under Mr.
Achenbach” went into exile.331 The German Sealand accepts that it is in

    321. Become a Lord, Lady, Baron or Baroness!, PRINCIPALITY SEALAND, http://www.sealandgov.
    322. See Church Agree to Sealand Wedding, EVENING GAZETTE, Apr. 9, 1979, at 8 (UK-NA: HO
255/1245); Sealand Radio—Part 2, supra note 69 (photographs).
    323. Lucas, supra note 35. The project was picked up by Warner Brothers in 2003. See Cathy
Dunkley, “Sealand” Pitch Comes Ashore at WB, VARIETY (Oct. 12, 2003),
article/VR1117893847; see also Sealand, IMDB, (last visited Jan.
23, 2012). A series of unsourced posts at the Sealand News website in 2007 linked director Mike New-
ell and actress Emma Watson to it. See Popular Films, COVERAGE, INK,
20081222170656/ (last visited Jan. 23, 2012)
(claiming that Mike Newell is attached to Sealand project in development).
    324. Skateboarding the World’s Smallest Country: Red Bull All Access, YOUTUBE, http://www. (last updated Nov. 12, 2008). The highlight of the clip is an ac-
cident in which a skateboard goes over the side. See Red Bull Access All Areas Meets Sealand,
YOUTUBE, (last updated Dec. 23, 2008) (longer
version, with interviews).
    325. James Montgomery, Fall Out Boy Are Taking a Break . . . Unless Sealand Calls, MTV NEWS
(Aug. 13, 2009),
(July 7–8, 2007) (Fr.).
    327. See Principality Notice 025/04: International Sporting Activities Update, PRINCIPALITY
SEALAND (Nov. 1, 2004),
    328. Id.
    329. See Achenbach, supra note 175, at 4.
    330. Id. at 4.
    331. Chronology, supra note 163.
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440                  UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                 [Vol. 2012

exile and that Bates has actual possession of Sealand. It also hopes “to
reinstall Roy of Sealand at an opportune time as its sovereign.”332 None-
theless, acting on behalf of “people of the Principality of Sealand,” it
claims authority to make law for the country.333
      Achenbach transferred Roy’s powers to a syndic via constitutional
amendment,334 appointing his lawyer, Dr. A.L.C.M. Oomen, as syndic in
the fall of 1978.335 A Constitution Council promulgated a new constitu-
tion in 1989.336 The 1989 constitution is similar to the 1975 constitution,
except that it moves from a monarchy in which the Sovereign issues all
legislation to a constitutional model in which the Sovereign issues legisla-
tion “based on recommendations by the Government and in accordance
with the Privy Council,” and adds German as a national language.337
      In 1988 and 1989, Achenbach and Oomen established Johannes
W.F. Sieger as Prime Minister and Chairman of the Privy Council.338
Sieger proceeded to refashion “Sealand” as more of a business venture
than a nation:
         The Principality of Sealand is a state with the qualities of a
   business group, which means the Principality of Sealand knows nei-
   ther civil servants nor functionaries, it exclusively knows active col-
         The Principality of Sealand is represented only by those who
   contribute to the achievement of its targets and thus to the devel-
   opment of the Principality of Sealand.339
      Some of these activities are strange indeed. One involves a so-
called “Vril implosion technology” that would “create symmetrical gravi-
tational waves of any desired frequency” and could therefore “bring en-
ergy into atomic or molecular structures of appropriate materials and to
store it there.”340 The material on the German Sealand’s website is vo-
luminous, and the English translations are not always intelligible, but it
adds up to a heady brew of supernatural pseudoscience,341 lost-treasure

   332. CONSTITUTION OF 1989 pmbl. (Sealand),
pdf (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
   333. Id.
   334. See Chronology, supra note 163.
   335. Id.
   336. CONSTITUTION OF 1989 pmbl. (Sealand),
pdf (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
   337. Id.
   338. Declaration of Dr. A.L. Chr. M. Oomen (June 12, 1989),
pdf/oomen_1989_06_12.pdf; History of Sealand, supra note 273. For more on Seiger, see Christian
Litz, Der Herr Premierminister, fern der Heimat [Mr. Prime Minister, Far from Home], BRAND EINS,
May 2001, at 148 (Ger.).
(last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
   340. Government Decision 05-01-2004, Principality of Sealand (May 1, 2004), http://principality-
   341. See, e.g., Aus der Arbeit der Regierungskommission [From the Work of the Government
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conspiracy theory,342 regular conspiracy theory343 and repeated conflicts
with the German authorities.344 Sealand itself denounces these “fraudu-
lent representations,” disclaims any connection with the German
Sealand, and warns the world that some of the German site’s operators
are “subject to arrest and prosecution for these and other offences
against Principality law.”345
     A Spanish group has engaged in even shadier dealings using the
Sealand name. In the late 1990s, a nightclub and filling station owner
under investigation for selling diluted gasoline identified himself as
Sealand’s “consul” and claimed diplomatic immunity.346 The police ulti-
mately found three “Sealand” offices and filed charges against some
eighty people.347 Their actual crimes were a mixture of two-bit and bra-
zen: everything from skipping town with unpaid hotel bills to gunrun-
ning.348 They appeared to be led by a Spaniard named Francisco Trujillo,
who fancied himself Sealand’s “regent” and a colonel in its armed forces
(for which he had uniforms designed) and ran a supposed Sealand Em-
bassy in Madrid.349 The group had created a website350 that promoted

html (Ger.) (last visited Jan. 23, 2012) (discussing flying saucers). Here is a sample of one of its state-
ments, to give the flavor:
         The various offices of the Principality of Sealand and its diplomatic and trade missions in Ger-
   many have in recent years been searched by police in violation of its diplomatic immunity and in con-
   travention to the Vienna Treaty, trying to find incriminating material. All these measures had to be
   cancelled as no indications to illegal activities were ever found.
          The main reason for these searches was the attempt to get at documents from the Nazi
   times in possession of Sealand, also at information about the actual storage places of the Amber
   Room, the Treasure of the Reichspost, of flying disks, huge gold and silver caches and a multitude
   of cultural treasures of immeasurable value. Of further interest are advanced technologies like
   the development of alternative free energy systems as well as highly sensitive documents from
   Stasi files.
Press Release, Diplomatic Mission of the Principality of Sealand in the German Empire (Apr. 20,
2000) [hereinafter Press Release of April 20, 2000],
    342. See, e.g., Amber Room, Reichspostschatz (Treasure of the Reichspost) and Other Missing Cul-
(last visited Jan. 23, 2012) (discussing search for “Amber Room” looted by Nazi government from
Russia during World War II and presumed lost).
    343. See, e.g., New Community of Philosophers, PRINCIPALITY SEALAND (Feb. 2004), http://www. (“The clandestine back-
ground power that completely dominates the U.S. is Zionism in all its facets together with internation-
al Freemasonry controlled by it!”).
    344. See, e.g., Law Suits, PRINCIPALITY SEALAND,
rechtstreit_e.html (last visited Jan. 23, 2012) (“Who put the political leadership in Brandenburg under
Matthias Platzeck and its criminal judiciary in their place?”).
    345. See Principality Notice PN 019/04: Fraudulent Representation of Principality, PRINCIPALITY
SEALAND (Feb. 15, 2004),
    346. Miller & Boudreaux, supra note 33.
    347. Id.
    348. Id.
    349. Id.
    350. See PRINCIPALITY SEALAND, (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
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Sealand to potential investors.351 Two of the group—the Minister of Jus-
tice and the Minister of Transport and Trade—tried to purchase tanks,
fighter aircraft, and artillery from the Russian mafia, possibly for ship-
ment to Sudan.352 There may have been a connection between the Span-
ish group and the German Sealand; if so, however, its exact nature re-
mains obscure.353 Sealand itself has unconditionally denounced the
      The “fake” Sealand passports have turned up in strange places.
Some wound up in Eastern Europe, in the hands of pyramid schemers
who had used them to travel to Libya, Iraq, and Iran.355 Others were sold
to would-be illegal immigrants to Europe356 and to fearful residents of
Hong Kong in the run-up to the Chinese resumption of sovereignty in
1997.357 After Andrew Cunanan murdered the fashion designer Gianni
Versace, he holed up on a houseboat before killing himself.358 The
houseboat belonged to Torstein Reineck, a businessman who held what
purported to be a diplomatic Sealand passport and drove a Mercedes
with diplomatic license plates.359 The investigation led a State Depart-

    351. The site claimed Sealand had a population of 160,000. See Gooch, supra note 36. It asked
for foreign investment in a range of projects that put Sealand’s own ambitions to shame: “A luxury
hotel and casino, business center, sports complex, medical center, tuition-free University of Sealand,
and Roman Catholic cathedral.” Miller & Boudreaux, supra note 33. The site also asked visitors to
indicate whether they were interested in citizenship, ID cards, passports, or drivers’ licenses, and sold
these credentials for between £5,500 and £35,000. Gooch, supra note 36. Id. Another source claims it
was a promotional book, either instead of or in addition to the website. See José María Irujo, Sealand,
un Falso Principado en el Mar [Sealand, a False Principality at Sea], EL PAIS (Mardid) (last visited Jan.
23, 2012), available at
    352. See Sealand y el Tráfico de Armas [Sealand and Arms Trafficking], EL MERCURIO (Santia-
go), June 17, 2000, available at{5e1cb892-1c4e-42d1-
    353. A Dusseldorf businessman named Friedbert Ley—who had employed Trujillo at a roof insu-
lation company—was the one who created the Spanish group’s website, which listed Ley as “prime
minister” in a hierarchy under Trujillo. Miller & Boudreaux, supra note 33. Presumably, the company
was Isopol GMBH, named in Sealand y el Tráfico de Armas, supra note 352. Ley later denied any
connection to the German Sealand, and, calling the site a “big joke,” also denied any criminal connec-
tion. Miller & Boudreaux, supra note 33. Spanish authorities disagreed, saying that the “verdaderos
cerebros [true brains]” of the group were in Germany, naming Ley and one Johnanes Weiger. See
Sealand y el Tráfico de Armas, supra note 352. “Weiger” might refer to Johannes W.F. Seiger, of the
German Sealand. The German Sealand for its part, claims that it was approached by the Spanish
group, but that the Spaniards attempted first to defraud them and then offered to split the proceeds of
highly sketchy transactions with them. See Press Release of April 20, 2000, supra note 341. At this,
the German Sealand says it sent them packing, but since the international authorities were slow to
take action, was unable to stop the resulting fraud by the Spanish group. Id.
    354. See Miller & Boudreaux, supra note 33.
    355. Gooch, supra note 36.
    356. See Viel Geld für eine Affenfahrt [Lots of Money for a Monkey Ride], DER SPIEGEL, May 22,
1989, (“Monkey Ride” is the apparently racist
term used by Saarland taxi drivers smuggling immigrants across the border.).
    357. See Steve Boggan, Money Laundering, INDEPENDENT (London), Sept. 23, 1997, at 10.
    358. See Tom DuBocq, Boat Owner Suspected of Forgery, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, July 28,
1997, at 4A.
    359. See id. I have found no contemporaneous documentation for the claim, made in some later
articles, that Cunanan was also in possession of a Sealand passport. See, e.g., Gooch, supra note 36.
Reineck, who also used the name T. Matthias “Doc” Ruehl in business ventures, had an outstanding
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ment representative to state, “I can tell you, in no uncertain terms, that
the United States does not recognize the Principality of Sealand.”360
      Still other claims have been made to Sealand over the years. In
2009, one “King Marduk I” asked the United Nations to recognize him
as the ruler of Sealand.361 Even though almost nothing was known about
him, and he had never been to Sealand, King Marduk had big plans, say-
ing, “We have a strategy to create a new Sealandcity, wind farms, and an
enterprise platform which will be a centre for modern communication
technologies and a paradise for enterprise strategies.”362 Nothing more
has been heard from him since. Another short-lived claim was made
online by the “Republic of Sealand” in early 2011.363

                                          K.    Themes

     A few themes appear over and over again in Sealand’s history.
Most obviously, its physical existence has always been a little precarious,
from the near disaster of its unbalanced sinking in 1942 to the fire in
2006. The contrast between the big dreams—the three-mile floating is-
land, the casino, the tanker port—and the reality has always been strik-
ing. Commercially, Sealand hasn’t been much of a success either: Bates
claims to have poured large sums of money into it.364 It has always been
surrounded by a swarm of schemers, scammers, and mystery men: Ronan
O’Rahilly, Alexander Achenbach, Wallace Kemper, King Marduk.
     Still, there’s a reason why even Red Bull and Fall Out Boy have
been drawn to this “craziest kind of story ever.”365 Sealand is a powerful
symbol: a place outside of the national system, literally offshore.366 As a

warrant for fraud in Europe and was under investigation in Germany for tax evasion. See DuBocq,
supra note 358.
   360. See Joe Schoenmann, FBI Keeping Quiet About Details of Reineck Interview, LAS VEGAS
REV.-J., July 26, 1997, at 1A (quoting Walter Deering from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security of the
State Department).
   361. Andrea Collitt, Essex: Sealand Rejects Ownership Claim, ECHO (Jan. 22, 2009), http://
_rejects_ownership_claim/. Marduk’s modus operandi was otherwise to claim ownership of pieces of
land around Lake Constance, at the intersection of Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, alleging that
they were unmentioned in post-World War II treaties, and thus unowned. Id. United Nations mem-
bership would have been a stretch, given that in 1982 a United Nations spokesman said, “The United
Nations is an organization of governments, not gun platforms. The secretary-general has a nut file for
such applications.” See Baker, supra note 254.
   362. Geates, supra note 290.
   363. The Republic’s website (now defunct) was at The Princi-
pality issued a statement via its Facebook page declaring the Republic “fraudulent.” Principality of
Sealand, Fraudulent Sealand Site, FACEBOOK (Mar. 26, 2011, 4:21 PM),
   364. See STRAUSS, supra note 12, at 137 (over a million pounds); Kessler, supra note 54 (“$300,000
so far”). But see SINCLAIR & LE-ROI, supra note 32, at 67 (“The only laugh came from us, when we
heard him saying that he had spent a million pounds on the place. A thousand pounds maximum we
   365. Montgomery, supra note 325.
   366. See Daniel van der Velden et al., The Discovery of the Fifth World: Stealth Countries and
Logo Nations, SARAI READER 2005: BARE ACTS 96, 98–103 (discussing Sealand as imagined utopia).
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symbol, it has resonated with other dreamers.367 Roy Bates had plenty of
big dreams, and so did his German and Spanish rivals. Sealand passports
were a lucrative business, one suspects, not just because their bearers ex-
pected them to function as get-out-of-jail-free cards, but also because of
the romance associated with this most unusual nation. There is a natural
line connecting Roy Bates the offshore radio pirate with his modern-day
counterparts: HavenCo and the Pirate Bay.368
      For such a small place, Sealand’s history is surprisingly and consist-
ently violent. Even among other pirate radio operators, Roy Bates had a
reputation for being the sort of man who was willing to seize first and ask
questions later.369 Bates occupied first Knock John and then Roughs
Tower by evicting the previous inhabitants. Roy and Michael Bates then
defended Roughs Tower from Radio Caroline with petrol bombs and
from the government with gunshots. The 1978 assault is the high point,
of course, but the Bates family has regularly threatened potential intrud-
ers and fired shots across the bow of bewildered mariners.
      Roy Bates’s outsize personality also casts a long shadow over
Sealand. Roy plays reporters like violins,370 and the archival files make
clear that he was running circles around befuddled bureaucrats during
the crucial first years of 1967 and 1968. Behind the roguish eccentricity,
there’s also a remarkable force of will. Almost everyone who has visited
Sealand is eager to leave after a short while, but the Bateses have stuck it
out for over forty years. And Roy Bates personally led the helicopter as-
sault on Sealand during the 1978 countercoup; he has the outsize person-
ality of other colonial liberators: a Bolivar or a Nkrumah.371 To quote the

   367. The Dutch studio Metahaven, fascinated by Sealand’s rich symbolic and metaphoric content,
produced an extensive multiyear art project, the Sealand Identity Project, to explore its implications.
Sealand Identity Project 2003–2004, META HAVEN, (last visited Jan. 23,
2012); The Network Ruin: Three Letters to Prince Michael, in DANIEL VAN DER VELDEN & VINCA
   368. See JOHNS, supra note 37, at 251–54.
   369. See id. at 233–36. In 1969, the Associated Press reported that Bates “said that he would
shoot at anyone who tried to violate his sovereignty.” Owner of Fort Off Britain Issues His Own Pass-
ports, N.Y. TIMES, Mar. 30, 1969, at 8.
   370. As yet another example, Radio Essex convinced a reporter from the Orpington & Kentish
Times that it served its staff “exquisitely prepared meals by a master chef purloined from a famous
London Hotel.” SINCLAIR & LE-ROI, supra note 32, at 22. Typical fare aboard Knock John, however,
tended more to “slightly ‘off’ corned beef, brittle bread with little holes where the fascinating green
bits had been carefully chopped out, and mugs of hot, weak tea.” Id. at 10.; see also id. at 66–67 (de-
scribing how Bates provided Radio Essex staff with a “magnificent feast” to show off to a television
   371. Hibberd describes Britain’s indecisive Sealand policy as “a small but typical example of Brit-
ain’s post-imperial malaise.” Hibberd, supra note 7, at 2. For a good example of Sealand’s intriguing
status as a post-colonial nation, consider an editorial cartoon of a man in a rowboat next to a Sealand-
esque platform. British Keep out Independent, SUN (Eng.), Oct. 28, 1968. The caption reads, “Says his
name is Smith—wants to know how we got away with it.” Id. At the time, Ian Smith was the Prime
Minister of Rhodesia, which had declared independence from Britain in an attempt to preserve white
minority rule.
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No. 2]          SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                           445

man himself, “We may die rich, we may die poor. But we certainly shall
not die of boredom.”372

                                       III. HAVENCO
      HavenCo started on the island of Anguilla, at the 1998 Financial
Cryptography conference, when Sean Hastings met Ryan Lackey. Has-
tings was a programmer who had moved to Anguilla to work on online
gambling projects.373 Lackey was an independent-minded MIT drop-
out.374 They were worried about preserving personal freedom and con-
cerned about expansive government power; they believed that the free
flow of information on the Internet could solve both of those problems
by enabling individuals to speak without fear of governmental oppres-
sion.375 To put their libertarian beliefs and technical skills into action,
they were both looking to create a data haven.

                                    A.     “Data Haven”

      As Michael Froomkin explains, a data haven is “the information
equivalent to a tax haven—a single nation that offer[s] to warehouse data
offshore.”376 An ideal data haven would combine substantial computer
infrastructure with highly permissive laws on what can be done with
those computers. A combination of fast servers and loose laws means
that any data too sensitive to be stored and distributed from home will
migrate to the haven.
      Although William Gibson is sometimes credited with coining the
term “data haven,”377 it has a surprising, and revealing, prehistory. In the
1970s, as countries grappled with the privacy issues raised by large data-
bases of personal information, they tended to conceptualize the problem
in territorial terms, enacting laws that imposed privacy standards on da-
tabases within their borders.378 Companies started to respond by physi-
cally shipping computers and storage media to countries with relatively

   372. See Deeley, supra note 116.
   373. SEAN HASTINGS, DATAHAVEN ch.1 (2008).
   374. Id.
   375. Ryan Lackey, Answers from Sealand, SLASHDOT (July 3, 2000),
   376. See A. Michael Froomkin, Flood Control on the Information Ocean: Living with Anonymity,
Digital Cash, and Distributed Databases, 15 J.L. & COM. 395, 491 (1996).
   377. See, e.g., Data Haven, WIKIPEDIA: FREE ENCYCLOPEDIA,
p?title=Data_haven&oldid=387755906 (last updated Sept. 29, 2010). But see Data Haven, WIKIPEDIA:
updated Nov. 29, 2010) (incorporating my edits to fix the mistaken attribution to Gibson).
   378. See generally Paul M. Schwartz, European Data Protection Law and Restrictions on Interna-
tional Data Flows, 80 IOWA L. REV. 471, 473–77 (1995) (describing national laws imposing territorial
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446                   UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                       [Vol. 2012

looser laws.379 Government commissions studying the problem began to
be concerned about the possibility of “data haven” jurisdictions deliber-
ately offering lower privacy standards.380
      A British management consultant, Adrian Norman, took the idea
and ran with it, writing a spoof of a feasibility study for Project Goldfish,
a “thoroughly private and secure system” along the lines of Swiss bank-
ing, offering data storage to clients worldwide.381 Norman predicted that
small countries would be “willing to provide data havens analogous to
tax havens.”382 Alerted to the issue, many countries eventually placed re-
strictions not just on the collection and storage of personal data, but also
on transferring it to other jurisdictions with weaker privacy laws.383 The
idea of regulatory evasion through offshoring data, however, had es-
caped into wider consciousness.384
      Science fiction writers knew a compelling concept when they heard
one.385 Parts of William Gibson’s “Sprawl trilogy”386 take place on the
Freeside space station, which floats in high-earth orbit.387 One of its more

   379. See, e.g., G. Russell Pipe, At Sea Over Pirate Data Banks, 73 NEW SCI., Jan. 13, 1977, at 86
(discussing outsourcing of data entry and a “German association of detective agencies . . . [that] decid-
ed to relocate its data base in Luxembourg”).
The first use of the term that I have been able to track down is in DOMESTIC COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON
THE RIGHT OF PRIVACY, NATIONAL INFORMATION POLICY 51–52 (1976) (discussing “data haven”
problem of agencies subject to FOIA maintaining records with exempt agencies or with private-sector
partners). See generally Barry M. Goldwater, Jr., Data Havens: International Privacy Threat, 9 COMP.
DECISIONS, June 1977, at 22, 23–24 (discussing governmental studies of data haven problem).
   381. Adrian Norman, Project Goldfish, 1 IPC SCI. & TECH., Sept. 1978, at 8, 9 (1978); see also
   382. Norman, supra note 381, at 10.
   383. See, e.g., Council Directive 95/46 art. 26, 1995 O.J. (L 281) 31, 46 (EC) (requiring European
Union Member States to restrict “transfers of personal data to a third country which does not ensure
an adequate level of protection”).
   384. The term appears to have entered the U.S. law review literature in 1980. See Frits W.
Hondius, Data Law in Europe, 16 STAN. J. INT’L L. 87, 103 (1980); Eric J. Novotny, Transborder Data
Flows and International Law: A Framework for Policy-Oriented Inquiry, 16 STAN. J. INT’L L. 141, 150
(1980). Prior to HavenCo, it seems to have been used primarily in this specific sense: as a term of art
referring to differing levels of regulation on the storage of personal data. See, e.g., Froomkin, supra
note 376, at 491; Robert M. Gellman, Can Privacy Be Regulated Effectively on a National Level?
Thoughts on the Possible Need for International Privacy Rules, 41 VILL. L. REV. 129, 158 (1996); Doug-
las Yarn, Note, The Development of Canadian Law on Transborder Data Flow, 13 GA. J. INT’L &
COMP. L. 825, 837 (1983). Occasional authors, perhaps reasoning by analogy, also used the term to
refer to states with permissive intellectual property laws. See, e.g., Steven Betensky, Jurisdiction and
the Internet, 19 PACE L. REV. 1, 20 (1998).
   385. An earlier book, JOHN BRUNNER, THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER (1975), envisions a programmer
who successfully hacks the authoritarian government’s communications network from a secret undis-
closed location, rather than a legal jurisdiction. More recently, the term has fallen into the hands of
the authors of potboiler thrillers, who tend to use it to refer to any secure colocation facility, prefera-
bly in an exotic locale. See, e.g., KEN MACLEOD, COSMONAUT KEEP 67 (2000) (“Like, this place is a
data haven?”); THOMAS F. MONTELEONE, EYES OF THE VIRGIN 100 (2002) (“Kate glowed as she be-
gan to tell him about data havens. ‘Basically, they’re like safe deposit boxes for digital information—
but much bigger.’”).
   387. GIBSON, NEUROMANCER, supra note 386, at 75.
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No. 2]           SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                                447

profitable lines of business, Gibson mentions in almost offhand fashion,
is serving as a data haven.388 Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net imagines
a future in which Grenada, Singapore, and Cyprus quietly tolerate all
sorts of unsafe experimental technology that the larger nations keep
heavily regulated, from super sharp ceramic machetes to mutagenic sun-
tan lotion that changes its user’s race.389 They run a sideline in data ha-
ven services along the lines of Project Goldfish, storing the personal data
that companies want to have but aren’t allowed to keep.390 More recent-
ly, Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon describes the best-known fictional
data haven.391 The Sultan of Kinakuta, a small oil-rich island in the Sulu
Sea, invites the novel’s protagonists to build the infrastructure to make
the island into a communications hub; for his part, he will supply an ab-
sence of copyright and other regulation.392
      The other group to take the data haven idea seriously was the
cypherpunks.393 This loosely associated group of techno-libertarians coa-
lesced in the early 1990s around a sense that individual freedom was un-
der threat from a rising surveillance state, and that the solution lay in the
widespread individual use of cryptography to keep both messages and
identities secure from prying eyes.394 For the cypherpunks, security
through encryption was a moral imperative, because it would make all
forms of government restrictions on speech unenforceable.395 The
Thought Police can’t arrest you if they don’t know you are a dog. Many
of the cypherpunks were programmers; they sought to create the neces-

    388. GIBSON, MONA LISA OVERDRIVE, supra note 386, at 128.
    389. BRUCE STERLING, ISLANDS IN THE NET 104–05 (1988) (suntan lotion); id. at 106–07 (ma-
    390. Id. at 19.
    391. See generally NEAL STEPHENSON, CRYPTONOMICON (1999).
    392. See id. at 310–20.
    393. The two groups are related. The cypherpunks were frequently inspired by sci-fi visions, and
Cryptonomicon is essentially a novel about a group of cypherpunk entrepreneurs. Even the names
illustrate the crossover. “Cypherpunk” is a portmanteau of “cipher” and “cyberpunk,” the usual name
for the subgrenre of sci-fi in which Sterling and Gibson wrote; Cryptonomicon is coincidentally close
to the title of Tim May’s Cyphernomicon, a 160,000-word FAQ and compendium of cypherpunk in-
formation. See Timothy C. May, The Cyphernomicon, CYPHERPUNKS (Sept. 10, 1994), http://www. Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon Cypher-
FAQ § 3 (1999), (dis-
cussing similarity of titles). A critical link was Vernor Vinge’s highly influential story, True Names, in
Binary Star No. 5, which imagined a networked future in which hackers and dissidents were safe from
the government, or “Great Enemy,” only as long as their “true names” were unknown—i.e., their off-
line and online identities couldn’t be linked. See generally TRUE NAMES: AND THE OPENING OF THE
CYBERSPACE FRONTIER (James Frenkel ed. 2001).
SAVING PRIVACY IN THE DIGITAL AGE 187–225 (2002) (describing the history of the cypherpunk
movement); HIGH NOON ON THE ELECTRONIC FRONTIER pt. III (Peter Ludlow ed., 1996) (same);
CRYPTO ANARCHY, CYBERSTATES, AND PIRATE UTOPIAS pt. II (Peter Ludlow ed., 2001) (collecting
major writings of cypherpunk theory); Steven Levy, Crypto Rebels, WIRED, May–June 1993.
    395. See, e.g., Eric Hughes, A Cypherpunk’s Manifesto, in CRYPTO ANARCHY, supra note 394, at
81, 81 (“Privacy is necessary for an open society in the electronic age. . . . We seek not to restrict any
speech at all.”); Timothy C. May, The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto, in CRYPTO ANARCHY, supra note
394, at 61, 61 (“A specter is haunting the modern world, the specter of crypto anarchy.”).
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448                  UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                    [Vol. 2012

sary technological tools for the crypto revolution396 as well as fight for the
legal right to use them.397
      The cypherpunks used “data haven” in the standard sense of a per-
missive jurisdiction, but also imagined that a data haven could be “off-
shore in cyberspace.”398 In 1993, Timothy May released BlackNet, a
proof-of-concept system that used encryption to enable a fully anony-
mous information market399 in anything governments would like to pro-
hibit, potentially including “medical, religious, [and] chemical” infor-
mation, and “credit databases, deadbeat renter files, organ bank markets,
etc.”400 Critics reacted strongly against the idea—Dorothy Denning com-
plained that it would lead to “tax evasion, money laundering, espionage
(with digital dead drops), contract killings, and implementation of data
havens for storing and marketing illegal or controversial material[]”401—
but to cypherpunks, these consequences were either desirable in them-
selves or outweighed by the overall increase in freedom.402
      This is where HavenCo’s founders enter the picture. American
programmer Vince Cate had moved to Anguilla in 1994, renounced his
U.S. citizenship,403 and started a “data haven” Internet company named
Offshore Information Services.404 Sean Hastings followed with his own

   396. See, e.g., Hughes, supra note 395, at 82 (“Cypherpunks write code.”).
   397. See, e.g., Karn v. U.S. Dep’t of State, 925 F. Supp. 1 (D.D.C. 1996) (rejecting Administrative
Procedures Act and First and Fifth Amendment challenges to cryptographic export restrictions).
Later lawsuits against the regulations were more successful. See Junger v. Daley, 209 F.3d 481 (6th
Cir. 2000) (allowing First Amendment challenge); Bernstein v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 176 F.3d 1132
(9th Cir. 1999) (striking down regulations on First Amendment grounds).
   398. May, supra note 393, §§ 15.8.3, 16.22.1.
   399. See Timothy C. May, Introduction to BlackNet, in HIGH NOON, supra note 394, at 241; Timo-
thy C. May, BlackNet Worries, in HIGH NOON, supra note 394, at 245. For a more modern version of
the same dream, consider Silk Road, a “digital black market” that is only accessible via the
anonymyzing TOR network and “makes buying and selling illegal drugs as easy as buying used elec-
tronics—and seemingly as safe.” Adrian Chen, The Underground Website Where You Can Buy Any
Drug Imaginable, GAWKER (June 1, 2011),
   400. Timothy C. May, Crypto Anarchy and Virtual Communities, in CRYPTO ANARCHY, supra
note 394, at 65, 72.
   401. Dorothy E. Denning, The Future of Cryptography, in CRYPTO ANARCHY, supra note 394, at
85, 87–88.
   402. See, e.g., Duncan Frissell, Re: Denning’s Crypto Anarchy, in CRYPTO ANARCHY, supra note
394, at 105.
   403. Peter Wayner, Encryption Expert Says U.S. Laws Led to Renouncing of Citizenship,
CYBERTIMES (Sept. 6, 1998),
encrypt.html (“Before renouncing his U.S. citizenship, Cate became a citizen of Mozambique for a fee
of about $5,000.”).
   404. Steve G. Steinberg, Offshore Data Haven, WIRED, May 1996, at 40; OFFSHORE
INFORMATION SERVICES, (last visited Jan. 23, 2012). See also Charles
Platt, Plotting Away in Margaritaville, WIRED, July 1997, at 140 (discussing Cate and the Financial
Cryptography conference series he hosted and at which Hastings and Lackey would meet). OIS and
IsleByte no longer offer hosting and anonymizing services, but other Caribbean companies do. See
About Guardster, GUARDSTER, (last visited Jan. 23,
2012) (describing encryption service based in Nevis).
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No. 2]           SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                               449

Anguillan data haven company, IsleByte,405 and worked with Cate on an
electronic currency called SAXAS.406 Ryan Lackey had his own
cypherpunk bona fides: he would set up an anonymous remailer on
Sealand itself (albeit without telling the royal family about it), and after
leaving, he worked on a project named Metacolo that was designed to
distribute hosting to dozens of locations worldwide, with clear ad-
vantages for avoiding censorship.407 Both Hastings and Lackey were
thoroughly committed to the cypherpunk vision, and their creation of
HavenCo should be seen in that light.
      There’s historical irony here. An idea that began its life as a nega-
tive had flipped into a positive. A “data haven” was no longer part of a
debate over how to protect individual (privacy) rights by restricting the
flow of information; instead, it was a central idea in a debate over how to
protect individual (speech) rights by encouraging the flow of infor-
mation.408 This irony serves as a reminder that the data haven vision can
be pro- or anti-privacy depending on your theory of why privacy mat-
ters.409 More generally, governmental control sounds like a better or
worse idea depending on your views about the government in question.410

                                             B.     Rise

     Hastings and Lackey agreed that Anguilla wasn’t going to work as a
data haven. Hastings had grown dispirited with Anguillan corruption,
concluding that the island was “hardly the libertarian mecca” he had ex-
pected.411 Pornography and gambling were both illegal, and a company
could be shut down by court order.412 Instead, inspired by Erwin

   405. See About Us, ISLEBYTE, (last visited Jan. 23, 2012). Cate was probably first. Hastings moved to Anguilla
in 1997, but Cate founded OIS in 1994.
   406. See Hastings, supra note 373.
Poole ed., 2005); Lackey, supra note 232, video at 35:35.
   408. Cf. Deibert, supra note 3, at 115 (“For example, Ltd is a ‘personal infor-
mation’ company based in Anguilla. Its business, illegal in the United States, is to sell personal infor-
mation—everything from criminal records, sex offender information, drivers licenses, voter registra-
tions, vehicle registrations—to anyone who is willing to pay for it.”).                But see About,
PUBLICDATA.COM, (Feb. 3, 2001),
ai/about.html (claiming that is intended only to provide access to “public records”).
   409. Cf. An Metet, Gmail As Blacknet (Apr. 8, 2004), (“Cypherpunks see privacy as a means to an end. That end is
   410. Compare Norman, supra note 381, at 10–11 (expressing concern about data haven-abetted
businesses), with Tim May, Panel on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy, Untraceable Digital Cash,
Information Markets, and BlackNet (1997),
(expressing enthusiasm for same).
   411. Hastings, supra note 373. Ironically in light of HavenCo’s future, Anguilla is a British Over-
seas Territory. Anguilla, in CENT. INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, THE CIA WORLD FACTBOOK 2010, at 20,
22 (2009). Thus, although it has its own government and laws and is not formally part of the United
Kingdom, it is nevertheless subject to the United Kingdom’s jurisdiction, perhaps not unlike Sealand.
   412. See Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 235. Not every Caribbean nation was so reticent. See Appel-
late Body Report, United States—Measures Affecting the Cross-Border Supply of Gambling and Bet-
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450                  UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                 [Vol. 2012

Strauss’s book How to Start Your Own Country, they started thinking
about heading for even smaller waters: Pacific islands, or potentially even
building their own land on the Cortez Bank, an underwater range about
a hundred miles from San Diego.413
      The most promising prospect was Sealand, which features promi-
nently in Strauss’s book.414 Hastings pulled together a web site with a
dossier of information on Sealand and its claims to independence.415 The
two of them sought investors and found a group including Avi Freedman
and Joichi Ito, successful Internet entrepreneurs.416 Hastings and his wife
Jo made contact with the Bates family and flew to England to check
Sealand out.417 Jo Hastings was unenthused by the prospect of living on
Sealand, but not Sean, who wrote:
   An electronic currency system was the lever.
   Here was a place to stand.
   I could move the world.418
      Hastings and Lackey moved forward, opening negotiations with the
royal family. The Bateses were immediately interested: “[t]his [was] the
first [proposal] that seemed to be really suited to what we are,” Roy
would later say.419 They drew up a business plan,420 articles of incorpora-
tion,421 and bylaws422 for a Sealand corporation to be named HavenCo.
Its initial board of directors comprised Sean and Jo Hastings, Lackey,
Freedman, and Ito.423 Sameer Parekh, a well-known computer security
entrepreneur, became chairman of the board.424 They predicted that
their revenue could potentially reach sixty-five million dollars by the end
of the third year of operation,425 with a total headcount of nineteen em-

ting Services, WT/DS285/AB/R (Apr. 7, 2005) (upholding World Trade Organization complaint by
Antigua and Barbuda against the United States for discriminating against Antiguan online gambling
   413. Hastings, supra note 373.
   414. See STRAUSS, supra note 12.
   415. See Hastings, supra note 318.
   416. Hastings, supra note 373.
   417. Id. at ch.2.
   418. Id. (rephrasing Archimedes’ famous remark, “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the
   419. See Markoff, supra note 2.
   420. HavenCo Business Plan (n.d.) (on file with author). The most detailed sections of the plan
are the ones dealing with the technical requirements: power, costs of storage, and network connec-
   421. Articles of Incorporation of HavenCo, Ltd. (n.d.) (on file with author). A company with the
name of HavenCo Limited and a company number of 04056934 was registered in August 2000 with
Companies House, and dissolved in 2005.
   422. Bylaws of HavenCo, Ltd. (Aug. 19, 2007), The bylaws bear a striking similarity to the
ana Fitzpatrick ed., 14th ed. 2011).
   423. Articles of Incorporation of HavenCo, Ltd., supra note 421.
   424. See Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 234.
   425. See HavenCo Three-Year Projection (Mar. 25, 2005),
9012343/ A more modest Executive
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No. 2]          SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                          451

ployees by the end of the first.426 The capitalization plan gave the found-
ers a two-thirds stake, with the remaining one-third of the equity to be
split between corporate advisors and the royal family.427 Those stakes
would be diluted with two rounds of venture capital and an IPO that
would ideally value the company at five hundred million dollars and
leave Sean, Jo, and Ryan each sitting on almost fifty million dollars in
HavenCo stock.428
       Sealand would offer its customers a combination of first-world in-
frastructure and third-world regulation.429 Its website promised adher-
ence to the “Philosophy of Contract Autonomy, as opposed to the Phi-
losophy of Regulation.”430 Echoing famous cyberlibertarian manifestoes,
HavenCo declared, “Free comunication [sic] can never be a crime, and
by itself can never hurt anyone. Criminal acts should be pursued at the
point where the act takes place, not on the common carriers that enable
all individuals to do business freely, such as telephone and Internet infra-
structure providers[].”431
       On everyone’s minds—both at HavenCo and among reporters—was
the issue of whether HavenCo could actually offer its customers mean-
ingful security, given that much of its content was likely to be controver-
sial.432 On the technical level, it planned to offer customers redundant
hardware and cryptographic security.433 Ultimately, it hoped to offer a
“secure execution environment,” in which customers’ data was encrypted
at all times, even when being operated on, so that not even HavenCo
could tell what they were doing.434
       Physical security was at a premium. To keep out unwanted guests,
the machine rooms themselves, in one of the tower’s legs, would be
flooded with nitrogen and would require scuba gear to enter.435 Four
guards were to be on duty at all times, and those guards would be pack-

Summary predicted only $25 million profit in the third year. HavenCo, Ltd. Business Plan, Executive
Summary (Feb. 2, 2009),
   426. HavenCo One-Year Projections (n.d.) (on file with author) (listing job positions including
“Marketing Droids” #1, #2, and #3).
   427. HavenCo Capitalization Projections (Mar. 16, 2005),
   428. Id.
   429. See Why HavenCo?, HAVENCO (Oct. 18, 2000), See also Frequently Asked Questions, HAVENCO
(Aug. 16, 2000),
html (no reporting requirements).
   430. Frequently Asked Questions, supra note 429.
   431. Id.
   432. HavenCo Business Plan, supra note 420; see, e.g., Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 239.
   433. HavenCo Business Plan, supra note 420, §§ 4.1.1–4.1.3 (redundancy); id. § 2.2 (cryptog-
   434. E-mail from Ryan Lackey (Feb. 18, 2011) (on file with author).
   435. See Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 232.
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452                   UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                     [Vol. 2012

ing:436 .50 caliber machine guns are not for the dilettante.437 Notwith-
standing Sealand’s arsenal, in case of attack, the endgame was to “power
off the machine, optionally destroy it, possibly turn over the smoking
wreck to the attacker, and securely and anonymously refund payment to
the owner of the server.”438
      On the policy side, Sealand wouldn’t be a zone of complete lawless-
ness. An “anonymous and untraceable payment system” or an “old-
fashioned, adults-only pornography” would be one thing,439 “but if you
want to run a spamming operation, launder drug money, or send kiddie
porn anywhere—forget it.”440 The typical customer, HavenCo expected,
would be a company looking for subpoena-proof data storage.441
      Since network links could be cut, particularly by Britain, HavenCo
planned redundant links to multiple countries442 and expected satellite
communications to be a workable backup.443 A physical blockade would
be “difficult to maintain” and “solvable through negotiation.”444 And
even invasion wouldn’t be the end of the world: “legal actions” and “dip-
lomatic arrangements” would be possible.445 The company expected
Sealand to “negotiate as an equal”446 with other countries and to press
any adverse rulings in the courts of the countries making them.447
      From the beginning, HavenCo’s founders were clear with their in-
vestors that the worst-case fallback plan was to accept British jurisdiction
and laws and “operate as a British co-location facility.”448 Given the high
prices companies had been willing to pay for colocation during the dot-
com boom, this may not have been any more unreasonable an assump-
tion than many other Internet entrepreneurs were making at the time.449
It also appeared that it might be a necessary fallback: representatives

   436. See id. at 239.
   437. Bruce Porter, The Big, Bad, Fun Gun, N.Y. TIMES, Nov. 26, 2000, at SM106 (“[E]ffective
range of . . . more than four miles . . . bullet clear through the one-inch rolled steel used on most ar-
mored military vehicles.”).
   438. See id.; see also Frequently Asked Questions, supra note 429 (describing customers’ options in
case of contract termination, including destruction and shipment of hardware).
   439. See Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 232.
   440. See id. How one could allow genuinely anonymous and untraceable payments without also
enabling money laundering remains a mystery. HavenCo’s Acceptable Use Policy forbade spam,
hacking attempts, and “Material that is ruled unlawful in the jurisdiction of the originating server
(Such as child pornography in the case of our flagship Sealand datacenter.).” Acceptable Use Policy,
HAVENCO (Oct. 18, 2000),
   441. See Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 232.
   442. See id. at 239.
   443. HavenCo Business Plan, supra note 420, §
   444. Id. §
   445. Id. §
   446. Id. §
   447. Id. § (“If this fails, the world court will be petitioned.”).
   448. Id. § 3.4.2. Perhaps somewhat optimistically, the business plan also predicted that Sealand
could negotiate colony status with England, giving it more legal leeway than would be permitted in
England proper. Id. §
   449. See id. § 3.3.1 (discussing competition for providing secure colocation facilities, with prices).
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No. 2]           SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                                   453

from both the United Kingdom and United States stated to a reporter
that their governments did not recognize Sealand.450 The company itself
was incorporated in Anguilla, then later reincorporated in Cyprus,451 but
was also registered to do business in England in 2000.452
      Looking towards Sealand, the business plan concluded that the “on-
ly risk” from Sealand and its royal family was breach of contract, which
was “unlikely, as once we will have taken occupation of his island, we
will control Sealand.”453 And in the long run the goal was to be inde-
pendent of any one location; the company hoped to replicate the model
in other small countries.454
      HavenCo launched in 2000 with a Wired cover story and a great
deal of optimism.455 The combination triggered a media explosion nota-
ble for its lack of serious further reporting.456 But following the initial
outpouring of interest, HavenCo dropped quickly off the radar screen.
Ryan Lackey appeared at the Defcon conference in 2001457 and the
Hackers on Planet Earth conference in 2002458 to give status updates:
things were going modestly but well, and the future was bright.

                                                C.     Fall

     Then in 2003, Lackey, no longer with HavenCo, appeared at Defcon
again and dropped a bombshell: HavenCo was all but defunct.459 Some of
the problems were purely operational: disorganization and the time spent
dealing with press caused the company to lose track of client inquiries.
Meanwhile, Sean and Jo Hastings left the company “for personal rea-
sons” by the end of the summer of 2000.460 The company operated in a

   450. See Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 239 (British consulate in New York: “Although Mr. Bates
styles the platform as the Principality of Sealand, the UK government does not regard Sealand as a
state.” U.S. State Department: “There are no independent principalities in the North Sea. As far as
we are concerned, they are just Crown dependencies of Britain.”).
   451. Lackey, supra note 232, video at 20:35.
   452. Simon, supra note 23.
   453. HavenCo Business Plan, supra note 420, §
   454. Id. §
   455. See Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 239 (quoting Ryan Lackey as saying, “In 10 years, we’ll be
investing profits in turning Sealand into a larger island . . . . It’s unclear right now whether it will be a
hotel/casino space or purely a larger secure colocation facility. We hope to be in operation every-
where by then . . . . By then I hope any free country in the world will have a HavenCo secure facility in
major cities of commerce . . . . No doubt we’ll also have servers on ships, on the moon, and on orbiting
satellites. Assuming computers continue to get smaller, a single box on the moon could serve a huge
bunch of customers!”).
   456. Lackey, supra note 232 (criticizing media).
   457. Ryan Lackey, HavenCo: One Year Later, Presentation at Defcon 9 (n.d.), https://media. (audio).
   458. Ryan Lackey & Avi Freedman, Presentation to H2K2 Hackers on Planet Earth Conference,
The Ultimate Co-Location Site (2002),
   459. Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 28:10.
   460. See id.
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454                  UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                    [Vol. 2012

kind of corporate informality, never issuing stock to its investors and
employees, even as the years rolled on.461
       Its facilities never came close to the image it created among the
public. The south tower was never full of servers,462 and the nitrogen was
a myth, too, as HavenCo had admitted in 2002.463 The real reason visitors
weren’t allowed down the south tower wasn’t because they might see or
damage something they shouldn’t, but rather because there was nothing
to see. The “ultra-high bandwidth IP communications directly into the
Internet backbone[]”464 also turned out to be have been oversold. The
fiber-optic cable to England wasn’t ready on time, and later, the compa-
ny providing service through it went bankrupt in the dot-com crash, lead-
ing to a two-month outage.465 The satellite link HavenCo relied on in its
place had only 128Kbps of bandwidth—roughly the speed of a good per-
sonal home Internet connection at the time.466 When the company was
hit with denial-of-service attacks, the outages sometimes lasted for
       HavenCo had about ten customers;468 most were online gambling
           In 2002, HavenCo told a reporter that it had been profitable
since 2001.470 In reality, though, as Lackey revealed in 2003, it was break-
ing even on its “cash costs”—so it was profitable only if one neglected li-
abilities that would come due down the road.471 One of those liabilities
would prove its undoing.
       Part of the original agreement, premised as it was on large profits
within just a few years, was a schedule of large cash sums to be paid to
Sealand.472 A “gentleman’s agreement” with Prince Regent Michael held

   461. Id. audio at 20:10.
   462. See id. audio at 9:30 (describing press credulity, even in the face of what should have been
blatant giveaways, such as the lack of substantial cabling running to the supposed belowdecks server
   463. See Gilmour, supra note 298; Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 10:10.
   464. See Products and Services, HAVENCO (Oct. 18, 2000),
   465. Lackey, supra note 245, slides at 20.
   466. Id. slides at 9, 20.
   467. Id. slides at 19.
   468. Id. slides at 13. But see Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 14:30 (claiming ten new customers
in one particular week in 2001).
   469. See Gilmour, supra note 298 (fifty-percent gambling); Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 43:05
(“There is an organ option site that has transacted exactly zero organs, there is a casino, an online
stock market that only trades that casino . . . .”); Stranger Than Paradise: Transcript, ON MEDIA (May
20, 2005), (“all” gambling).
The one nongambling business I have been able to specifically identify was a company selling unau-
thorized “Fast400” accelerators for IBM minicomputers. One of its owners explained that they had
been “happy customers” of HavenCo. E-mail from Leif Svalgaard (Feb. 23, 2011) (on file with au-
   470. See Gilmour, supra note 298.
   471. Lackey, supra note 245, slides at 13.
   472. Id. slides at 14.
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No. 2]          SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                              455

through the fall of 2001,473 but then an advisor to the royal family entered
the picture.474 According to Lackey, the advisor interfered with technical
decisions, such as recommending expensive and unreliable changes to its
network connectivity.475 The advisor also demanded that customer in-
quiries be handled by his girlfriend in the United Kingdom: Lackey ob-
jected for security reasons, but the royal family backed the advisor.476
Worse, the advisor was concerned that HavenCo was bad for Sealand’s
image and quest for sovereignty.477 Lackey took to adding new services,
such as an anonymizing remailer, on the sly.478
       Things came to a head in May 2002, when Malaysian entrepreneur
Alex Tan approached Sealand with a plan to serve streaming video.479
Tan’s previous site,, had offered users video on demand, ut-
terly without permission, and was quickly shut down by the movie indus-
try.480 Tan’s new idea was to stream videos from legally purchased
DVDs, restricting the viewing of any given movie to one customer at a
time.481 A Sealand advisor told the royal family that it risked bad publici-
ty, and they balked at the deal.482 The fear was that the United States
would pressure Britain to put pressure on Sealand if it turned into a
streaming-movie source,483 and the Bateses were determined to protect
Sealand’s standing as a responsible member of the world community.484
       The decision was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Lack-
ey,485 who decided to make a gradual exit from the “stagnating” compa-

   473. Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 15:00 (“There was no real rush to renegotiate, because they
were sort of running the company officially, because the son of the prince was CEO, and they said,
‘Oh, just give us money later, and it’s all good.’”).
   474. Lackey, supra note 245, slides at 14–15.
   475. Id. slides at 15.
   476. Id. slides at 24 (discussing advisor’s attempt to win Sealand recognition from the Internation-
al Telecommunications Union, which would have led to a top-level domain).
   477. Id. slides at 15.
   478. Id. slides at 17; see also Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 17:35 (discussing Lackey’s addition
of new clients while concealing their nature from the royal family); id. audio at 23:35 (discussing
Sealand’s concern that launching a gold-backed electronic currency could be perceived as money
   479. Declan McCullagh, Has “Haven” for Questionable Sites Sunk?, CNET NEWS (Aug. 4, 2003),; Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 22:00.
   480. See Stefanie Olsen, MPA Shuts Down Video Site, CNET NEWS (June 6, 2002),
   481. McCullagh, supra note 479. Of course, if Sealand were really sticking to its jurisdictional
guns, the legality or illegality of the downloading anywhere else shouldn’t have mattered. See Lackey,
supra note 232, audio at 22:20 (“That might have been legal under Sealand law, because we could have
written it.”).
   482. McCullogh, supra note 479; see also Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 18:00 (“We had more
restrictions placed on us than a U.S. ISP.”).
   483. Stranger than Paradise, supra note 469. A U.S. court had held that a similar business model
for music was a “clear” case of copyright infringement. UMG Recordings, Inc. v., Inc., 92 F.
Supp. 2d 349, 350 (S.D.N.Y. 2000); see also Warner Bros. Entm’t Inc. v. WTV Sys., Inc., 99 U.S.P.Q.
(BNA) 1663 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 1, 2011) (granting an injunction against service streaming movies from
legally purchased DVDs).
   484. See E-mail from Michael Bates to Nate Anderson (Oct. 13, 2011) (on file with author).
   485. See Octal [Ryan Lackey], to Midendian, Sealand Update, MIDENDIAN (June 26, 2006, 12:41
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456                  UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                    [Vol. 2012

ny.486 Meanwhile, Prince Michael, worried by Lackey’s increasingly se-
cretive ways, had lost trust in him.487 In November of 2002, Sealand of-
fered to take over HavenCo, and worked out a “mutually beneficial
agreement” to restructure (and start paying) HavenCo’s debts, issue
shares, and continue its operations.488 Lackey would continue as a re-
seller of HavenCo services.489 He turned over administrative access to
the servers.490
      According to the account Lackey gave at Defcon, Prince Regent
Michael and his advisors broke the agreement within days,491 freezing
Lackey out completely and seizing personal computers left behind.492
The corporate aspects of the deal—issuing shares, repaying debts to peo-
ple like Lackey, who had poured much of his own money and $40,000 of
credit into the company, and so on—were ignored.493 Since Sealand now
had both physical and virtual control of the servers, HavenCo had been
“effectively ‘nationalized.’”494 In response, HavenCo, now for all practi-
cal purposes an arm of the Sealand government, made it clear that he
was no longer welcome: “Mr. Lackey is no longer an employee of
HavenCo . . . . He does not at this time have a valid visa for return.”495
Lackey went, of all places, to Iraq, where he founded an ISP, Blue Iraq,
providing Internet connectivity for the military and contractors.496
      The new HavenCo also took a rather different attitude toward off-
shore hosting. A spokesman said that its acceptable use policy “forbids
any act . . . which is against international law . . . or contrary to interna-
tional custom and practice.”497 Sean Hastings of HavenCo suggested that
Sealand’s turn away from an anything-goes attitude was sparked by the

   486. Lackey, supra note 245, slides at 1, 22.
   487. See E-mail from Michael Bates to Nate Anderson, supra note 484.
   488. Lackey, supra note 245, slides at 25.
   489. Id.
   490. Id. slides at 26.
   491. Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 25:45 (“Within five days, they violated this agreement. . . .
They tried to enforce a non-compete agreement with me, which, interestingly enough, never existed,
because they never had one.”).
   492. Id. audio at 25:56; see also Lackey, supra note 245, slides at 25.
   493. Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 25:26; see also id. audio at 15:15 (“[M]aking capital im-
provements to a place we didn’t really own.”); id. audio at 26:09 (“They also owe me $220,000.”). Mi-
chael Bates, however, disputes this account, arguing that he also put large amounts of time and effort
into HavenCo and received almost nothing for it. See E-mail from Michael Bates to Nate Anderson,
supra note 484.
   494. Lackey, supra note 245, slides at 31.
   495. McCullagh, supra note 479 (quoting Sealand representative).
   496. See Jon Evans, Wiring the War Zone, WIRED (Sept. 2005),
archive/13.09/posts.html?pg=2. A longer version, including a 2007 postscript that follows Blue Iraq to
Dubai and suggests that it may be expanding into Afghanistan, is available from the author’s website.
Jon Evans, Blood, Bullets, Bombs, and Bandwidth, REZENDI.COM,
bbbb.html (last visited Jan. 23, 2012).
   497. McCullagh, supra note 479 (quoting HavenCo representative). Sealand, as a nonparty to any
international copyright agreements, would presumably not be bound by them.
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No. 2]          SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                              457

terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.498 But the attitude was clear even
in an August 2001 interview Roy Bates gave to NPR’s Scott Simon. In
Bates’s words, “We wouldn’t do anything which was anti-British or un-
ethical or whatever, you know.”499 Bates explained that he had passed up
many business opportunities because they were “a little bit on the wrong
side, you know.”500 Simon called Bates “a loyal British subject who sees
Sealand as a British invention.”501
      The new HavenCo claimed to have numerous customers and a
growing installation.502 In 2004, the locals were still denying reporters
permission to see most of the south leg of the tower.503 In early 2007, the
HavenCo website was redesigned to remove most of the detailed tech-
nical promises; they were replaced with a simple statement about
HavenCo and Sealand and a pointer to “authorized resellers.”504 The
new terms of service were much more restrictive: “No pornography that
would be considered illegal within the EU,” “No infringement of copy-
right,” and “No material that is obscene, threatening, abusive, libelous,
or encourages conduct that would constitute a criminal offence.”505 This
is a fairly permissive policy by the standards of many modern online ser-
vice providers, but quite conservative compared with the original prom-
ise of HavenCo. The final indignity came in 2008, when the HavenCo
website went offline and the domain was redirected to point at a server
outside of the network actually hosted from Sealand.506 Today, even the
HavenCo website is gone.

                                  IV. THE RULE OF LAW
     We are now in a position to ask what Sealand and HavenCo can tell
us about law in an Internet age. There are three ways of approaching the
issue, corresponding to the three bodies of law with which HavenCo con-
cerned itself: the national laws of other countries, the international law of
Sealand’s sovereignty, and Sealand’s internal laws regulating HavenCo’s

   498. See Sean Hastings, Presentation to the Seasteading Institute Conference, Experiences with
HavenCo and Sealand (Sept. 30, 2009), available at at 14:20.
   499. See Simon, supra note 23.
   500. Id.; see also Miller & Boudreaux, supra note 33 (“There was always something that didn’t
smell right.”).
   501. See Simon, supra note 23.
   502. But see Lackey, supra note 245, slides at 27; Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 27:00 (refuting
the new HavenCo’s claims with a technical analysis of its network).
   503. See Lucas, supra note 35, at 4. The alert reader will recall Lackey’s statement that there nev-
er were rooms filled with servers in the south leg. According to Lackey, the company registration
lapsed by 2003. See Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 28:40.
   504. HAVENCO (June 11, 2007),
   505. See Sealand Internet Law, HAVENCO (June 11, 2007),
   506. See HavenCo “Data Center” Offline?, SECURITY & NET (Nov. 18, 2008), http://securityand
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458                  UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                    [Vol. 2012

operations. Intertwined with this question will be another: why did
HavenCo fail?
      This Part argues that the two questions have a common answer: the
rule of law. The rule of law is a complex, contested concept; even people
who agree that the rule of law a good thing can disagree quite forcefully
on just what it is.507 HavenCo’s relationships to different bodies of law
resonate with different flavors of the rule of law. When it came to na-
tional Internet law, HavenCo rejected national claims to self-government
through law. When it came to international law, HavenCo relied on the
formal rules of state sovereignty. And when it came to Sealand law,
HavenCo put its trust in law as a protection against arbitrary governmen-
tal action. We will see that these different conceptions of the rule of law
are incompatible. Without national self-government, HavenCo had no
plausible theory of where the other laws it relied on would come from.
      Before we begin, it will help to survey briefly the previous scholar-
ship on Sealand and HavenCo. Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu give
HavenCo four pages in their book Who Controls the Internet?508 It ap-
pears twice, bookending their chapter on governmental power. At the
start, HavenCo is defiant, challenging all governmental authority. At the
end it has been humbled, brought low by national power over intermedi-
aries, especially banks. This story isn’t wrong, just incomplete. “Law”
here is just something imposed by governments on people: national law,
in our framework. Although Goldsmith and Wu perceptively note both
Sealand’s desire to be recognized as an “actual country” and HavenCo’s
ultimate “nationalization,” they never follow up on the international-law
and Sealand-law angles these crucial facts suggest. Ironically, their em-
phasis on national law understates their case, since it tends to make law
look like government fiat. As we will see, widening our view to include
HavenCo’s other legal challenges will help us appreciate more fully the
rule-of-law factors that can make national law legitimate.
      Jonathan Zittrain gives Sealand a page in an essay, Be Careful What
You Ask For: Reconciling a Global Internet and Local Law, and con-
cludes: “[T]he existence of Sealand doesn’t much change the nature of
the jurisdiction and governance debates.”509 Like Goldsmith and Wu,
Zittrain observes that national governments had indirect power over
HavenCo through the intermediaries it relied on, although his intermedi-
ary of choice is the Internet service provider. He also adds that
HavenCo’s clients are still subject to jurisdiction where they reside.
Again, this is a discussion only of national law. Sealand’s sovereignty
and legal system are never even considered. Zittrain also devotes a sev-

Cf. Suzor, supra note 17, at 1820–42 (discussing multiple conceptions of the rule of law as applied to
virtual worlds).
   508. GOLDSMITH & WU, supra note 3, at 65–66, 84–85.
   509. Zittrain, supra note 3, at 18.
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No. 2]           SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                                459

en-page section to HavenCo and Sealand in a casebook, although only
one of those pages is original.510 Four out of five of the “notes and ques-
tions” deal exclusively with national law and enforcement authority, and
even the one that begins, “It is important to stress that Sealand maintains
its own laws with respect to use of the Internet,” ultimately has to do
with indirect governmental control via intermediaries.511 Like Goldsmith
and Wu, Zittrain doesn’t follow up on the implications of his trenchant
but brief observations.
     A trio of student articles have asked whether Sealand is truly inde-
pendent under international law.512 Despite some good factual research,
however, they are mostly interested in the abstract question of whether
Sealand is formally sovereign and the practical question of whether na-
tional governments can enforce their laws against HavenCo. That is, al-
though they discuss international-law questions, they don’t do so in a way
that sheds light on the national law ones. They ask only what the law is,
not what it means.
     This survey exhausts the scholarship on HavenCo. A few more au-
thors have written about Sealand, but only with respect to the interna-
tional law issues its claims to independence raise.513 They don’t connect
their analysis to HavenCo’s struggles with national governments, or to
Sealand’s own legal system. Let us do so.

                                       A.     National Law

     HavenCo’s raison d’être was to allow its customers to avoid national
laws.514 Move your data to HavenCo, went the theory, and it would be
beyond the reach of governmental censors, snoops, and prudes. Online,
freedom and liberty would flourish. The Internet had touched off a regu-
latory race to the bottom, and HavenCo intended to win.

   510. ZITTRAIN, supra note 3, at 40–46. The remaining pages consist of excerpts from Simson
Garfinkel’s and Zittrain’s articles. See generally Garfinkel, supra note 1; Zittrain, supra note 3. A
photograph of Sealand also graces the cover of the book.
   511. ZITTRAIN, supra note 3, at 46.
   512. See Arenas, supra note 6, at 1173, 1181; Dennis, supra note 3, at 296; Note, Sealand—The
Next New Haven?, 27 SUFFOLK TRASNAT’L L. REV. 127, 146 (2003). A fourth student article, which is
mostly about peer-to-peer networking and copyright reform, is deeply confused. For example, at one
point it argues that Sealand renders copyright law unenforceable for a surprising reason: “Because
Sealand is not a sovereign nation, it cannot join the international copyright regime . . . .” Fayle, supra
note 3, at 262. Two others discuss Sealand and HavenCo in the context of other possible data havens:
either on island nations, see Geltzer, supra note 3, at 434, or on ships, see Kramer, supra note 3, 366–
68. Like the rest of the previous scholarship on the subject, they confine themselves to the question of
what other nations could do to shut down a data haven.
   513. See Samuel Pyeatt Menefee, “Republics of the Reefs:” Nation-Building on the Continental
Shelf and in the World’s Oceans, 25 CAL. W. INT’L L.J. 81, 106–11 (1994); Petros Siousiouras & Isidoros
Tsouros, Island Regime in the Context of the Montego Bay Convention on the Law of the Sea, 60 RHDI
359, 364–65 (2007).
   514. To be more precise, to avoid foreign laws. HavenCo had no objections, at least initially, to
the national law of Sealand.
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460                 UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                               [Vol. 2012

      To be sure, HavenCo had its limits—no spam, no hacking, no child
pornography, no drug-money laundering—which reflected a mix of
pragmatic self-defense and policy preferences.515 Had HavenCo succeed-
ed, though, these rules would have been rendered equally irrelevant, as
other, more permissive data havens sprang up to evade Sealand’s poli-
cies. Indeed, had the cypherpunk agenda of strong cryptography, anon-
ymous transactions, and untraceable distribution embraced by Ryan
Lackey come to fruition, it wouldn’t even have taken competitors to un-
dermine HavenCo’s policies: its customers could have exchanged child
pornography to their depraved hearts’ content, and HavenCo would
have been powerless even to know that it was going on.
      Thus, the conventional wisdom is quite correct when it claims that
the idea of a data haven stands in direct opposition to essentially all na-
tional law touching on speech or the Internet.516 And, as the Internet has
expanded its reach into all aspects of life, the opposition has likewise ex-
panded to touch on almost every area of law. HavenCo was selling the
end of law. “Third-world regulation” was a euphemism for minimal reg-
ulation—or none at all. In its search for the lowest common denomina-
tor, HavenCo was willing to divide by zero.

1.    HavenCo and National Law

       In that light, it’s worth asking why the expected demand for legal
evasion never materialized. In hindsight, HavenCo was caught in a mar-
ket segment that was hard to monetize. There weren’t, it turned out,
very many customers willing to pay for the kind of regulatory arbitrage
HavenCo offered. Most were better off either complying with the law or
ignoring it altogether. In neither case would buying HavenCo’s services
make much sense.
       As an example of a customer better off falling into line with law,
consider “a typical HavenCo customer circa 2005,” as explained by jour-
nalist Simson Garfinkel: MacroMaxx, a company that wants to avoid
subpoena risk:
          MacroMaxx execs could say, “Gee, we don’t have that here.”
   The official would be stymied, because the email simply wouldn’t
   be on the premises, and it’s up to MacroMaxx whether it keeps any
   backups around. The primary data would be housed only at
       It’s a clever trick on paper, but it doesn’t work in the real world.
The bits may be on Sealand and beyond a court’s power, but MacroMaxx
itself is subject to jurisdiction everywhere it does business. As long as it

   515. The child-pornography rule came from Sealand law. The spam rule is especially striking,
given that in 2000, spam was generally legal.
   516. HavenCo would do what Sealand ordered, of course, but the point of choosing Sealand was
that Sealand wouldn’t order it to do very much.
   517. Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 32.
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No. 2]            SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                                   461

has control over the data, MacroMaxx can be ordered to produce it.518
Generations of scammers and tax evaders have learned that the security
of offshore banking lasts only as long as they’re willing to endure a civil
contempt order—in prison.519 In order to protect itself from the unpleas-
ant application of local law, a business has to avoid touching ground in a
jurisdiction altogether.520 Offshoring just the data isn’t sufficient; the
company has to offshore itself. Sealand was never big enough to play
physical host, as well as virtual.521
      Some businesses are willing to stay purely virtual, but most aren’t,
for a natural reason: they want to do business.522 That’s what Yahoo! re-
alized when it faced a French court judgment to drop user auctions of
Nazi memorabilia: it made substantial money selling ads targeted at
French users, it had French offices, and France was a pleasant place for
its corporate officers to visit.523 It’s one thing to ignore a small and puri-
tanical jurisdiction you don’t need to set foot in and aren’t trying to reach
anyway. It’s quite another to sell into a large market without getting
snared up in institutions its legal system can reach.524 HavenCo repeated-
ly dealt with companies (especially gambling sites) that wanted to create
complete businesses. In order to take payments in a country, the compa-
nies would need to incorporate there—and once they had, they typically
purchased colocation locally, as well.525 In Ryan Lackey’s words, “Sover-
eignty alone has little value without commercial support from banks,

   518. See Zittrain, supra note 3, at 18.
   519. See, e.g., FTC v. Affordable Media, LLC, 179 F.3d 1228, 1238–44 (9th Cir. 1999) (finding that
Ponzi-scheme operators retained control over an offshore trust account with an “event of duress”
clause that purported to remove them as trustees if they were ordered to repatriate funds from it, and
affirming the contempt finding against them).
   520. One HavenCo customer was indeed brought to heel by a civil lawsuit, albeit years after the
HavenCo/Sealand deal had fallen apart. See Timothy Prickett Morgan, The Fast400 Saga Ends: IBM
and Stracka Settle Lawsuit, 14 IT JUNGLE (Nov. 21, 2005),
   521. In HavenCo’s defense, the assumption that the location of the data was the critical legal fac-
tor in determining jurisdiction over it was hardly unique. It was a commonplace in discussions of data
havens, going right back to the original data-protection reports. See REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON
DATA PROTECTION, supra note 380. Even the European Union Data Protection Directive, a product
of the mid-1990s, arguably makes the hidden assumption that regulation is required at the moment
when data is transferred to a different jurisdiction because after that, the first country will lose jurisdic-
tion over it. See Council Directive 95/46 art. 26, 1995 (L 181) 31, 46 (EC).
   522. See GOLDSMITH & WU, supra note 3, at 57.
   523. Id. at 8.
   524. The increasingly widespread use of Internet filtering also makes national governments less
concerned with the abstract availability of content online somewhere. If local access can be blocked, it
doesn’t matter that there’s a copy out there on Sealand. Indeed, since Sealand, by its nature, could
support only a few discrete Internet connections, it makes a particularly easy target for IP address-
based filtering. See Lackey, supra note 245, slides at 18; see generally OPENNET INITIATIVE, (last visited Jan. 23, 2012) (providing an in-depth analysis of national Internet fil-
tering regimes).
   525. Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 11:15.
   526. Lackey, supra note 245, slides at 34.
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462                   UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                     [Vol. 2012

       If companies realized that the costs of noncompliance with local law
could sometimes be surprisingly high, they also realized that the costs of
compliance could sometimes be surprisingly low. There are and have
been exceptions—China’s thoroughgoing surveillance and Arab states’
extensive indecency controls come to mind—but many developed na-
tions have settled into an equilibrium in which a few specific restrictions
on Internet speech coexist with a general freedom for most purposes.
HavenCo’s one publicly confirmed client, the Tibetan government in ex-
ile,527 is now hosted by an Internet company in Arkansas.528 U.S. free-
speech law proved perfectly adequate, no need of Sealand.
       As this example illustrates, the diversity of local values, which at
one time seemed likely to reduce Internet speech to only the inoffensive
mush that would pass muster in every country,529 has arguably had the
opposite effect. The United States hasn’t adopted European restrictions
on hate speech; most European countries haven’t adopted U.S. re-
strictions on online gambling. The hate speech pours forth from U.S.
servers; the gambling from European ones. For most purposes, cheap
commodity hosting on one side of the Atlantic or the other could easily
outcompete Sealand’s more expensive boutique product in the middle of
the North Sea.530
       HavenCo also had trouble competing with free—especially when
free met illegal. Its founders understood that professional criminals had
little reason to bother with a data haven. “And if you’re going to run a
secret server where you don’t need to get the benefit of jurisdiction, you
might as well take a stolen credit card number and go buy a server at a
company with thousands of servers.”531 Today, now that vertically inte-
grated criminal organizations control massive botnets of hijacked per-
sonal computers, even the stolen credit card and hosting company are
superfluous. Why pay for something you can steal more cheaply for
       Similarly, the last decade has shown that casual lawbreakers are
mostly content to use highly insecure but free and convenient services,

   527. Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 234.
   528. This fact can be confirmed by querying the whois servers of Network Solutions Inc., which
reveal that the technical contact for is Carl Shivers, of Aristotle Inc. in Little Rock, Arkan-
sas. NETWORK SOLUTIONS, (last visited Jan.
23, 2012).
   529. See ZITTRAIN, supra note 3, at 6–8 (describing the “‘slowest ship in the convoy’ problem”).
   530. See Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 13:25 (estimating the cost of HavenCo colocation at ten
times the cost of comparable land-based colocation); HavenCo., Services Rate Sheet, HAVENCO (Oct.
10, 2001),
services/rates.html (quoting the least expensive hosting plan of $750 per month). The collapse of the
dot-com bubble also put paid to HavenCo’s expectation that even plain vanilla colocation would be
profitable. Even for secure colocation, an undisclosed mainland location offers a better value proposi-
tion than an offshore fort that must bring all its equipment in by inflatable boat. In Lackey’s words,
“We were doing a little bit better than people like WorldCom and Enron, for a while.” Lackey, supra
note 232, audio at 14:00.
   531. Gilmour, supra note 298.
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No. 2]          SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                             463

rather than pay even a little for actual anonymity.532 Seven years of copy-
right lawsuits have done little to stem the file-sharing tide; it would ap-
pear that most users don’t know or don’t care that the Recording Indus-
try Association of America’s (RIAA) private police might be watching
their downloads. Indeed, the rise of peer-to-peer (P2P) technology—
Napster launched the year before HavenCo—helped moot the idea of a
data haven for most practical purposes. P2P turned the infrastructure
users already had into all they needed to become their own content
hosts, and it unleashed them on the world in such great numbers as to
make it almost trivially easy to irreversibly spread a file worldwide. In an
age of YouTube, BitTorrent, and the darknet, who needs HavenCo?

2.    The Rule of Law As Self-Government

      The cypherpunk theory of free speech, sovereignty, and freedom is
profoundly antinomian. It asserts, in essence, a natural right to ignore
the positive law: the Internet’s free-speech grace releases humanity from
all obligation to conform its online conduct to the wishes of government.
HavenCo fit squarely into what Joel Reidenberg calls a “struggle against
the very right of sovereign states to establish rules for online activity.”533
      This move should be at least slightly unsettling. Government and
law are generally also thought of as tools for advancing a people’s shared
values. Under modern political theory, the only legitimate source of le-
gal authority is the mutual consent of the governed.534 What Rousseau
called the “general will” binds the people, to be sure, but it also derives
from and reflects their own wishes, thereby ensuring that “it neither has
nor could have an interest contrary to theirs.”535
      These democratic theories amount to a vision of the rule of law as
self-government: laws are legitimate if and only if they derive from the
consent of the governed.536 This is why Reidenberg could say that states
were engaged in a “struggle to establish the rule of law” against the
threats of the Internet.537 HavenCo’s business model depended on its
ability to thwart the general will of any country that crossed its path.

(“Then all I have to do is place it offshore in some ninja-haunted concrete data haven and defy the
police to come get me!”).
   533. Joel R. Reidenberg, Technology and Internet Jurisdiction, 153 U. PENN. L. REV. 1951, 1954
THEORY OF LAW AND DEMOCRACY 449 (William Rehg trans., 1996) (“[T]he modern legal order can
draw its legitimacy only from the idea of self-determination: citizens should always be able to under-
stand themselves also as authors of the law to which they are subject as addressees.”).
   535. On the Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right, in BASIC POLITICAL WRITINGS OF
JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU 139, 150 (Donald A. Cress trans., 1987).
   536. See TAMANAHA, supra note 507, at 99–101 (discussing democratic theories of the rule of
   537. Reidenberg, supra note 533, at 1951 (emphasis added).
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464                   UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                    [Vol. 2012

       HavenCo and other Internet libertarians attacked this self-
government vision of the rule of law in two ways. First, they questioned
whether national governance was truly self-government where the Inter-
net was concerned. The Internet’s global nature raised sharp questions
about any one state’s right to set rules for the whole of the Internet.538
The extreme of this position was John Perry Barlow’s claim that the citi-
zens of Cyberspace were no longer part of the political communities of
“distant, uninformed powers” and would form their “own Social Con-
tract.”539 More prosaically, they saw national governments as so captured
by special interests that actual policy no longer reflected the collective
will of their own citizenry. Any of these claims, if true, implied that In-
ternet users were being regulated without their democratic consent—that
is, illegitimately.
       In addition to these procedural objections to self-government rule
of law, there was also a substantive one. Even if national Internet laws
really reflected national consensus, such laws were inherently unjust, to
the point that it was legitimate to make them unenforceable.540 The
American ideal of free speech as an inalienable right—with its strong
overtones of Mill’s harm principle541—resonated strongly in the age of the
Internet.542 But it is also a profoundly American ideal; other democracies
balance free speech against other goals in very different ways.543 Had
HavenCo succeeded, it would have compelled the nations of the world to
converge on its preferred model of absolute free speech in preference to
all other laws and values. The normative self-government rule-of-law
debate over HavenCo thus hinges on whether one believes in a single
universal value of unfettered free speech or in “differences in culture,
history, and tastes that are legitimately reflected in national and local

   538. See, e.g., David R. Johnson & David Post, Law and Borders—The Rise of Law in Cyber-
space, 48 STAN. L. REV. 1367, 1375–76 (1996).
   539. John Perry Barlow, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, in CRYPTO ANARCHY,
supra note 394, at 27, 27.
   540. One might argue that HavenCo had a competing rule-of-law vision here, one that empha-
sized specific individual rights the rule of law must protect. See TAMANAHA, supra note 507, at 102–
13. This argument resonates with HavenCo’s experience in that it recognizes the antidemocratic char-
acter of individual rights. Id. at 104–05. If so, then HavenCo embraced an exceedingly thin version of
what Tamanaha calls “substantive” theories of the rule of law, in comparison with thinkers who in-
clude democratic self-governance and affirmative welfare rights in their substantive bundles, both of
which HavenCo rejected.
   541. See JOHN STUART MILL, ON LIBERTY 22 (1869).
   542. See, e.g., Barlow, supra note 539 (“We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may
express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or con-
   543. See, e.g., Joel R. Reidenberg, Yahoo and Democracy on the Internet, 42 JURIMETRICS 261,
263 (2002) (stating that France “has chosen rules for free expression . . . that do not mirror the U.S.
constitutional protections found in the First Amendment”).
   544. GOLDSMITH & WU, supra note 3, at 150.
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No. 2]          SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                             465

                                   B.    International Law

      In 2002, Ryan Lackey succinctly captured a profound irony in
HavenCo’s relationship with law when he explained, “Our customers
don’t want to break the law, they want a different set of laws they can
comply with.”545 As we have seen, this Internet-abetted form of regulato-
ry arbitrage renders national law meaningless.546 At the same time, how-
ever, Lackey spoke in terms of “complying” with law, rather than “evad-
ing” or “breaking” it. HavenCo offered formal legal compliance without
any corresponding substance.
      Thus, HavenCo wasn’t an exercise in pure lawlessness. The viability
of its offer—and indeed, its very existence—depended on law, specifically
the international law of states. HavenCo’s product differentiator was
Sealand law. But if Sealand is just Roughs Tower and not a political en-
tity with the rights of a state, then it and its law exist wholly at the suffer-
ance of the United Kingdom—making HavenCo an expensive, impracti-
cal alternative to its competitors in London.547
      It is therefore time to consider the question of Sealand’s statehood
under international law.548 It would take a full article to do justice to the
arguments for and against.549 Instead, the next few pages will discuss the
principal precedents on point, and offer a few rule-of-law observations
about the nature of the claims made by Sealand’s proponents.

1.      Sealand and International Law

      If Sealand is part of the territory of the United Kingdom, or subject
to its jurisdiction, all other questions are moot. The United Kingdom be-
lieves that it is, which in a sense is the end of the matter. No other state,
or at least none with a seagoing navy, has questioned that claim. As in
the 1960s and in 1978, Roy Bates and his family will be allowed to re-
main, so long as their presence does not seriously threaten any important
interests of the United Kingdom. But if they do, the Royal Navy will
take appropriate action. As in the past, Sealand is protected mainly by
the Ministry of Defense’s unwillingness to use violence against its de-
fenders. This is a public relations question, not a legal one.

     545.Gilmour, supra note 298.
     546.See A. Michael Froomkin, The Internet As a Source of Regulatory Arbitrage, in BORDERS IN
(Brian Kahin & Charles Nesson eds., 1997).
   547. True, operating under British law was a fallback position from the beginning. But it is ques-
tionable whether Britain would have been inclined to be more tolerant of Sealand operations than of
mainland ones, had HavenCo ever grown big enough to be worth worrying about.
   548. As part of its campaign for recognition, Sealand formally recognized the obligations of the
United Nations charter and the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. Bela Vitànyi, Legal
Opinion About the International Status of the Principality of Sealand, 1978 (UK-NA: FCO 33/3335).
   549. For significant academic contributions to the analysis, see Arenas, supra note 6; Dennis, su-
pra note 3; Walter Leisner, Legal Expert Opinion on the Jus Gentium Situation of the Principality of
Sealand, Feb. 5, 1975 (UK-NA: LO 33/2705); Vitànyi, supra note 548.
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466                   UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                    [Vol. 2012

      Still, we might ask whether the legal materials back up the claims
made by the United Kingdom or by Sealand. One source of ambiguity
over the years has been the overlapping legal questions at stake. There
are at least four: (1) whether Sealand is a sovereign state, (2) whether the
United Kingdom has the jurisdiction to prescribe the legal consequences
of actions taken there, (3) which court or courts would have jurisdiction
to hear the case, and (4) who owns Roughs Tower as a matter of English
property law. The bureaucratic dithering of 1966–1968 was primarily
concerned with (3) and (4): that is, not with the interesting question of
what Sealand was, but with the more prosaic one of how to obtain legal
leverage over Roy Bates within the accreted mess of a legal system still
bearing the traces of Henry VIII, and worse, of Henry II.550
      The place to start is the 1968 prosecution of Roy and Michael Bates
on charges of violating the Firearms Act, Regina v. Bates.551 No one con-
tended that Roughs Tower was British territory in itself. Instead, the
parties joined issue on the question of whether the court’s jurisdiction ex-
tended to the platform, seven miles off the coast. The court considered
two possible theories: admiralty jurisdiction and jurisdiction over British
      The first possible basis of jurisdiction was “the old jurisdiction of
the Admiral.”552 Nineteenth century courts limited their admiralty juris-
diction to ships flying the British flag.553 When Parliament responded to
these decisions by extending the common-law courts’ jurisdiction to ships
of any flag, it explicitly confined the law’s reach to territorial waters:
those within three miles of the shore.554 Since the prosecution in Bates
conceded that Roughs Tower was not a ship (much less one flying the
British flag) and that it was not within the three-mile limit, the Bateses
could not be prosecuted under admiralty jurisdiction.555
      The other possible basis of jurisdiction was Parliament’s “power to
legislate over British Subjects anywhere.”556 In some cases, Parliament
clearly had: murder, bigamy, and treason were offenses wherever com-
mitted.557 Based on rules of statutory construction, however, the court
concluded that Parliament had intended the Firearms Act to “operate
only within the ordinary territorial limits.”558 Summarizing his holding,

   550.      On the jurisdictional complexity of (3), see generally MICHAEL HIRST, JURISDICTION AND
THE AMBIT OF THE CRIMINAL LAW          (2003) (discussing the limits of English criminal jurisdiction).
    551. Transcript of Record, R. v. Bates, [1968] K.B. at 2 (Eng.) (UK-NA: LO 2/1088).
    552. Id.
    553. See, e.g., R. v. Keyn, [1876] 2 Exch. Div. 63, at 86 (Eng.).
    554. Territorial Waters Jurisdiction Act, 1878, c. 73 (Eng.).
    555. Regina v. Bates, [1968], §§ 2, 7 (UK-NA: LO 2/1088) (transcript of the shorthand notes of
Hibbit and Sanders). But see Jones & Foot, supra note 31, at 7 (arguing that admiralty jurisdiction
would have been be available in the case of an “offense, otherwise within the jurisdiction of the Admi-
ral, . . . committed by a British subject on a Fort in the open sea”).
    556. Bates, at 8.
    557. Id. at 3, 8.
    558. Id. at 8–9.
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Mr. Justice Chapman explained, “Parliament has no doubt the power to
make it an offense for a British subject to have a firearm with intent to
endanger life in Istanbul or Buenos Aires, or where have you, but I do
not think it has done so.”559
      Thus, although the decision in Bates is sometimes treated by
Sealand’s advocates as holding that Sealand is independent,560 its true
scope is much narrower. The case does not say that Parliament could not
legislate for Sealand; only that it had not done so. Put another way, this
is a case about the judicial jurisdiction of the British courts as a matter of
domestic law, not about the legislative jurisdiction of the United King-
dom as a matter of international law: it is a case about (3), not about (2),
and certainly not about (1). Indeed, under common principles of inter-
national law, the United Kingdom’s right to proscribe activities on
Sealand that cause harm within the United Kingdom is well-
      Any ambiguity created by the decision should have been cleared up
by the United Kingdom’s 1987 extension of territorial waters to twelve
miles, an act that seems unproblematic under international law. The
1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) al-
lows each nation to “establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a
limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles.”562 One could try to argue that
Sealand had achieved statehood before 1987, so that it would be entitled
to claim its own territorial waters to the median line between England
and Sealand.563 Sealand has indeed made such a claim.564 But here, too,
international law has taken the United Kingdom’s side.565 The 1958 Con-
vention on the Continental Shelf provides that “no one may . . . make a
claim to the continental shelf, without the express consent of the coastal
State,”566 and UNCLOS made the rule even more explicit.567 Courts in

   559. Id. at 8.
   560. See, e.g., Vitànyi, supra note 548 (“[T]he judgment of Mr. Justice Chapman of the fact that
Sealand is situated outside the limits of Great Britain’s sovereignty.”).
   561. See RESTATEMENT (THIRD) OF FOREIGN RELATIONS § 402 cmt. d., at 239 (1987) (“Jurisdic-
tion with respect to activity outside the state, but having or intended to have substantial effect within
the state’s territory, is an aspect of jurisdiction based on territoriality . . . .”).
   562. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, art. 3, Dec. 10, 1982, 1833 U.N.T.S. 397,
400 [hereinafter UNCLOS III]. The United Kingdom did not accede to UNCLOS III until 1997.
Thus, to be more precise, the United Kingdom’s claims are unproblematic under customary interna-
tional law, which UNCLOS III is generally recognized as reflecting and embodying.
   563. See Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, art. 12, Apr. 29, 1958, 516
U.N.T.S. 205, 212–14.
   564. See Lucas, supra note 35 (noting that Sealand has extended its own claimed territorial limit
to twelve miles in order to preserve its sea access).
   565. See Arenas, supra note 6, at 1176–78.
   566. Convention on the Continental Shelf, art. 2(2) 29, Apr. 1958, 499 U.N.T.S. 311, 312. But see
Vitànyi, supra note 548 (“The tendency to extend the jurisdiction of the coastal States to artificial is-
lands and installations on the high seas which are not used for purposes of exploration or exploitation
of the natural resources of the continental shelf is manifestly contrary to the Convention of 1958.”).
   567. See UNCLOS III, supra note 562, art. 60(2), at 419–20 (giving “coastal State” “exclusive ju-
risdiction” over artificial islands and other similar structures within its exclusive economic zone
(EEZ)); id., art. 80, at 430 (extending EEZ rights under article 60 to apply also to “artificial islands,
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468                   UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                      [Vol. 2012

cases involving artificial islands near the Floridian and Italian coasts have
upheld coastal states’ rights to prohibit upstart artificial islands.568
      Let us assume, counterfactually, that the United Kingdom was will-
ing to allow Sealand to be a state. Would it be one? Unfortunately, “in-
ternational legal sources provide no satisfactory definition of ‘state.’”569
The “best known formulation of the basic criteria” is probably the 1933
Montevideo Convention,570 which sets out four conditions: “(a) a perma-
nent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity
to enter into relations with the other States.”571 The Restatement (Third)
of Foreign Relations uses a similar four-element test.572 These lists are
controversial and have been criticized as being both over- and
underinclusive, but there is no commonly accepted alternative codifica-
tion.573 Modern practice may be converging on requiring additional ele-
ments as preconditions to international recognition, such as democratic
self-government and protection of minority rights—but these may or
may not be conditions of statehood itself.574 I will use the Montevideo
criteria to structure the following discussion, with particular reference to
the 1978 decision by the Administrative Court of Cologne, In re Duchy
of Sealand, holding that Sealand was not a state.575

installations and structures on the continental shelf”). As of this writing, the Convention has been
ratified by 161 states.
    568. United States v. Ray, 281 F. Supp. 876, 878–79 (S.D. Fla. 1965) (entering injunction against
Atlantis, Isle of Gold, which was to be built on the Triumph Reef off of the Florida Keys); Cherici &
Rosa v. Ministry of the Merch. Navy & Harbour Office of Rimini, 71 I.L.R. 258, 258–59 (It. Cous. Stat.
1969) (upholding order against the Republic of Rose Island, a 400m platform seven miles of the Ital-
ian coast); Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 43 US.C. § 1333(a)(1) (2006) (permitting the U. S. gov-
ernment to regulate or prohibit “artificial islands, and all installations and other devices permanently
or temporarily attached to the seabed” on the continental shelf); see generally Menefee, supra note
513, at 111 (“[T]he period represents a gap between the enactment of the 1958 Geneva Conventions,
encouraging the exploitation of the ocean’s resources, and the ensuing court interpretations and state
action which indicated the extent to which this activity would become a coastal state hegemony.”).
    569. Thomas D. Grant, Defining Statehood: The Montevideo Convention and Its Discontents, 37
COLUM. J. TRANSNAT’L L. 403, 408 (1999).
    570. Id.
    571. Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, art. 1, Dec. 26, 1933, 165 L.N.T.S. 19, 25 (em-
phasis omitted).
    572. See RESTATEMENT (THIRD) OF FOREIGN RELATIONS LAW § 201 (1987) (“[A] state is an en-
tity that has a defined territory and a permanent population, under the control of its own government,
and that engages in, or has the capacity to engage in, formal relations with other such entities.”).
    573. See generally Grant, supra note 569, at 409–14.
    574. See, e.g., id. at 440–47. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union and the former Yugosla-
via, for example, the Council of the European Union adopted guidelines for the recognition of new
states that require these states to respect the United Nations Charter, ethnic and minority rights, and
nuclear nonproliferation agreements, among other commitments. See European Community: Declara-
tion on Yugoslavia and on the Guidelines on the Recognition of New States, 31 I.L.M. 1485, 1487
    575. Even if Sealand is in fact a state under international law, there is also the subsidiary question
of whether its method of formation was legal. The International Court of Justice has recently held
that “general international law contains no applicable prohibition of declarations of independence.”
Accordance with International Law of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in Respect of Ko-
sovo, Advisory Opinion, ¶ 84 (July 22, 2010),
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      The first Montevideo criterion is territory. Traditionally, “territory”
in international law refers to “an enclosed part of the surface of the
earth.”576 Taking that requirement literally, the Duchy of Sealand court
held that “[a] man-made artificial platform . . . does not constitute a seg-
ment of the earth’s sphere.”577 As a matter of language and precedent,
this reasoning is defensible: “territory” comes from the Latin terra, or
“earth,” and historically, state territory has referred only to land.578 But
functionally, it’s at least a little anomalous. From the perspective of ac-
tual human affairs, the pro-Sealand case here is commonsensical;
Sealand is enough of a stable place to have been inhabitable for the past
four decades. If a place can support an otherwise coherent and inde-
pendent political community, why should it matter whether the “territo-
ry” is made out of soil or concrete standing on the seabed?579 This point
is visible in the Duchy of Sealand court’s strained attempt to distinguish
the cases of “territory which was once connected to land and then sub-
merged by the sea,”580 and “[t]he formation of land by the erection of
dykes or dams and similar structures on the sea-shore or in coastal wa-
ters.”581 In both of these cases, accession principles are clearly at work;
the land lost or gained can be regarded as part of the larger landmass,
and thus as belonging to it.582 Sealand, however, seems to the court con-
nected with nothing but the sea. If so, the court’s discomfort with calling
Sealand “territory” might actually cut in its favor—as a recognition that
the tower stands too far out to sea to be trivially assimilated to the Brit-
ish Isles.
      The situation is reversed, however, when it comes to the second
Montevideo criterion: population. The Duchy of Sealand court is com-
mitted to a substantive vision of a state: it needs a communal identity, a
“common destiny.”583 Sealand’s citizens, on the other hand, “have not

   576. In re Duchy of Sealand, 80 I.L.R. 683, 685 (Admin. Ct. Cologne 1978) (Ger.) (citing scholarly
sources); see also Island of Palmas Case (U.S. v. Neth.), 2 R.I.A.A. 829, 838 (Perm. Ct. Arb. 1928)
(“[S]overeignty in relation to a portion of the surface of the globe is the legal condition necessary for
the inclusion of such portion in the territory of any particular State.” (emphasis added)).
   577. Duchy of Sealand, 80 I.L.R. at 685. Others have debated the status of artificial islands at
length, and I refer the interested reader to these fuller treatments of the issue. See generally Menefee,
supra note 513; Siousiouras & Tsouros, supra note 513.; Arenas, supra note 6; Dennis, supra note 3.
RYAN ET AL., supra note 12, has a discussion of a number of attempts to create both anchored and
floating artificial nations.
   578. Duchy of Sealand, 80 I.L.R. at 685–86. It also fits with the structure of the treaties on the law
of the sea: “Off-shore installations and artificial islands shall not be considered as permanent harbour
works” from which baselines may be measured. UNCLOS III, art. 11. Otherwise, a state could erect
artificial platforms at the limit of its territorial waters, declare them to be its “territory,” use them as a
basis for drawing new baselines, and repeat the process, extending its territorial waters indefinitely.
See id.
   579. See Leisner, supra note 549, ¶ 2.
   580. Duchy of Sealand, 80 I.L.R. at 686.
   581. Id.
   582. See generally Thomas W. Merrill, Accession and Original Ownership, 1 J. LEGAL ANALYSIS
459, 460 (2009).
   583. Duchy of Sealand, 80 I.L.R. at 687.
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470                  UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                    [Vol. 2012

acquired their ‘nationality’ in order to live with one another and handle
all aspects of their lives on a collective basis, but on the contrary they
continue to pursue their individual interests outside the ‘Duchy.’”584 In
its words, “the life of a community is lacking”585 because a people “must
be aimed at the maintenance of an essentially permanent form of com-
munal life in the sense of sharing a common destiny.”586 This is a thick
vision of the role of government; it expresses a strong commitment to an
affirmative welfare state.587 It’s also a communitarian vision of society: it
wouldn’t recognize “live and let live” as valid principle of social order,
not when there is a “common destiny” to be pursued. A minimal
Nozickian state could not legitimately exist under this reasoning.588
      The contrast with Sealand’s position is striking. Dr. Walter
Leisner’s expert opinion takes population to its utter limit: “The Princi-
pality of Sealand has people constituting a nation although their number
is very marginal; jus gentium does not provide for a minimum number of
citizens.”589 How many is “very marginal,” one might ask. The Duchy of
Sealand court accepts that there are 106 Sealand citizens and that there
are “30 to 40 persons permanently living on the platform.”590 As we have
seen, however, Sealand’s actual population has almost always been four
or fewer, and at many times only one or two. Leisner’s opinion is not
engaged in rhetorical excess—if there is a minimum population threshold
at all, Sealand likely falls short of it. One person could constitute a valid
“population” under his reasoning, but Sealand needs a one-person, one-
state principle if it is to exist at all. His interpretation of international
law renders the population prong essentially meaningless: it will be satis-
fied as long as there is a litigant who cares to assert that she constitutes
the relevant population.
      The positions are similar when it comes to Montevideo’s third crite-
rion: government. The Duchy of Sealand court is committed to a thick
view of government, and Sealand to a thin one. The court’s words on
government are worth quoting at length:
   The life of the State is not limited to the provision of casinos and
   places of entertainment. Rather a State community must play a
   more decisive role in serving the other vital human needs of people
   from their birth to their death. These needs include education and
   professional training, assistance in all the eventualities of life and
   the provision of subsistence allowances where necessary. The so-

   584. Id. at 687–88.
   585. Id. at 687.
   586. Id. (citations omitted).
   587. See TAMANAHA, supra note 507, at 112–13 (“Wonderful as these aspirations are, incorporat-
ing them into the notion of the rule of law throws up severe difficulties.”).
   588. See generally ROBERT NOZICK, ANARCHY, STATE, AND UTOPIA (1974).
   589. Leisner, supra note 549, ¶ 3; accord Colin Warbrick, States and Recognition in International
Law, in INTERNATIONAL LAW 206, 222 (Malcolm D. Evans ed. 2003).
   590. Duchy of Sealand, 80 I.L.R. at 687; see also Arenas, supra note 6, at 1173–74 (conflating fig-
ure of 106 citizens with the number of permanent residents).
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   called “Duchy of Sealand” fails to satisfy any of these require-
     Again, this is a thick, social-welfare view of what it takes to consti-
tute a “government.” Other international law authorities focus more
narrowly on effective control: “the actual exercise of public power over
the people and within the territory of the State.”592 While it may seem
that Roy Bates had effective control over Sealand—particularly given his
expulsion of the invaders in 1978593—the related idea that the purpose of
a control test is the maintenance of public order is problematic for
     Once again, Sealand’s competing theory could best be described as
minimalist.595 Sealand’s government has been somewhere between an
unincorporated family business and a marionette show in which a multi-
tude of formal offices are manipulated by a few puppeteers. At the time
of the invasion Achenbach was both Prime Minister and Chair of the
Privy Council, and Duchy of Sealand described him as Foreign Secretary
and Chairman of the Council of State.596 This is a Model U.N. vision of
government: everyone who shows up gets to hold an important office.597
     The fourth Montevideo criterion—“[c]apacity to enter into relations
with other States”—is the most vexed of the four. One scholar calls it
“not a criterion, but rather a consequence, of statehood,”598 and other
commentators agree.599 The Duchy of Sealand opinion doesn’t even
mention it.
     A more helpful framing may be to focus instead on the other side of
“relations with other states”—whether the putative state’s government is
recognized by its peers.600 Scholars have fiercely debated whether recog-
nition is constitutive of statehood, or merely an acknowledgement of it.601
Either way, however, the practice of other states at least provides valua-
ble evidence. As one wag puts it, “[A] nation is only recognized as a na-
tion if other nations that have been recognised by other nations recog-

   591.    Duchy of Sealand, 80 I.L.R. at 687.
   592.    Warbrick, supra note 589, at 223; accord IAN BROWNLIE, PRINCIPLES OF PUBLIC INTER-
NATIONAL LAW 71 (6th ed. 2003).
   593. See Arenas, supra note 6, at 1169.
   594. See Warbrick, supra note 589, at 223 (“It is often suggested that the control exercised must
be sufficient to guarantee . . . prevention of the use of the territory contrary to the interests of other
   595. See, e.g., Leisner, supra note 549, at results 4 (“[J]us gentium does not provide for a certain
form of government.”).
   596. Duchy of Sealand, 80 I.L.R. at 684.
   597. Cf. Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 19:50 (“They were very good at trying to simulate a real
country there because they acted like politicians.”).
   599. See, e.g., Grant, supra note 569, at 434–35 (collecting criticisms).
   600. One might distinguish recognition of a state from recognition of a particular government. In
Sealand’s case, the difference is probably not significant, as no one besides the German Sealand seems
interested in recognizing it in preference to Prince Roy and Prince Regent Michael.
DEBATE AND EVOLUTION (1999) (providing an overview of the subject).
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472                   UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                      [Vol. 2012

nise [sic] it. Got it?”602 There’s a certain unavoidable circularity to this
approach, but it has the virtue of conforming to general practice.
      This would not seem to be a promising line of argument for Sealand
to pursue. At present, no other nation officially recognizes Sealand. In-
deed, the United States and United Kingdom have repeatedly said that
they do not. So has the United Nations. “Recognition itself need not be
express,”603 however, and Sealand’s advocates have pointed to acts over
the years that supposedly constitute de facto recognition or “acquies-
cence” in Sealand’s claims, such as the 1968 acquittal in Regina v. Bates
and the United Kingdom’s failure to reoccupy Roughs Tower after Bates
occupied it.604 Germany is said to have recognized Sealand by sending a
diplomat to negotiate for Pütz’s release after the 1978 invasion.605 And
Sealand’s citizens have managed to travel into various countries by pre-
senting Sealand passports.606
      Ironically, these arguments for de facto recognition are even more
formalistic than the arguments for Sealand’s legal statehood. They all
share a certain “gotcha” quality: that a country, notwithstanding its offi-
cial protestations, will be bound by an isolated statement made in a con-
text when sovereignty might not be the first thing on its officials’ minds.607
Take, for example, the idea that a diplomat’s visit to Sealand to lobby for
a German citizen’s release in 1978 constituted irrevocable diplomatic

    602. RYAN ET AL., supra note 12, at 6.
    603. MALCOLM N. SHAW, INTERNATIONAL LAW 384–85 (5th ed. 2003).
    604. See Vitànyi, supra note 548, at 15–23; see also Briger & Associates Attorneys at Law, Legal
Opinion, Nov. 21, 2007,
havenco/sealand/opinion03.html (“[Y]ou have advised that the United Kingdom has acknowledged
and accepted Prince Roy’s possession and control of Sealand, including making special customs ar-
rangements for anyone traveling to or from Sealand.”).
    605. See L.W. Conway, Legal Opinion & Testimonial,
038/http:/ (last visited Jan. 23, 2012) (discuss-
ing German and Dutch negotiations over their nationals). The Conway opinion also contains the fol-
lowing, puzzling paragraph:
      Various offers have been made to Prince Roy on behalf of different persons to negotiate on his be-
   half to have his country recognized by certain of the small minor Governments throughout the world
   but Prince Roy has not sought official recognition as this venture is entirely a commercial venture and
   not a political one and he does not wish to be recognized formally as a State by any particular Gov-
   ernment. To do so would create problems as it would necessitate him appointing an Ambassador with
   additional unnecessary expense and no financial gain at all.
    606. See Hastings, supra note 318. The examples given online all appear to predate the age of
computerization that was ushered in by the standardization on machine-readable passports. Dr.
Leisner considers this “doubtful” evidence, as “it was not the Foreign Office authorities of these
states” who endorsed the passports. Leisner, supra note 549. He then goes on, however, to argue that
since England and France had a policy against endorsing East German passports, the fact that they
endorsed Sealand’s constituted recognition. Id.
    607. See SHAW, supra note 603, at 387 (“State practice has restricted the possible scope of opera-
tion this concept of implied recognition to a few instances only . . . .”). Ian Brownlie writes, “Recogni-
tion is a matter of intention.” BROWNLIE, supra note 592, at 93, and it is unlikely that other govern-
ments have intended to recognize Sealand.
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No. 2]          SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                             473

recognition.608 This isn’t an argument that Germany tends to treat
Sealand as a state in practice; it’s an argument that Germany is estopped
from denying that Sealand is one.609
     The passport arguments have a similar quality. Countries certainly
do treat their passport policy as an extension of their diplomatic posi-
tions. Thus, some countries will stamp visas for travelers from the Re-
public of China (i.e., Taiwan) but not the passports themselves, and both
the Republic and the People’s Republic of China (i.e., the mainland) do
not consider travel between them to be “international” and therefore do
not stamp each other’s passports. But what Sealand’s advocates describe
is not so much a systematic government practice as the occasional lapse
from it.

2.    The Rule of Law As Formal Legality
       Sealand’s claims to statehood reflect a theory of the rule of law as
formal legality: the consistent and evenhanded application of general
prospective rules.610 In Lon Fuller’s words, “Surely the very essence of
the Rule of Law is that in acting upon the citizen . . . a government will
faithfully apply rules previously declared as those to be followed by the
citizen and as being determinative of his rights and duties.”611 This condi-
tion, which Rawls called “justice as regularity,”612 ensures equality before
the law613 and protects law’s subjects from the arbitrary exercise of pow-
       Sealand’s advocates claim that international law has established
rules on statehood—territory, population, government, and recogni-
tion—and Sealand is entitled to have its status adjudged according to
those rules. What is sauce for England is sauce for Sealand. If interna-
tional law had not prior to 1968 imposed a threshold test for population,
for example, it would be a violation of the rule of law to impose such a
test after the fact to catch Sealand.615 The point resonates—but we
should also be clear on its limits and implications.

   608. See RYAN ET AL., supra note 12, at 11 (“Prince Roy saw the bright side: by sending an official
mission, the German government had recognised Sealand as an independent nation (the Germans, of
course, have other views).”).
   609. Leisner, supra note 549, at 4; cf. STRAUSS, supra note 12, at 65 (describing the theory of
“‘recognition’ by bureaucratic reflex” held by Leicester Hemingway of New Atlantis, in which receiv-
ing a pro forma thank-you note from Lyndon Johnson constituted official recognition).
   610. See LON L. FULLER, THE MORALITY OF LAW 46–49 (rev. ed. 1969); TAMANAHA, supra note
507, at 93–99; Joseph Raz, The Rule of Law and Its Virtue, 93 L.Q. REV. 195, 196 (1977).
   611. FULLER, supra note 610, at 209–10; see also Risch, supra note 17, at 8–23 (applying formal
legality framework based on Fuller to virtual worlds).
   612. JOHN RAWLS, A THEORY OF JUSTICE 207 (rev. ed. 1999) (“The regular and impartial, and in
this sense fair, administration of law we may call ‘justice as regularity.’”).
ed., 1908).
   614. Antonin Scalia, The Rule of Law As a Law of Rules, 56 U. CHI. L. REV. 1175, 1179 (1989).
   615. See FULLER, supra note 610, at 51–62 (discussing retroactive laws).
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474                  UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                   [Vol. 2012

      Speaking to the HOPE conference in 2002, Ryan Lackey proudly
explained that Sealand satisfied “all the technical requirements”616 for
statehood, as though other nations were holding it back for unfair rea-
sons not actually in the books.617 Perhaps, but if so, then Sealand satisfies
almost nothing but the technical requirements. Sealand’s arguments il-
lustrate the “emptiness”618 of formal legality; they obscure any considera-
tion of the underlying purposes of the rules or the justice of the resulting
      The normative case that Roy Bates’s family constitutes the sort of
historically connected political community traditionally recognized under
international law is weak at best. Or rather, if the Bates family is justi-
fied in constituting itself as a nation, the fact that it happened to occupy
Roughs Tower is surely the least important of the normative justifica-
tions for its self-rule619—and we are most of the way to Robert Nozick’s
ideal of a purely consensual state.620 Some may find this vision appealing,
but it is a substantial departure from the traditional functions of interna-
tional law in regulating the rights and duties of states.621
      HavenCo’s implicit appeal to international law looks even stranger
when juxtaposed with its disdain for national law. If the rule of law is a
matter of formal legality, then any properly general and prospective na-
tional regulation of the Internet ought to pass muster.622 Conversely, if
the rule of law also makes substantive demands, it’s unclear what makes
the international law guaranteeing Sealand’s sovereignty legitimate. It’s
difficult to find a theory of law that invalidates the laws of every nation
on earth and still upholds international law.
      And yet legality was inarguably important to HavenCo; if not, it
would never have bothered with Sealand. Recall Lackey’s quip that
“Our customers don’t want to break the law, they want a different set of
laws they can comply with.”623 The unifying thread in its attitudes to-
wards national and international law was a willingness to disregard the
idea that law is an expression of the political will of a community.
HavenCo rejected national Internet regulations because it didn’t believe
that those regulations reflected the values of any community that was en-

   616. Lackey & Freedman, supra note 458, audio at 7:38.
   617. Cf. Garfinkel, supra note 1, at 239 (quoting Erwin Strauss as saying, “From a strictly legal
point of view, Roy Bates was there and claimed sovereignty, so that takes precedence” (emphasis
   618. TAMANAHA, supra note 507, at 93–94.
   619. See RYAN ET AL., supra note 12, at 4–6, 8–14, 71, 75 (discussing dozens of “micronations,”
with populations as small as one, and territory as small as a single apartment); see generally Ruth
Wedgwood, Cyber-Nations, 88 KY. L.J. 957 (1999–2000) (discussing a turn from “micronations” with
minimal territory to “Cyber-nations” with none).
   620. See NOZICK, supra note 588, at 299, 311.
   621. See, e.g., SHAW, supra note 603, at 1 (“[T]he principal subjects of international law are na-
tion-states, not individual citizens.”).
   622. See TAMANAHA, supra note 507, at 99–101 (treating democratic theories of the rule of law as
also requiring formal legality).
   623. Gilmour, supra note 298.
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No. 2]           SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                                475

titled to have its values respected. And it embraced the formal strictures
of international law out of a belief that those formal strictures would tie
the hands of the nations of the world—again, regardless of what the
communities in those nations thought or deserved.
      That is, HavenCo’s position makes sense if one envisions interna-
tional law as an autonomous system of binding rules, beyond the power
of the system’s participants (here, the nations of the world) to modify as
they went along.624 Sealand is a “state” with inviolate rights because it
has “territory,” a “population,” and a “government,” regardless of
whether these things bear much relationship to other things with the
same names, or whether any political institution is willing to stand behind
this interpretation of the law. This is rule by law, not rule through or of
law—it is law without politics.625
      The world, however, is inescapably political. Any discussion of
Sealand’s formal sovereignty is beside the point given that the United
Kingdom plausibly asserts jurisdiction over it.626 It seems unlikely that
international community would have responded to protect Sealand from
the United Kingdom or another state acting with the United Kingdom’s
acquiescence.627 Ryan Lackey told a crowd at the HOPE conference that
if Osama bin Laden were on Sealand, he expected the United States to
wipe it out in minutes.628 Even for less controversial material, dropping
the servers into the sea was always HavenCo’s fallback plan.629 Even

    624. This same belief in a law as a wholly formal system crops up in the belief (among some of the
buyers of credentials from the Spanish “Sealand”) that carrying a Sealand diplomatic passport pro-
vides diplomatic immunity, even in countries that have no diplomatic relations with Sealand. See su-
pra Part II.J. It doesn’t work. Diplomatic immunity, under domestic and international law, arises
from being a diplomat, not from carrying a piece of paper. Under the Vienna Convention, the sending
state must notify the receiving state’s government of both “the appointment of members of the mis-
sion” and “their arrival.” Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations art. 10(1)(a), Apr. 18, 1961,
600 U.N.T.S. 95 [hereinafter Vienna Convention]. See generally Diplomatic Relations Act of 1978,
Pub. L. No. 95-393, 92 Stat. 808 (codified at 22 U.S.C. § 254a et seq.) (implementing Vienna Conven-
tion); 22 C.F.R. § 41.26 (2011) (implementing diplomatic visas). Nationals of the receiving state enjoy
immunity only “in respect of official acts performed in the exercise of [their] function[s],” Vienna
Convention art. 38, diplomats may be declared persona non grata by the receiving state at any time, id.
art. 9., and they may not “practice for personal profit any professional or commercial activity,” id. art.
guishing “law” aspect of the rule of law from “rule” aspect).
    626. In an interview, Michael Bates explained that Sealand had learned from the old pirate radio
broadcasters. “We have rules and regulations . . . . One of the reasons to my mind that the govern-
ment always wanted to close the offshore stations down was that they had no control over them. And
had they gone political, it probably would have frightened them to death. But we make our own con-
trols now, and we’re sensible.” THE SEALAND ADVENTURE, supra note 54.
    627. HavenCo could potentially have stood up to a British exercise of authority if it had a power-
ful ally in the international community—but if it did, that other state would presumably have made a
better home for HavenCo.
    628. Lackey & Freedman, supra note 458, audio at 35:22. Cf. Lackey, supra note 304, audio at
19:10 (describing Lackey’s annoyance at Sealand officials for saying they would hypothetically turn
over to British authorities any data belonging to al-Qaeda).
    629. Note also that the server-overboard endgame would seem to be an ideal outcome for a gov-
ernment whose goal is merely to have seditious content taken offline.
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476                  UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                [Vol. 2012

more tellingly, in 2001, some of Sealand’s staff were treating nearby
Great Britain as a security asset, not a risk. In the words of Alan Beale,
Sealand’s Chief of Security at the time, “The British government
wouldn’t allow a foreign power to [take over Sealand], and they certainly
wouldn’t want any terrorists out here.”630 As NPR’s Scott Simon put it,
“HavenCo does not recognize British law, but it relies on British security
to make the platform a safe investment.”631

                                     C.    Sealand Law

      To explore HavenCo’s relationship to Sealand law, let us start at the
end of the relationship. In his 2003 Defcon presentation, HavenCo’s
Ryan Lackey described the company as “probably effectively ‘national-
ized.’”632 His point was that what had originally been a hosting company
operating out of Sealand had come under Sealand’s complete operation-
al and managerial control. True, HavenCo had never been a particularly
reliable business partner for its customers, it defaulted on its contractual
obligations to Sealand, and its transfer to Sealand control was mutually
agreed-to. Still, the endgame cut out HavenCo’s investors and creditors
completely: Sealand never issued shares or paid off the $220,000 it owed
Lackey.633 According to Lackey, Sealand even stole personal computers
he left behind.634
      Sealand law had nothing to say on the matter, or, at least nothing
that HavenCo could rely on. Intuitively, this comes across as a failure of
the rule of law. But here it is the “rule of law” in yet a different sense
than we have been considering so far.

1.    The Rule of Law As Restraint on Government

     The expropriation of property without justification is a violation of
the rule of law as a restraint on government. This vision of the rule of law
emphasizes that government itself is subject to law.635 It’s visible in
Thomas Paine’s “in America the law is king,” in Theodore Roosevelt’s
“[n]o man is above the law,” and in John Adams’s “government of laws,
and not of men.”636 It protects individuals against tyranny, against the

   630. Simon, supra note 23, at 4.
   631. Id.
   632. Lackey, supra note 245, slides at 31.
   633. Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 26:08 (describing HavenCo’s ad hoc responses to customers
during its frequent service outages).
   634. Id. audio at 25:55
   635. See TAMANAHA, supra note 507, at 114–19 (discussing theme of “[g]overnment limited by
   636. John Adams, Letters of Novanglus, No. 7 (1775), in THE YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS 4
(Fred R. Shapiro ed., 2006); Thomas Paine, Common Sense 5 (1776), reprinted in COMMON SENSE,
Theodore Roosevelt, Third Annual Message to Congress (Dec. 7, 1903), in THE YALE BOOK OF
QUOTATIONS, supra, at 348.
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No. 2]           SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                              477

arbitrary exercise of power. Where pure formal legality requires only
that government act through law, this vision of the rule of law expects
that law will put limits on the government’s ability to act at all.637 It is
thus to some extent a substantive theory of the rule of law.638
      The ideal of government limited by law is frequently linked to citi-
zens’ ability to plan for the future.639 Reliable property and contract
rights play an important role in this story. Businesses care about the sta-
bility of their legal environment, thinkers argue: without secure property
rights, investment and entrepreneurship are difficult or impossible.640 We
have seen this argument already in HavenCo’s clients’ commercial need
to fit themselves into the framework of law.641 It also applies to HavenCo
itself. It had computers to buy, bandwidth bills to pay, and employees to
feed. It needed paying clients—and legal stability for its operations.
Colocation is a commodity business; ordinarily, it’s supposed to be safe,
reliable, and boring.

2.    HavenCo and Sealand Law

      It’s possible to see HavenCo’s relationship to Sealand, then, as a
failure of the rule of law.642 Think, for a moment, about HavenCo’s op-
tions following the “nationalization.” It could have argued that its rights
had been violated, and brought an action in whatever tribunal Prince
Regent Michael had seen fit to establish. But its decision would have
been purely advisory as to the Prince Regent,643 and in any event, it
seems unlikely that the rest of Sealand’s political community—Michael

   637. Many theories of the rule of law in fact link the two. See, e.g., Raz, supra note 610, at 202–03
(“Many forms of arbitrary rule are compatible with the rule of law. . . . But certainly many of the more
common manifestations of arbitrary power run foul of the rule of law.”).
   638. See TAMANAHA, supra note 507, at 102–13 (discussing substantive theories of the rule of
   639. See, e.g., FREDRICH A. HAYEK, THE ROAD TO SERFDOM 72 (1944) (“[G]overnment in all its
actions is bound by rules fixed and announced beforehand—rules which make it possible to foresee
with fair certainty how the authority will use its coercive powers in given circumstances and to plan
one’s individual affairs on the basis of this knowledge.”); Raz, supra note 610, at 203.
WEALTH FROM THE COMPASS TO THE INTERNET 13–14 (2001) (arguing that “pirates” on new techno-
logical frontiers eventually go legitimate as their businesses expand and become more dependent on a
stable business environment).
   642. See RYAN ET AL., supra note 12, at 12 (describing “the too-close relationship between the
operators of HavenCo and Prince Michael” as “the most damaging” factor in HavenCo’s failure).
This is not the only possible interpretation. Another way of describing the breakdown of HavenCo’s
relationship with Sealand is that Sealand took its identity as a would-be member of the international
community seriously enough that it brought its internal Internet policies into rough congruence with
international norms, regardless of whether it was legally obligated to do so. See GOLDSMITH & WU,
supra note 3, at 85.
03/downloads/pdfs/principality_of_sealand.pdf (“The opinion of the tribunal shall be conveyed to the
Sovereign who shall issue a Decision as appropriate said Decision to be subject to enforcement as seen
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478                   UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                     [Vol. 2012

Bates’s friends and family—would have put much pressure on him to
conform his decisions to the law.
      HavenCo chose Sealand for its “third-world regulation,” but most
of us, when we think about third-world regulation, don’t immediately
think of a good business environment.644 The Bateses may be decent
people, and they may often find it in their interest to act honestly, con-
sistently, and predictably. But if they decide to act otherwise—as Lackey
alleges they did as HavenCo unraveled—there is essentially nothing to
stop them.645 A gambler who visits a casino in Atlantic City has the as-
surance of the New Jersey Casino Control Commission and Division of
Gaming Enforcement that the decks aren’t stacked against her.646 If she
goes instead to a thinly regulated online casino, she’ll have no one to turn
to if it transpires that the random-number generator was rigged.647
HavenCo bet on a friendly legal climate, and lost.648
      In hindsight, perhaps, the question is not why Sealand allegedly act-
ed lawlessly towards HavenCo, but why Sealand’s lawlessness came as a
surprise. Sealand’s constitution, after all, declares it to be a monarchy in
which the sovereign has ultimate legislative, executive, and judicial pow-
er.649 Advancement in Sealand politics has always depended on family
connections or personal favor with the monarch. Ryan Lackey blamed
part of HavenCo’s failure on an “advisor” to the royal family; perhaps
we should call him a “courtier.”650
      In practice, Sealand’s judicial system has tended towards drumhead
procedure. Recall the fate of the 1978 invasion force, “represented” by
one of Prince Roy’s “own men,” and forced to do cleaning chores for the
royal family. Recall also that Prince Roy considered executing Pütz even

    644. See, e.g., WORLD JUSTICE PROJECT, RULE OF LAW INDEX 18 (2010), http://worldjustice (giving the Western Europe and North American regions distinctly better rankings on rule-
of-law metrics than all other regions).
    645. Lackey wrote, “Even a small group of people in power will violate agreements if they are
capable of doing so . . . .” Lackey, supra note 242, slides at 34.
    646. See About the Commission, STATE OF NEW JERSEY CASINO CONTROL COMM’N, http://www. (last visited Jan. 23, 2012); About the Division of Gaming Enforcement, OFF.
ATT’Y GEN., (last visited Jan. 23, 2012). But see BRUCE
SPRINGSTEEN, Atlantic City, on NEBRASKA (Colombia Records 1982) (“The D.A. can’t get no re-
lief . . . and the gambling commission’s hanging on by the skin of its teeth.”).
    647. See, e.g., Mike Brunker, Online Poker Cheating Blamed on Employee, MSNBC.COM (Oct.
19, 2007 7:21 PM), (describing the cheating scandal affecting
American players at, a site operated out of Costa Rica, owned by a company
based in Kahnawake Mohawk territory in Quebec, and “licensed and ostensibly regulated by the
tribe’s Kahnawake Gaming Commission, though it is not clear what level of scrutiny the commission
applies to its licensees”). Site managers initially denied the cheating allegations, relenting only after
near-definitive proof was presented. See Gilbert M. Gaul, Cheating Scandals Raise New Questions
About Honesty, Security of Internet Gambling, WASH. POST (Nov. 30, 2008), http://www.washington
    648. E-mail from Michael Froomkin (Sept. 13, 2010, 11:28 EDT) (on file with author).
    649. CONSTITUTION OF 1989 (Sealand), (last
visited January 23, 2012).
    650. See Lackey, supra note 222, audio at 24:38 (discussing advisor’s ambiguous relationship with
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though the 1975 constitution explicitly prohibits the death penalty.
Sealand’s history is heavily dotted with the irregular use of force: the ex-
pulsion of Radio Caroline staff, the defense with Molotov cocktails, the
repeated shots at British ships on official duty, and the 1978 invasion.
This is a country where state violence has never been far from the sur-
face.651 As Roy Bates put it, “I can tell them to murder someone if I want
to. I am the person responsible for the law in Sealand.”652
      Even more fundamentally, Sealand simply lacks the population to
support political institutions like a professionalized judiciary, political
parties, and an independent press.653 The number of residents on the
platform, after all, is in the single digits, and the number of total citizens
isn’t much larger.654 Multiple office holding is common.655 Even when
such institutions do exist in theory—like the Senate described in its con-
stitution—it’s unclear whether they ever meet, nor is there any indication
in the record that their work is anything other than playacted. This isn’t
a picture of a country in which the rule of law has a thick hold.
      In both national and international settings, HavenCo tried to drive a
wedge between law and politics. The same was true on Sealand.
HavenCo was utterly dependent on Sealand law—but perhaps too will-
ing to overlook the numerous red flags in Sealand’s political system.

                                         D.     Connections

      We have seen that HavenCo simultaneously thumbed its nose at na-
tional law and relied on international law to protect Sealand. Both of
these choices came back to haunt it when it came to Sealand law. Its op-
position to national authority led it straight to Sealand, the world’s min-
imal possible state—but the minimal possible state is not actually a safe
base of operations.656 A country whose government is committed to the
rule of law and which has extensive political and social traditions holding
it to that commitment, can offer the necessary stability. If the govern-

   651. See Kessler, supra note 54 (“Violence, however, is at the root of its existence.”); Sealand on
Reporting London 1983, at 4:25 YOUTUBE, (last
updated Oct. 21, 2010) (“Today, firearms still play a major role in the life of Sealand. Racks of guns
are ready to defend the independence of the island.”).
   652. See Jackson, supra note 125, at 3.
   653. See Terence C. Halliday, The Fight for Basic Legal Freedoms: Mobilization by the Legal
Complex, in GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES ON THE RULE OF LAW 210, 216–32 (James J. Heckman et al. eds.,
2010) (discussing the role of legal and civil society institutions in the transition to the rule of law); cf.
THE FEDERALIST No. 10 (James Madison) (arguing that a large republic is more capable of “control-
ling the effects of faction” than a small one).
   654. Cf. Lackey, supra note 245, slides at 34; Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 32:57 (“The ulti-
mate lesson here is that if you have a very small number of people involved in a business, it’s very easy
to violate agreements.”).
   655. Although, to be fair, it’s not clear that the Sealand government has enough duties to make
this multiplicity problematic by heaping too much work on any individual.
   656. In hindsight, Ryan Lackey explained, “The key lesson from this is that if you’re going to put
a ‘co-lo’ facility somewhere, political and contract stability in that jurisdiction is very important.”
Lackey, supra note 232, audio at 31:30.
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480                   UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                       [Vol. 2012

ment tries to act arbitrarily, its own internal institutions and the country’s
larger rule-of-law culture will stand in its way. On a true data haven,
government faces no such obstacles.657
      Similarly, HavenCo’s dependence on international law boxed it into
a corner after the nationalization. HavenCo was in no position to seek
protection of its rights anywhere else in the world.658 In order to prevail,
HavenCo would have to find a court with jurisdiction over an unwilling
Sealand, and then find a way of enforcing its judgment against Sealand.
Perhaps it could have. But doing so would have destroyed the premise
on which HavenCo had built its entire business: Sealand’s sovereignty as
an absolute shield against the rest of the world.659 If Sealand could be
held accountable for seizing HavenCo property, then Sealand could also
be held accountable for doing things other countries didn’t like.660 Once
again, Ryan Lackey put his finger on the point in hindsight: “While I
could sue HavenCo and/or directors for breach of contract, etc., . . . it
would presumably lead to a negative resolution of the Sealand sovereign-
ty issue.”661
      There’s a common thread here, and it has to do with the rule of
law—specifically with the connection between the rule of law and politi-
cal institutions. If HavenCo could be said to have been about anything,
it was about the age-old fear of Leviathan—the despotic government that
wields absolute, unchecked power. The standard modern response to
that danger is to embrace the rule of law.662 A constitution is a law to
rule over the lawmakers. The Madisonian system deploys multiple
branches of government to monitor and moderate each others’ use of
power. In the course of their struggles, they hold each other to the law.
These institutions, in turn, are embedded within a society whose mem-
bers take the project of self-government seriously. Rule-of-law constitu-

   657. There’s a remarkable moment in the question-and-answer period of Lackey’s Defcon
presentation, when he contemplates striking a deal with existing countries to move there and set up
businesses, if only they agree to a “certain set of laws and a certain compact that will not be violated by
your country at any point.” Id. audio at 50:50. In the next breath, he recognizes that in his experience,
countries “tend to try to violate stuff anyway,” against which, “there are these things called guns, and I
would make sure that there was something stronger than the Second Amendment that made sure that
the free trade zone wouldn’t be at risk.” Id. audio at 50:38.
   658. Id. audio at 29:45.
   659. Cf. id. audio at 22:48 (“If they thought they couldn’t host this thing, did they really believe
that the country had any legal existence from Day 1?”).
   660. Id. audio at 29:47 (“[I]t will probably resolve the Sealand sovereignty issue, and thus will
mean that there is no money to be extracted from the thing because it will probably be resolved nega-
tively, so it’s sort of like a catch-22.”).
   661. Lackey, supra note 245, at slides at 27. Something similar happened in the summer of 1967
on board the aptly named Laissez Faire, the home of Radio 355. It put out a distress call that a fight
was raging between English and Dutch factions, and that one man on board was threatening murder.
The police, maritime rescue service, and Ministry of Defense did nothing, because “[t]hose on board
the Laissez Faire had deliberately placed themselves outside the reach of the law.” PAUL HARRIS,
209–10 (1966) (UK-NA: 255/1246).
   662. See TAMANAHA, supra note 507, at 47–59 (discussing history of liberal rule-of-law constitu-
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No. 2]          SEALAND, HAVENCO, AND THE RULE OF LAW                                           481

tionalism accepts the necessity of government power but uses law, insti-
tutions, and norms to limit that power.
      HavenCo, however, started from the premise that rule-of-law con-
stitutionalism had failed. Its founders believed that no traditional na-
tion-state could be trusted to protect essential human rights. Where con-
stitutionalism aims to tame Leviathan, HavenCo hoped to escape from
Leviathan entirely. The deep irony of HavenCo’s story is that it sought
to use law to do so: international law would hold Leviathan at bay while
Sealand law guaranteed the essential freedoms. As we have seen,
Sealand’s history gives reason to question whether either international
law or Sealand law could be counted on to do the work HavenCo needed
them to. This shouldn’t be a surprise. HavenCo needed law, but offered
no workable theory of where that law would come from.

                                     V. CONCLUSION
      In December 2010, the Sealand government sent its Facebook and
Twitter followers a message:
         Sealand has been asked to give #Wikileaks founder Julian
   Assange a passport and safe haven. With recent releases by
   Wikileaks : Are they a guardian of the public right to information
   or a hugely irresponsible threat to security of the international
      That the Internet’s latest mutineer would sooner or later be linked
with Sealand should come as no surprise.664 From pirate radio to the Pi-
rate Bay, Sealand exerts a magnetic pull on all those who would remake
the world by standing outside of existing legal systems. Little wonder,
too, that Sealand’s history has taken us to tax havens and cyberspaces, or
that Sealand holds pride of place in books on micronations and
seasteading. They are all rebels against the existing order of things.
      But, as one review of a book on pirate radio puts it, “Ya gotta have
rules, it turns out, even if you’re a rebel.”665 All of these dissident utopi-
ans must face the same three issues of law that HavenCo did: how far will
they push against national law, how will they protect their right to exist

   663. Principality of Sealand, supra note 312; SealandGov, supra note 313.
   664. On WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, see generally zunguzungu [Aaron Bady], Julian Assange
and the Computer Conspiracy; “To Destroy This Invisible Government,” ZUNGUZUNGU (Nov. 29, 2010
9:05 AM),
”to-destroy-this-invisible-government”; Gabriella Coleman, Hacker Culture: A Response to Bruce Ster-
ling on WikiLeaks, ATLANTIC (Dec. 23, 2010),
archive/2010/12/hacker-culture-a-response-to-bruce-sterling-on-wikileaks/68506/; Jaron Lanier, The
Hazards of Nerd Supremacy: The Case of WikiLeaks, ATLANTIC (Dec. 20, 2010), http://www.the;
Bruce Sterling, The Blast Shack, WEBSTOCK, (Dec. 22, 2010),
   665. Matthew Lasar, The Education of a Radio Pirate, RADIO SURVIVOR (Aug. 28, 2009), http:// (reviewing SUE CARPENTER, 40
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under international law, and how will they use internal law to govern
themselves? These are hard problems on their own, and HavenCo’s ex-
perience illustrates that they intertwine in ways that make them even
      Remarkably, even the creators of fictional data havens have under-
stood as much. Their authors take the international-relations and inter-
nal-governance issues seriously.666 The data havens in Bruce Sterling’s
Islands in the Net are all island states whose sovereignty is guaranteed by
a strong worldwide treaty regime with its own armed forces. Even so,
they are unstable: Grenada and Singapore collapse during the course of
the novel. William Gibson’s Freeside is even simpler: it floats in high
earth orbit, where terrestrial nations can’t get at it, and is controlled ab-
solutely by the Tessier-Ashpool family.
      Kinakuta, from Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, is the most fa-
mous and most fully worked out of the fictional data havens, the one that
most seriously tries to imagine what it would take to make a data haven
work. Kinakuta is a wealthy nation sitting on top of absurdly rich oil de-
posits, with a long history of multiethnic tolerance, a substantial popula-
tion, a thriving business culture, and a bureaucratized administration.667
Externally, the oil-rich Sultan of Kinakuta has a strong hand to play if
other nations take offense. Internally, he explicitly promises to “abdicate
all governmental power” over information flows. Unlike Roy Bates, the
Sultan of Kinakuta has a lot to lose if his country proves a bad business
      As Kinakuta and Sealand show, one can’t stand up to national au-
thority without law in one form or another—which means one will also
need political institutions that grapple seriously with the inevitable ques-
tions of power and community will. Or, to put things more optimistical-
ly, anyone who successfully manages to answer these questions is likely
to have built something that bears more than a passing resemblance to a
nation-state. Consider Iceland, which recently made itself into a “safe
haven for investigative reporting” with “the world’s strongest protections
for free speech and journalism.”668 Iceland is a sovereign nation, but even
more importantly, it has a police force, a population that favors the

    666. Even comic books get it. In Don Rosa’s His Majesty McDuck, Uncle Scrooge discovers that
his money bin is built on land claimed by Sir Francis Drake and never made part of the United States.
After asserting his independence to claim a massive refund on back taxes and naming himself king, he
is ousted by a usurper backed by the Beagle Boys. The Duckburg police, of course, have no jurisdic-
tion to intervene. Don Rosa, His Majesty McDuck, UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES 14 (Gladstone
May 4, 1989). This plot device—the secession of a long-forgotten enclave—was also the subject of the
1949 Ealing comedy PASSPORT TO PIMLICO (Ealing Studios 1949). The cultural reference wasn’t lost
on an FCO official musing on the Sealand problem, who scribbled “talk about passport to Pimlico!”
on a letter. Letter from C.C. Wilcock to Mr. Drinkall (Feb. 24, 1971) (UK-NA: FCO 33/1300). Cf.
Dennis O’Neil et al., Strategic Diplomacy, G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO #41 (1985) (depicting
Cobra Island, a sovereign and therefore untouchable hideout for the comic book series’ villains).
    667. See STEPHENSON, supra note 391, at 191–92, 316–17.
    668. Sylvia Hui, Iceland to Strengthen Its Media Protections, BOSTON.COM (June 18, 2010), http://
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press-shield law, and a parliament founded in 930. (No, there is not a “1”
missing from that date.)
      One last example may be helpful. Every so often, someone com-
plains about the “maritime” flags in U.S. courthouses.669 The theory is
that gold fringe and an eagle on the standard transform the “American
flag of peace” into the “military” or “maritime” “flag of war,” under
which civilian courts have no jurisdiction.670 There are hundreds of such
theories.671 They never work,672 but they also never stop coming.673 No
matter how patiently the courts explain that Ohio is a state, or that indi-
viduals are not sovereign, or that a filing is valid even if its caption spells
your name in capital letters, the arguments never cease.
      I am not concerned with why people are willing to believe what one
commentator, perhaps unfairly, calls “Idiot Legal Arguments.”674 People
believe all sorts of strange things, and occasionally some of them turn out
to be true. Instead, it’s worth asking why people expect these heterodox
legal arguments to work. The cases involve tax protesters, militia mem-
bers, prison inmates—people who have extensive, firsthand experience
being at the wrong end of government’s stick. Either their faith in a fear-
less and independent judiciary is strong indeed, or something else is go-
ing on.
      We can sharpen the point. In Stephen Vincent Benét’s famous
short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, contract law and a jury trial
are binding even on the devil himself.675 Like the tax protesters and like
HavenCo, Benèt imagines that there is a great and malevolent power
afoot in the world, that law will suffice to hold this power back, and that
law will do this of its own accord, simply because it is the law. This vision
of law invests it with supernatural force; it collapses law into a system of
magic words.676
      But law is not an external, autonomous system of self-enforcing
rules: it is made by people, for people, and of people. No judge sitting in

    669. See, e.g., Schneider v. Schlaefer, 975 F. Supp. 1160, 1161–62 (E.D. Wis. 1997).
    670. Id. at 1162.
    671. See, e.g., HILLMAN v. Sec’y of the Treasury, 2000 TNT 111-13 (“More specifically, plaintiff
complains that the United States’ filings have been directed to a person named Cris Timothy Hillman,
whose name is spelled in bold, capital letters, in contrast with plaintiff’s name, which is spelled in up-
per and lower case letters, which are, according to him ‘proper English.’”).
    672. See, e.g., Schneider, 975 F. Supp. at 1164 (rejecting flag-of-war theory).
    673. See generally Bernard J. Sussman, Idiot Legal Arguments: A Casebook for Dealing with Ex-
tremist Legal Arguments, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE (Aug. 29, 1999),
suss1.asp (detailing hundreds of such arguments and the thousands of cases that have uniformly re-
jected them).
    674. See id.
    675. See STEPHEN VINCENT BENÉT, THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER 55 (1937). Ironically, the
“not guilty” verdict which the devil must accept is the product of jury nullification: “Perhaps ‘tis not
strictly in accordance with the evidence,” explains the foreman. Id.
    676. See McCann v. Greenway, 952 F. Supp. 647, 651 (W.D. Mo. 1997) (“Jurisdiction is a matter
of law, statute, and constitution, not a child’s game wherein one’s power is magnified or diminished by
the display of some magic talisman.”).
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484                  UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW                                   [Vol. 2012

a courtroom containing a flag with gold fringe is going to declare that
flags with gold fringe deprive courts of jurisdiction. No matter what a
piece of paper labeled “law” says on it, if it has no correspondence with
what people do, it is no law at all.677 Ursula K. Le Guin once wrote,
“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; re-
made all the time, made new.”678 The same is true of law and the rule of
law. It takes work to make law work.

  677.   See Laurence Claus, The Empty Idea of Authority, 2009 U. ILL. L. REV. 1301, 1302.
  678.   URSULA K. LE GUIN, THE LATHE OF HEAVEN 158 (1971).