In vintage detective novels, private investigators (PIs) inhabit the shadowy netherworld of gangsters, thieves, and villains. Lawyers nowadays employ PIs, who are no longer associated with sinister schemes, as a necessary and accepted practice in gathering evidence to enforce intellectual property rights. Such a transformation not even Eugène François Vidocq could have foreseen.
Vidocq, in case you’re wondering, was a French soldier, criminal, and privateer who founded the first known private detective agency in 1833. Two decades later, his American counterpart, Allan Pinkerton, a Scottish immigrant and Chicago barrel factory worker, started the legendary Pinkerton National Detective Agency. By the turn of the 20th century, the ranks of the Pinkertons had grown so large that the State of Ohio outlawed the agency due to the possibility of its being hired out as a “private army” or militia.
No one would suspect today’s PIs of staging an armed insurrection. Their methods are far more subtle but, some may say, deceptive and unethical, and require oversight.
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