Ships which carried such a license were technically not pirates at all; they were called "privateers". The license was known as a "letter of marque". Several nations historically issued these (including the United States, in a time period after the movies; it is one of the rights of a sovereign nation asserted in the Declaration of Independence and was used in the two wars against Great Britain); they authorized the ship to prey upon ONLY the ships of enemy nations during time of war.
Historically, many "pirates" started as "privateers", but either overstepped their authority by preying upon neutral ships, OR failed to stop their activities when the nation that had licensed them ended the war(s).
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