One of my favorite of Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street stories is about an academic named Domenica Macdonald who goes to the Malacca Straits to study pirates. She follows the pirates to a mysterious place daily. But do the buccaneers ever go out on pirate ships and bring back the loot?

Domenica eventually realizes that the pirates don’t have to go out in pirate ships to ply their trade: what they do in that mysterious building is copying records to sell illegally. They are copyright pirates!

Today copyright pirates are more likely to work on the internet rather in a mysterious building. But what they do is the same, only on a more massive scale: the theft of intellectual property. Thus the internet, so important to creativity, becomes a tool for theft of the products of creativity.

The recent Sony hacking was a boon for gossips, but in the glee of who said something naughty about Angelina Jolie, we should not forget that this was a cyberattack.  Sensitive communications about potential new products was revealed.

President Obama has announced proposals to protect against the kind of attack Sony suffered.  Since I have not yet read the president’s proposals, I can only guess that the Republicans will want to make lots of changes. But set that aside for a minute: the important thing is that the issue of cybersecurity is finally on the front burner.

Former Senator Chris Dodd, now chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, explained in a statement why it is so important to address the issue of what is in truth a new kind of piracy:

In a world where essentially every single consumer – and their personal data – is connected online, this conversation could not be more critical.

The Internet is a great source of creativity and innovation.  In our business, it has fostered vivid, gorgeous storytelling, and it has given audiences new ways to enjoy those stories.  But, as recent events have once again made clear, criminal enterprises are also using the Internet to steal trade secrets and content and invade personal privacy. 

Businesses of all sizes are vulnerable to this kind of theft, which can leave their proprietary, competitive secrets and even their digital products exposed and available online for anyone to loot.  Consumers risk seeing their financial data or even their personal pictures and correspondence spread all over the Internet – with very little accountability for those who post stolen information.  Government and the private sector are faced with the monumental task of defending against these criminal activities.