The Sony Pictures Case: A New Kind of Digital Piracy

December 3, 2014

Computer Piracy hackingTraditionally, intellectual property pirates were motivated by some form of greed.  They either wanted access to the property in order to sell it or they wanted to use the property without paying for it.  A recently reported major case of digital copyright piracy involving Sony Pictures seems to highlight a very different motivation.  In the Sony case, at least some of the pirates appear to be driven by political objectives.

A group of unknown hackers recently attacked the computer network of the entertainment company, Sony Pictures.  It is reported that the attack led to the shutdown of the Sony Pictures internal computer network.  The attack also apparently resulted in theft of some motion pictures produced by Sony, including several that have not yet had their theatrical release.

The parties responsible for the attack reportedly released copies of the pirated movies for free public access online.  After the public release of the films by the hackers, the movies have reportedly been downloaded and viewed by thousands of people.  This unauthorized release of content could have a significant adverse economic impact on Sony.

This attack seems to be somewhat unconventional.  Some believe that it may have been conducted, at least in part, with the support of the government of North Korea.  One of the motion pictures involved in the attack includes subject matter which the North Korean government finds to be highly objectionable.

Some parties suggest that the attack on Sony’s network and intellectual property might have been, at least in part, motivated by political objectives.  It is possible that North Korean authorities may have facilitated the attack in an effort to punish Sony for some of the creative content it develops and distributes.

If the allegations associated with the attack on Sony are accurate, then it seems we will likely see more incidents of intellectual property piracy with political motives in the future.  Although individuals and groups will certainly continue to engage in piracy for economic reasons, it is now reasonable to expect that they may turn to intellectual property piracy for political reasons, as well.

Political motivation for piracy may also extend beyond the realm of digital copyright.  For example, it is also possible that individuals, groups, and governments may participate in acts of patent and trademark infringement, as well as trade secrets theft and disclosure, to accomplish political goals.  All forms of intellectual property may now be at greater risk as targets for parties who seek to make political statements, or to threaten or penalize businesses and other organizations.

It is widely recognized that intellectual property is a key component of the global economy.  Parties who seek to criticize, challenge or undermine the global order now apparently view intellectual property as an important target for their disruptive activities.  Piracy was formerly viewed to be a commercial challenge.  Now however, it should also be seen as a political statement.