One of the dilemmas of many companies that deal in intellectual properties (as opposed to solid goods) is that, thanks to the Internet, a large segment of the public believes those goods should be instantly available - and free.
In our business, of course, there are people who think all our stories should be available for free on our website. The only problem is that our reporters have families to feed and, despite our urging, refuse to work for nothing.
Magazines, other papers and even college research centers see their work show up on websites called aggregators without compensation.
"We'll let you pay to do the research and the writing, then we'll steal it," seems to be their motto. Some companies are now trying to sue these sites, charging copyright infringement. But, thanks, to the vastness of the Internet, it can be hard to locate the sites' countries and determine if they are even affected by a copyright law.
Other entities have similar problems - and on larger scales. Many members of the public feel there is an absolute right to know (for free) everything from the secret formula for Coke to the unedited details of United States intelligence gathering. Some would argue, of course, that the latter shouldn't be for sale at any price.
The point is that while the Internet is steeped with potential, it is also fraught with peril.
While we may lament the swiping of our news stories, a much bigger problem is exposed when unprincipled sites like Wikileaks endanger agents, sources and entire intelligence-gathering operations by just dumping raw data into the public stream. Lives, careers and wars can be lost.
From the private enterprise side, the "everything for free" mindset will destroy the companies who are not paid for their intellectual properties.
From the governmental viewpoint, the "we have a right to know everything" mindset can threaten the security of a country.
The Internet is a twin-edged sword. There is great potential - for good or harm.
(This editorial has appeared previously in The Maui News.)
* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.