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Originally published on Monday, July 11, 2005 in The Miami Herald

The gatekeepers strive to stifle innovation.
A new wave of business opportunities is threatened by entrenched resistance to digital innovation.

Darknet: Hollywood's War Against The Digital Generation. J.D. Lasica. Wiley. 308 pages.
Buy Darknet


If the future of America is not in manufacturing but in the creation of intellectual property, we're in big trouble. Writer J.D. Lasica reveals that access to the new creative digital domain is being severely limited by the incumbent owners and controllers of popular culture.

They have exerted their influence, Lasica contends -- and he's far from alone in his beliefs -- in ways that subvert the original intentions of the copyright laws. They also criminalize many of the methods that allow the full range of artistic expression and creation afforded by the digitalization of content.

A de facto alternative network, the ''Darknet'' of the book's title, has emerged as a result of this attempt to control access. The parallel -- and nonlegal -- network will continue to thrive unless and until the gatekeepers embrace and profit from these new capabilities.

Historically, nearly every technological innovation in the entertainment industry was initially resisted by the status quo, fearful their revenue stream would be cut off.

Sheet music publishers sued producers of piano rolls; musicians' unions tried to ban radio broadcasts of recorded performances; film studios resisted home videotaping. In each case, the innovation soon emerged as a lucrative new business for the resisters.

The owners of TV networks and movie studios also feel compelled to control distribution in previously unimaginable ways. Lasica points out the laws they demanded of Congress that nullified traditional terms and fair-use aspects of U.S. copyright are not in the public interest, but in the studios'. Meanwhile, technology has opened up a vast world of media possibilities, but implementation is limited by the threat of litigation, says Lasica.

Equipment manufacturers, for example, are so fearful of Hollywood's litigious wrath, users are prevented from making copies of their own digital tapes -- not duplicates of feature films, but dubs of their kid's graduation.

Sony, once a leader in the field of consumer innovation (and plaintiff in the case that established home videotaping rights) is now among the biggest obstructors, according to Lasica. Surely it is no coincidence that in the intervening years, Sony acquired film studio Columbia Pictures, and the former CBS Music properties, Columbia and Epic Records.

Under the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Lasica writes, there is also no ''fair use'' whereby clips of commercial films can be legally used. None whatsoever. Furthermore, if you wish to print a copy of the U.S. Constitution from an encrypted e-book, you are breaking the law. Despite the fact that the text is in the public domain, circumventing the document's copy protection by printing it is a federal offense!

Lasica is hardly an alarmist. He gives ample opportunity to former movie industry lobbyist Jack Valenti and other like-minded advocates of digital criminalization to express their concerns, while presenting viewpoints of those who preach and operate within the new reality of ''rip, mix and burn'' as well.
He also gives some sound suggestions for accommodations on all sides that could unleash waves of innovation.

But he issues several ironic observations and warnings, including: ``In the end, this may be the greatest potential loss to society; the service that never rolls out, the device that never gets invented; the cultural advancement that never takes place -- all for fear of a Hollywood lawsuit.''

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