Darknet: Hollywood's War Against the Digital Generation
by J. D. Lasica
Wiley & Sons 2005.
ISBN 0471683345. 320 pages. $25.95. Index
Reviewed by Robert Bruen March 13, 2005
About four years ago Peter Biddle et al, prepared a good paper called The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution. It was essentially a state of the situation and dire warning for those who were concerned about protecting copyright. They made the mistake of defining darknets as a copyright-free zone for sharing files, when in fact darknets are a logical outgrowth of network development. The most noticeable characteristics are those that keep these nets private from all but a chosen few. This is not as sinister as it sounds. For example we might invite only a select group of friends when we throw a party or we might sponsor a community get together which lets anyone in. It is simply a matter of choice, not necessarily a conspiracy to do harm. The Internet is one of the most open forms of technology and social interaction that we have ever seen. Nevertheless, many networks which connect to it are private, such as a corporate network, where access is limited to employees. These networks are dark to us if we do not work there, and perhaps even if we do work there. These same networks ought to allow only encrypted traffic making them really dark to outsiders. Again, nothing sinister, just private.
The darknets in question are somewhat more sinister, however. The lawsuits started by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) now number in the thousands. They are suing individuals deemed to be stealing music by sharing the digitized versions of songs, commonly called MP3s because of the compression algorithm. Much of the difficulty started with Napster, but now appears to be completely out of control. Several businesses, like Apple, have finally moved to selling music over the Internet for about a dollar a song, a smarter move than suing the kids who make up your customer base. One of the consequences of this struggle is the creation of darknets which swap songs, movies, games, software, and what ever else is of interest. The attack by the RIAA has forced the use of technology underground, not unlike the old days of alcohol prohibition, which helped fuel an underground economy which today probably rivals the visible economy.
Digital technology now allows individuals to do what only a few years ago required large sums of money, expertise and other resources in their homes. Powerful private networks are not very expensive, so when a small group of college kids decide to create a darknet, there are few obstacles in their way. It is not a crime to build one, but like most things, it can be used for good or evil. The real issue is that now these groups have a place to do what they want without interference. Now they do not have to participate in activities in the open. Down the road, we will see many more of these darknets, or rather see the repercussions. A major concern is that this goes far beyond music sharing into all possible forms of entertainment. We are at a fork in the road, the entertainment industry against the techno-savvy young adults. In the long run, my money is on the kids. The movie industry has been hesitant to jump into the legal solution, but they are worried because the time has arrived when downloading movies is not different from downloading a song. The networks are faster, software is smarter, storage is cheaper and powerful computers are cheaper. Add encryption to the mix and there is no easy fix to stop the process.
The scope of the issue is both broad and deep. The best source of current information is this book by J. D. Lasica. The requisite web site is http://www.darknet.com. This is a fascinating, well-researched book that everyone interested in the future of technology and society ought to read.
In an ironic example of how foolish the establishment can be, Steve Jobs of Apple has ordered all Wiley books removed from Apple's retail stores because they are publishing an unauthorized biography of Jobs. Now that he is a power within the industry he has decided to step on others on their way up.
I urge everyone to learn about the issue by reading Lasica's book. It is an accessible book which brings the social consequences of responses to technology to those who most need to know. I read it in one sitting, completely absorbed with his insights into the issues and the barrage of thoughts of future implications. While darknets are not new, the social impact of their existence is still unfolding.