Wednesday, July 20, 2005


I recently finished reading "Darknet: Hollywood's War against the Digital Generation", a book by J. D. Lasica that I picked up after reading the Slashdot review.

Lasica has a lot of interesting things to say about the attempts by "big media" to preserve the status quo of media distribution and copyright licensing. He points out such notable developments such as the continual battles by media companies to extend copyright to prevent works they control falling into the public domain; their total disregard for fair use (enshrined in such gems as the DMCA and the Broadcast Flag); and their inability to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Internet.

In particular, he criticises the attitudes of media company leadership who would see all of the following made illegal without gaining permission of the copyright holders and paying a fee:

  • Copying your DVD collection to a media server so that you can access them anywhere in your house without having to traipse to the DVD stack and find the correct box
  • Using snippets of TV news broadcasts in a documentary on bias in television reporting
  • Being able to record TV shows you particularly enjoyed so that you can view them again sometime in the future
In fact, some of these are already technically illegal, although Lasica argues (and I agree) that they fall under the umbrella of fair use. The media companies seem to want everyone to just be good little consumers, and just fork out whatever they ask for material that we have to use in exactly the way they tell us to, rather than allowing us to be users, free to be inspired by and find creative use for the pictures or sounds we've already paid a substantial fee to use.

This book seem very well researched. Lasica quotes from interviews both with key industry figures such as Valenti and Lessig, and with top members of the internet "pirate" underground. In addition, he details many examples of reasonable usage of copyright material that is either illegal or would be under proposed legislation.

One example was really ridiculous: someone is filming a documentary, and for 4.5 seconds of one of the interviews, The Simpsons is visible playing on a TV in the background. The cost to put that shot into the final documentary? $10,000.

This book provides a wealth of evidence that copyright and "big media" are spiralling slowly out of control, and I recommend that anyone interested in the movie, television or music industries read it. I, for one, now feel more and more motivated to go out and find media that is made available under more reasonable terms than those dictated by an industry more interested in profits than in human creativity.

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